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Comedy Makes a Comeback

2007 was (finally) filled with laughs at the multiplex

A few months ago, I moderated a panel interview at Livermore’s Vine Cinema with the cast of the movie PORKY’S. The California Independent Film Festival sponsored the event, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the ribald sex romp. Porky's was an unexpected smash in 1982, one of the biggest hits of a year that included ET the Extra Terrestrial and Tootsie. I can’t  really recommend Porky’s (I didn’t see it until I was in my 20s, and found it to be crass and shrill and, most disappointingly, unfunny.) Still, I’m glad Porky’s was a hit, because it allowed director Bob Clark to make his comedy classic, A Christmas Story, two years later.

We should fast forward to the present. Because 2007 was a great year for comedies.

25 years after Porky’s, a million raunchy teen comedies have come and gone straight to video. But this year, SUPERBAD knocked its gleefully vulgar helping of late-adolescent screwball hijinks out of the park. I saw it with an packed preview audience in Walnut Creek in July, knew it was immediately going on the short list of all-time great teen comedies, with American Graffiti, Dazed and Confused, and, my favorite, Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

I interviewed Superbad’s three leads, Michael Cera, Jonah Hill, and first-time actor Christopher Mintz-Plasse at San Francisco’s Four Seasons in early August. (The interview can be found here.) They were excited about their film, but didn’t seem to realize how big it was going to be. The day-in-the life pic about boys in the gloaming of high school  wound up grossing nearly $170 million worldwide.

Superbad’s producer, Judd Apatow, writer/co-star Seth Rogan, captured comic lightning twice in 2007. Their other effort was KNOCKED UP, a raucous “whoops, she’s pregnant” comedy (one of three, actually, last year.) Knocked Up and Superbad offered a long overdue one-two punch of great American comedies, both of which work just as well on dvd, with second discs filled with extra scenes and outtakes. Apatow, the creator of the now legendary, always underappreciated TV show Freaks and Geeks, deserves all of his success.

As great as Knocked Up was, the “whoops, she’s pregnant” movie that’s getting Oscar buzz is JUNO. A knockout screenplay by first timer Diablo Cody serves up a smorgasbord of one liners to a marvelous comic cast, including Arrested Development alums Jason Bateman and (again) Michael Cera, Allison Janney, Jennifer Garner, and especially Ellen Page, as the 16-year-old pregnant protagonist.

I waited until dvd to see WAITRESS, a pleasant-enough comedy about a pregnant, pie-making waitress with quirky coworkers, a rotten abuser for a spouse, and a handsome OB/GYN. Star Keri Russell’s likeability takes the film further than I thought it would go, and the always wonderful Andy Griffith is a welcome presence as a curmudgeonly customer.

Finally, a comic gem for film geeks is HOT FUZZ, from director Edgar Wright, whose previous effort Shaun of the Dead, was a spot-on spoof, homage, and entry in the zombie genre. This time around, Wright spoofs overblown Hollywood cop movies (think Lethal Weapon, or, better yet, Bad Boys 2) by mixing those big budget pyrotechnics with a very British hybrid of Agatha Christie-style whodunits and fish-out-of-water-in-a-small-town comedies. Filled with crazy references to a million-and-one cop movies, Hot Fuzz had me laughing from a Friday night screening all the way through the weekend.