I felt this discontent most particularly when I watched Old School recently - a film I'd always heard was excellent and had wanted to watch for ages but had never quite got round to seeing. I was given it for my birthday this summer. The film clearly owes a debt of gratitude to late Seventies classic Animal House, but in my view it wasn't a patch on this. It had all the usual ingredients: a likeable cast, lots of mayhem, bad behaviour and general silliness, but you know what? I really couldn't believe in it - neither in its plot, nor its characters. And that's the point I'm trying to make: comedy isn't solely about getting the right mix of ingredients - i.e. a certain number of gross-out moments and silly visuals - effective comedy relies on situation, character and plot. However preposterous the antics become, I actually can believe in male nurse Gaylord Focker's need to impress his future in-laws; I am equally convinced that thirteen years on, Ted hasn't been able to eradicate prom date Mary from his mind; I can even suspend my disbelief and plug myself into the surrealist Seventies universe inhabited by the cast of Anchorman. It's an odd observation but I generally only really notice the bad language in a film when it's there simply as an ingredient. There are almost certainly just as many gross moments and 'F' words in There's Something About Mary as there are in Old School, yet it was only the latter film that struck me as being coarse.
Okay, so I'm not within the age demographic these films are targeted at, and I appreciate their producers won't be losing a jot of sleep over any thoughts of mine, and while this type of movie continues to make money at the box office, I know they'll keep right on making 'em! But don't you occasionally ache for a piece of finely-crafted feature film comedy: some of the Lemmon/Mathau collaborations for instance, about people in realistic situations with everyday dilemmas to resolve?
I found myself thinking along these lines when along popped Up In The Air (2009) with George Clooney (or rather plopped - being a rough approximation of the sound it made as it found its way into our supermarket trolley) leading a very solid cast. The film, based on a novel by Walter Kirn, was co-written and directed by Jason Reitman. Reitman also directed Juno, a comedy about teenage pregnancy that I've also seen and very much enjoyed. Up In The Air is the kind of sophisticated comedy that doesn't have many laugh out loud moments (if any!) and causes more smiling than laughter. George Clooney is superb and plays a not wholly attractive character with great skill. The film didn't fail for me on any level. The ending is better than 'feel-good', because we have witnessed the main protagonist go through a series of encounters and experiences that have altered his perception of the world. It's a film that stays with you, and one I'd definitely recommend.