The Sacred Arts

Dark Comedy

In the tradition of great minds such as Darth Vader and Wes Anderson, I have always been drawn to the Dark Side – of comedy, that is. Like how I did that? I’m just getting warmed up, too, muahaha!

Dark comedies, I admit, appeal to a specific sense of humor that not everyone shares. They possess a certain dryness, a level of irony lost on many and disliked by more. It happens to be my love-language, though.

This doesn’t mean I’ve seen every dark comedy known to man (A Fish Called Wanda and Dr. Stragelove are still in my queue), but I have a list of favorites that I thought I’d share with you, for those nights when you want to giggle darkly to yourself in the quiet of your own living room – just you and your DVD player. You’re welcome.

  • American Beauty This film is at once many things – tragic, comic, dark, deep, inspiring, disgusting; it’s visceral. This was the movie that made me fall in love with Kevin Spacey (er, not in that way). His dead-pan delivery of so many shockingly truthful admissions made me both want to laugh and give him a high-five – or smack him. Annette Bening’s manic unlikeability also hit the right tone as a foil to him and their daughter, whose darkness I both despised and understood; they all play off each other so well. In addition to the humor, though, this film portrays the underbelly of the veneer people slap over life in a way both grotesque and, well, beautiful.
  • The Royal Tenenbaums – There is so much to love about this movie! A lot of people hate it, but as much as people despise it because they “don’t get it,” other people in equal degrees love it with an unparalleled passion. The writing, the acting, the directing, the characterization – it’s concurrently subtle and over-the-top, a delicate balance to strike. For starters, there is no more darkly absurd moment than when Royal Tenenbaum introduces Margot as his “adopted daughter.” Or when he shoots his son with a B.B. gun (Chas: “We’re on the same team!” Royal: “Haha! There are no teams!”). Or when he tells his son they’ll have to “swing by” his wife’s grave at the cemetery.
“I’m very sorry for your loss. Your mother was a terribly attractive woman.”
  • The Big Lebowski – I’ve been mentioning this film a lot lately, mostly because I was late to the party on this one. I didn’t discover it until a graduate seminar in 2011, in which we looked at the American anti-hero, stereotypes of the American West and masculinity, and surrealism in American literature and film. That was a fun class. Anyway, this film is so brilliant we studied it in college. No further elucidation necessary, right? I hope not, because I think I talk about it too much as it is.
  • Thank You for Smoking – I’ve only seen this once, so it’s probably time for another screening. I remember laughing mightily at its absurdity and mocking of the capitalist institutions we take for granted, like the poor, defenseless cigarette industry; they needs defenders, too. For example, this line from the protagonist, Nick Naylor; “Right there, looking into Joey’s eyes, it all came back in a rush. Why I do what I do. Defending the defenseless, protecting the disenfranchised corporations that have been abandoned by their very own consumers: the logger, the sweatshop foreman, the oil driller, the land mine developer, the baby seal poacher…” Yeah, time for another viewing of this dark gem.
  • Four Weddings and a Funeral – This film is regarded by most as a run-of-the-mill romantic comedy, but it’s much darker than, say, Sleepless in Seattle; probably because it’s British, right? Those guys know how to do dark comedy properly. In any case, a film dealing with both ends of the theatrical spectrum, tragedy and comedy, can’t help but be a little dark, even if it does end a little too sappily for my taste. It explores the awkwardness of love, how one can say exactly the wrong things at the wrong times in a cringe-worthy sequence of mis-timings. In this way, the film resembles a comedy of errors filled with gloriously quotable quotes; “They say rubber’s mainly for perverts. Don’t know why. Think it’s very practical, actually. I mean, you spill anything on it and it just comes off. I suppose that could be why the perverts like it.” I quote that one all the time.
  • Most of the Hitchcock Cannon – I love Hitchcock films, what can I say? They’re dark, dealing with theft (To Catch a Thief), mystery (Rebecca, Rear Window) and murder (pretty much most of his movies), but he also injects levity at just the right moments. I wouldn’t classify them as comedies, but they certainly have dark, humorous quality to them. With burlesque character actors like Thelma Ritter and Nigel Bruce, Hitchcock diffuses the situational tension in his movies. Perhaps I’ll classify them as proto-dark comedies? Am I getting too academic here?
  • Burn After Reading – Brad Pitt. That ridiculous sports-wear. The hair. I don’t really have to say anything else about it, except:
“Shit Yeah!” This is my favorite role of his.

Sidebar: several of these films I own. On VHS that I can’t watch because I don’t know how to hook it up to the new TV. That says all you need to know about me.

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Photo 1, Photo 2


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