You’re a bastard. Me too, though

Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.
— Mel Brooks

I’m watching Little Miss Sunshine at the moment, and a highly unoriginal thought just struck me, which is that we, collectively, are a complete set of bastards. We laugh at the most horrible things. I am in the second hour of watching a sequence of pretty vile circumstances being visited on a group of flawed but basically sympathetic characters. At present I believe that four of the six main characters have had their metaphorical hearts ripped out in some fashion, one before the opening credits. There’s half an hour to go, and I fear for the remaining two.

So many of our comedies seem to be based on this sort of thing. A while back I quite liked The Royal Tenenbaums, in which a sequence of pretty vile circumstances were visited on a group of flawed but basically sympathetic characters. I didn’t so much like As Good As It Gets, in which a sequence of pretty vile circumstances were visited on one specific and utterly unsympathetic character. I adored Herman Hedwig and the Angry Inch, in which a series of utterly vile circumcisions were visited on a group of pretty, sequined characters. I’m not sure how the latter is relevant though, to be honest.

Of course, there’s always an element of redemption or fulfilment at the end of these movies; a knobbly carrot chucked to the characters after they’ve been through the wringer for our entertainment. They live a little, learn a little, love a little – perform freakish heart-winning dances against all probability a little. Does this make us less of a set of bastards? I’m not sure. I’m pretty sure they’re just there to make us feel better, rather than to give the characters any genuine respite.

The only way to test this, of course, is to make ever more crushing movies, in which the carrot is made smaller, knobblier–it may even be a turnip–while the hideous sequence of events becomes more and more harrowing. We could even reach a point where Requiem for a Dream could be a comedy. Add a coda in which Jay Leno’s character discovers that having only one arm solves that awkward problem when you’re in bed with someone; y’know, where you both have one arm that you have to lie on if you’re going to face the other person (it’s only polite), so you’ve got two arms in the middle but neither one is really in a position to do anything useful and now it’s getting pins and needles but you don’t really want to mention it and spoil the mood? Well, Jay’s never going to have that problem again! Comedy gold.

Well, maybe not.

Hey, Miss Sunshine just finished. One of ’em made it; I won’t spoil the surprise.

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