During this blog's hiatus in 2006 I posted a review of Talledega Nights on my myspace page. I look at that page infrequently these days. I don't understand the attraction of myspace. There is no intellectual stimulation; it's just people asking other people to be their friends. It's like a cyberspace cocktail party without any witty banter -- a party full of people who say "dude" and "LOL." I'm surprised when I hear people say they spend hours on myspace. Doing what?
I hate to sound elitist, but the overwhelming popularity of mindless pursuits such as myspace unsettles me. I mean -- these people are voting. Ben Franklin, when asked what kind of government the Constitutional Convention would give the nation, replied, "A republic -- if you can keep it." How can we keep it with an ignorant, intellectually lazy populace? People with passive minds are susceptible to the emotional appeals of any cheap demagogue, such as one who promises nothing specific but "change we can believe in."
But I digress.
I just reread that review of Talledega Nights; it makes an argument I have not read elsewhere, so here it is reposted in its entirety.
Talledega Nights is a funny, absurd comedy that is ruined because the movie romanticizes the hero and makes him learn something at the end. The arrogant Ricky Bobby learns humility and the movie becomes a tedious bowl of mush.
An unrealistic comedy about fools is more interesting and honest if it refrains from making its cads and morons better people at the end. The Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, Beavis and Butthead and Dumb and Dumber leave their idiots as idiots and that is the right way to do outrageous comedy. An actor as homely and goofy as Will Ferrell should not try to be Cary Grant in a romantic comedy.
Why does Hollywood insist on destroying the integrity of its comedies by giving their morons a character arc? Several reasons I can think of. First, when you go the idiot-stays-an-idiot route, you lose the women in the audience. Women don't like the Three Stooges or Laurel and Hardy; these characters exist in a permanent boyhood without romantic interest. Women like grown up men who have sex and fall in love and get married.
Second, star comic actors are rarely content to remain idiots. They all yearn to show off their serious and romantic sides. Bill Murray, Steve Martin, Robin Williams, Jim Carrey and now Will Ferrell all make boring movies because they try to be leading men. They should remain the Fool to Robert de Niro's King Lear, instead of trying be King Lear. Steve Martin has never been as funny as he was in his first movie, The Jerk. You watch him in a depressing, naturalistic bomb like Pennies From Heaven and wonder what the hell he's thinking. Doubtless, the early deaths of John Belushi, John Candy and Chris Farley spared us heartbreaking dramas of misunderstood fat guys.
Imagine if Moe of the Three Stooges had said one day, "I want to make something serious and meaningful." He'd have been laughed off the studio lot. Today, no one dares tell a Steve Martin or Jim Carrey that serious and meaningful is not such a good idea.
Actors hate my point of view. They don't want to be stereotyped. Doing both comedy and tragedy is fine if an actor can pull it off; Jack Lemmon did. But most of today's comic actors come from sketch comedy and stand-up. They spend their youth being funny, they train being funny and they gain success being funny. It takes an extraordinary comedian who also has acting talent and romantic charisma to be able to act serious. Most of them are just not that interesting when they get away from funny.
Finally, you have producers with their vapid ideas of what a movie should be. They force creators to romanticize their idiots: give them a love interest, a character arc, redemption, a happy ending. Hollywood's precepts suck the life out of comedy and turn it into predictable swill.
Mind you, I'm not opposed to romantic comedy. I love it! But it has to make sense. If your hero is Butthead for 85 minutes, I don't buy him becoming Jimmy Stewart for the last five minutes of the movie just to satisfy Hollywood's template for successful box office. The more outrageous a comedy is, the less I buy a realistic character change. Talledega Nights wants to be both outrageous and have a realistic character change.