Who's Bringing the Funny?
Harkening back to my post about movies needing to be excellent or fun, there's no doubt that most of the surprisingly-successful movies this year were the comedies.
The ones that worked -- "Wedding Crashers" (which is the second-highest grossing R-rated comedy ever) and "The 40-Year Old Virgin" were both very big moneymakers. "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" made a ton of money.
And even the movies that just suggested that there might be fun to be had (even if they didn't quite deliver), like "The Pacifer", or "The Longest Yard", or "The Dukes of Hazzard" did better than they had any right to. Meanwhile, the comedies that didn't seem much fun, like "Elizabethtown" or "Guess Who", tanked.
The odd thing now is that we're in a period where there aren't a lot of real comedians dominating movies. Pretty much the big go-to comic guys right now are Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, who are more actors-doing-comedy than true comedians.
Steve Carell is more of a true comedian, but the jury's still out on whether he can sustain his movie career.
The days of dominant funnymen like Richard Pryor, Steve Martin or Eddie Murphy seem to be over. Martin is doing family movies and serious roles, while no one seems to be excited at all about the specter of seeing him in "The Pink Panther", the release of which keeps getting pushed back and back and back. Murphy keeps doing silly family movies; he hasn't even done an R-rated movie since "Life", way back in 1999. There is no edge to his comedy any more, but then again there is no edge to most comedy any more.
So who's left? Adam Sandler has his fans, but it has been a while since he turned out an honestly funny movie. Aside from voiceover work, Mike Myers has largely vanished, while Dana Carvey is a second banana at best. None of the other former SNL people are doing much, not even Will Ferrell, whose peak in "Old School" and "Elf" seems to be sliding away.
Will Smith has been in a few funny movies; so has Ice Cube. But is this what black comedy has come to? Former rappers? Meanwhile, no one will go to a Bernie Mac or Cedric the Entertainer film until they make one that is actually funny.
Even guys like Kevin Smith and Woody Allen don't make funny movies any more.
Most of the stand-up comedians seem to be running to TV, where there is a lot of money to be made, but where it seems to suck out most potential for a movie career. Jerry Seinfeld might be one of the most successful comedians ever, but can you picture him in a movie? I can't.
Maybe one of the causes for the lax box office is that there just isn't a single comedian who is so funny/consistent, that just the news of a new movie starring them will get people lining up.
I'm not sure whether this is good news for screenwriters or not. Certainly the lack of a go-to comedian means that there is more of a demand on scripts to be excellent. This seems to be the case in animated films, where funny truly means more successful; arguably Shrek is the biggest star funnyman out there.
But as long as dumb live-action comedies starring guys like the Rock keep making money, maybe script quality isn't important enough either.