Archive for August 5th, 2009

Expectations and Genre

Josh claims that we shouldn’t let genre classifications affect our judgments of films, and Josh, I agree with you, in theory. In theory, we should evaluate movies based on content…in theory.

In fact, though, this is an unattainable ideal, since expectations are impossible to avoid in movies.

Take an example that comes outside of the genre dilemma Josh outlines: spoilers. I try very hard to avoid any and all spoilers for a movie/TV show/book, to an almost excessive degree. I don’t just try and shelter myself from twist endings and dramatic reveals, but from everything about the plot. I don’t even like fake spoilers (“Man, the ending of Rocky was great, when he and Apollo Creed team up to defeat the evil aliens”), because they eliminate potential (granted, highly unlikely) possibilities. Ideally, I don’t want to know the protagonist’s name before seeing a film.

The logic behind this is the same logic that Josh uses in regard to genre: Knowing things about a story before the narrative reveals them is going to predispose me to have certain expectations for the film, and I don’t want my judgments to be based on my personal expectations. If I expect, for example, Mufasa to die halfway through The Lion King, then it’s going to detract from the emotional impact of the death when it happens, just like expecting humor is going to make me disappointed if I don’t laugh. Continue reading

Funny People and Genre: An Unhappy Couple

In his review of Funny People, John claims that “this is certainly Apatow’s most serious/least funny movie. As the name of the film implies, Funny People is more interested in showing funny people than being funny.” John’s right: Funny People does not fit into the traditional mold of the Apatow comedy or the traditional mold of comedy more generally. The advertising campaign for Funny People sends mixed signals: On the one hand, the trailer and the website emphasize the fact that this comes from the writer/director of The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up (two definite comedies), but on the other hand the trailer is backed by music by the Postal Service, certainly an indicator of drama. Apatow’s declaration that “I’m trying to make a very serious movie that is twice as funny as my other movies. Wish me Luck!” certainly doesn’t help to settle the drama/comedy distinction.

Does this even matter? Who cares how the movie is billed? Why don’t we just watch the movie and decide for ourselves? Ideally, this would be the case. Nevertheless, expectations matter. We generally hold movies we perceive as comedies to different standards than movies we perceive as dramas. A comedy is supposed to make us laugh and need not have complex characters and plot development (see my review of Bruno for an example of this). John, for instance, recognizes the characters in Apatow’s other films are pretty conventional and undeveloped but partially because of the films’ comedic genre, this becomes acceptable so long as the movies produce hilarity. Once the perceived genre shifts to drama, however, our expectations shift. We don’t expect hilarity, but we do expect deeper plot development and more complex characters.
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