Watching 3 new comedy films almost back to back over the last week gave me a rare adrenaline rush during this time of the year when my movie-going experience is saddled with heavy handed drams (i.e. Oscar and Christmas season)- Broken Lizard’s “Beerfest”, Christopher Guest’s “For Your Consideration” and Larry Charles’ “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan”. While one is much more subtle than the others, all three hit their intended marks… they made me laugh… and laugh a lot. “Beerfest”, the one that probably received the most contemptuous reviews, is also my favorite of the three. I’ve long been a fan of the Broken Lizard crew (yes, I’m the one guy who loves “Club Dread”) and while “Beerfest” pulls no punches, it still showcases the pubescent (but at times wryly intelligent) physical and verbal comedy that has the magnetic ability to charm several tiers of the movie-going population. Simply put, I think Jay Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Paul Soter, Eric Stolhanske and Steve Lemme amuse and entertain the 17 year old as well as the 30 year old. And why wouldn’t a film about naked women and mass beer consumption do well for any age?
Christopher Guest’s “For Your Consideration” continues his delicate observation of ensemble comedy by charting the humorous intricacies that plague a film when the word “oscar” is tossed around lightly. Unlike the frontal assault of “Beerfest”, Guest’s films are all about minor laughs… and neither is wrong. They just go about their agendas in wildly different manners. While there are fewer laughs in “For Your Consideration” than say “Waiting For Guffman”, its still a film that raises more intentional laughs than 90% of the films that exist as ‘comedy’. I still crack up everytime I think of the scene where an aloof publicist (played to perfection by John Michael Higgins) walks up to two people having a conversation and offers the prophetic line of “you know, they say it’s not the apple on the tree that causes problems but the pear lying on the ground.” Its just that type of non-sequiter dialogue, plus the hamming-it-up performance of Fred Williard, that gives a Christopher Guest comedy the oomph needed to outlast its comedic counterparts.
And then there’s the cinematic whirlwind of Sacha Baron Cohen and his “Borat” impersonation. Unfortunately, this is a film that needs to be seen without the hype, and while I appreciate his lambasting of society (specifically his playing on stereotypes to elicit frank commentary from the participants in his scenes), it’s the way in which he ingratiates himself with an almost subliminal manner that elicits the greatest laughs-the fact he’s come to America with just several small possessions as well as “a vial of gypsy tears to protect me from AIDS”. Or the way he buys his hated neighbor an IPod mini because “everyone knows mini for girls!” Plus, just watch the scene when he enters a gun store and asks for something that will help kill Jews. The way he snarls “die Jew” and plays with the gun, while the owner barely bats an eyelid, ratchet up the humor onto so many levels. It’s rare that a comedy can illuminate the diversions of thought, hatred and paranoia with such lucidity. And I’m certainly glad to live in a country where “women can vote, but horses, no!”