Saturday, April 24, 2004

Throw Throw Momma From the Train, From
the Train

I'm not exactly sure why Wes Gehring includes Throw Momma From the Train in his discussion about dark comedies. I guess it loosely fits his definition, since it laughs at death. The premise of the movie is that Danny DeVito's character seems to murder Billy Crystal's wife, thinking that is what Crystal wanted and he thinks that Crystal will murder his mother in return. Of course, things get really, really ridiculous and we're supposed to laugh a lot. The movie had a little more charm than I anticipated, frankly. I'm not a big Danny DeVito fan, nor have I cared much for Billy Crystal after he played the gay character on Soap, lo these many years ago. Both actors are unappealing for the same reason: they play every character completely over the top. There never seems to be much reality attached to their characters; the behavior is always extreme so it takes a lot of effort to suspend my disbelief--too much effort, in fact for me to care about them.

But so there are some good things to be said for the movie. The first half shows DeVito's character in his misguided way trying to please his writing professor (Crystal). He fumblingly tries to kill the ex-wife, ultimately relying on luck to propel him, since he really isn't a murderer. Crystal, no matter how much he hates that ex-wife (who gained national fame by stealing his novel and publishing it under her name), realizes as a result of DeVito's actions, that he wouldn't really kill his wife and doesn't really want her dead. When DeVito tells Crystal he is expected to kill the mother, at first Crystal is the voice of reason, saying he would never kill a person. In fact, he even tries to warn her. The comic twist happens when there comes to be a wonderful parallel to the plot in the first half of the movie. Crystal begins to want to kill the mother, against his better judgment, but he too is too skittish and relies on luck when he almost throws her off the train. Meanwhile, DeVito changes his mind and tries to stop him. In other words, we laugh because we see the supposedly morally superior Crystal stoop to DeVito's level while DeVito rises to Crystal's level.

Ultimately, of course, all is resolved to everyone's satisfaction. But what I really hate about the movie is that feeling I get that I want my two hours back. This is where I ask, what was the point of the story? Why should I care about this comedy? I don't mean to say that every movie should have some deep undercurrent that carries one to a high moral ground. This could never be true for someone who enjoys the comedies of Jim Carrey or even Curb Your Enthusiasm. Let me think for a second about what distinguishes this silly movie from those other silly movies and shows.

Well, let's take Ace Ventura, Pet Detective as a for instance. The real appeal there is Jim Carrey, of course. His character is so outlandish that he's funny. "Re-he-he-he-he-he-ly???" he says, eating sunflower seeds the way a parrot would, or he spins the car around in the parking lot, winding up miraculously parked in a space, saying, "Llllllliiiiiiiiiiiiiiike a glove!" He's a caricature of a hokey detective and his overacting silliness is pleasing. Then at the end of the film there is the parody of The Crying Game (see? there's intertextuality even in the basest of postmodern films!). So when I ask myself why I watched it, I think that it was clever in a few ways that I don't see in Throw Momma...

And then there's the absurd comedy of Curb Your Enthusiasm. This kind of comedy is character-based as well. I watch because I want to see what kind of a mess Larry David will make this time. I want to see him say the things one shouldn't say in polite company, the kinds of things I think, but would be too afraid to say. Then, I laugh at the consequences of his lack of self-control from the comfortable standpoint of a person who can't step out of bounds the way David does. Now THAT's a reason to see a comedy.

So Throw Momma... certainly has characters, but they're over the top and stupid, and I don't care about them. It's heavy on plot, but light on artfulness. I say no to including it in the class I'll be teaching.