Comedies are, by definition, doomed to a certain, set existence. Quoting Oxford's Concise Dictionary of Literary Terms: "Its ending will usually be happy for the leading characters. In another sense, the term was applied in the Middle Ages to narrative poems that end happily." This was compounded by the advent of New Comedy, which "abandoned topical satire in favour of fictional plots based on contemporary life: these portrayed the tribulations of young lovers caught up among stock characters such as the miserly father and the boastful soldier."

So here we sit, doomed to repeat ourselves over and over because some dudes from way back when made laughs of a certain path. There will be an outbreak of shenanigans, some goofy stock characters along the way, and then the almost inevitable happy ending with cheek-pinching smiles, swelling music, and feel-good moments. A lot of the time, it works. We giggle, the credits roll, and we leave the theater feeling happy and refreshed.

But just as often, I find myself dreading the second half and that inevitable tonal shift. The film will begin to swell into a picture-perfect happy ending, characters softening and getting just what they need for the desired conclusion, whether that be saccharine sweetness, uncharacteristic responsibility, or Meet the Parents type chaos. The personalities and paths of the characters become second-fiddle to the need to wrap up the story. Rather than simply enjoying the world that's been set up, soon we must watch it wrap into a pretty bow.

I won't even take the easy shots, and instead focus on the films I still like or love: I sometimes feel like switching Sideways off early to just enjoy the banter and snark without the romantic turmoil and emotional softening; I would prefer a Knocked Up with less personality adjustment and Superbad without the boys getting the girls; and I fast-forward through T.S.'s romantic declarations so I can see Brodie get revenge in Mallrats. I'd prefer more bunk beds and less Catalina Mixers in Step Brothers, and generally less deus ex machina twists unless it's literally a chest of deus a la Dodgeball.

At least the better comedies have a destination in mind, like Sideways, even if I prefer the beginning to the end. But the worst, their ending isn't really an ending -- it's some weird cut-and-paste puzzle.

Must we always have a perfectly wrapped up conclusion, stressing the change rather than the journey? Sometimes it's done well, but just as often it seems disparate, and this is probably why I adore films like A Serious Man and Dazed and Confused -- they're absolutely happy just being what they are, and the funny doesn't suffer because of it. (And speaking of the second film, Richard Linklater proved that there are better ways to handle romantic endings with Before Sunset. Can you imagine it with an embrace and epic music? I shudder to think...)

Do you find yourselves ever dreading those twists and changes of tone? Seeing the snark replaced with softness? The character who made you laugh replaced with someone else? The strange plot twists thrown in to try to wrap things up? Everything becoming perfect?

(And oh, how futile is all of this when sequels come into play? I'm looking at you, Sex and the City franchise!)
categories Cinematical