Superbad is getting advertised quite a bit around these parts. Giant billboards loom with the two dorky Jewish kids with stunned looks on their faces. Their mouths are agape and a look of fear passes over their eyes; a combination of "How did we get here?" and "They're coming to get us."
Shawn and I were talking, and the notion that normal people have taken over the world came up. I don't think this is entirely true, but it is applicable. There has been a wave of normalcy these past few years throughout television and film. Reality TV being the most prominent, the line of films rattles on: Napoleon Dynamite to Unfunny-as-Fuck-Jack-Black-Wrestling-Movie, Eagle vs Shark is on its way, Knocked Up is the most prominent thus far, Chuck and Larry. Shawn claims that American Pie is the one that has introduced this in the past few years. after that it became the usual: see every Will Ferrel comedy ever made. I'd maybe go back a little bit further to early Adam Sandler stuff. Before that there were the normal people comedies, Meatballs, Revenge of the Nerds, Porky's. Nerds was about outsiders marketed to the masses, and Porky's was really a forerunner to something like American Pie. I'm hesitant to include 40 year old Virgin in this, partly because it's so funny and partly because it's normalcy is pointed, amplified into the visuals of that hilarious poster.
In fact, let's compare.
The similarities are obvious. The first can't really be called high concept, but he's definitely a character. The craze in Carell's eyes, the gleam, the way he holds himself. It's a funny character. It reminds me of Steve Martin. Knocked Up, though...compare the two. Knocked up is just a dude. Just some guy. Total, clueless normalcy. He's a good guy at heart. That's his character.
I think (and I've heard this before, it's not an entirely original thought, I'm just trying to expand/explore it a little) that the problem with films today is that the characters aren't deserving of the big screen. They are normal, TV sized people, not the giant, looming personas that grace the big screen. Following the Harold Ramis line of comedies down a couple decades, the posters tell quite a tale. I'm justifying this comparison because Ramis had a cameo in Knocked Up, and they are obviously paying homage to him and his comedies of the seventies and eighties. He's not directly involved with Blues Brothers, but I'm giving you another unpretentious comedy, as to not unfairly compare these modern comedies with a drama or something of the sort. And, if we were to compare any of these to Ghostbusters, obviously they would be blown the hell out of the water.
The difference is apparent, yes? These guys are larger than life characters. The poster has so much going on. Even the cool silhouette glasses and hats...
This is not to say that normal people don't have any place on the big screen, but, you know, the cast of Twin Peaks works better on TV, even though Cooper and Laura Palmer translate well to Fire Walk With Me.
A good character can have that largeness to him (or smallness) without losing that reality of the personality. Think of every character in The Shining, or Charlie in Shoot the Piano Player, or even the two thugs in the same movie, who are hilariously normal, since their obsessions start creeping out of their dialogue.
I think that Jacques Tati really accentuates nicely the point I'm trying to make. His movies are filled with people: a very democratic approach to comedy. Everyone has their time on the screen though, and come and go as they might, their humor highlights their normality, and elevates them from average, anonymous, or archetypal, to keenly observed individuals who have a personality all their own. And, hot damn, it's nearly all conveyed silently. How cool is that.
That's the line that's been lost lately: the ability to elevate normalcy. It still happens, but rarely in the mainstream.