Not a kiddie fantasy, like Peter Rabbit 2 or Cruella. Not a Covid-era placeholder, like The War With Grandpa, or a streaming event, like Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. But a rough, raucous, R-rated action comedy, not unlike Bad Boys For Life, which had three weekends atop the box office in January of last year before theaters closed and everyone stopped counting.
Breathe. Laugh. It almost feels like summer.
Through August, at least a dozen adult-leaning comedies are set for release in a recovery that has been initially dominated by horror and family fantasy. Maybe it’s too much to hope that two or three of them will raise momentum enough to smash through the cultural malaise that has soured life for a couple of years now.
But you never know. A string of weekends beginning July 23 brings, in succession, The Comeback Trail, Jungle Cruise (which leans toward family fantasy), The Suicide Squad and Free Guy, all with major stars. A couple of hits would mark a change of mood from A Quiet Place Part II and a skin-color debate over In the Heights.
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The shift would be welcome.
Even before Covid, screen comedy was struggling in the face of superhero competition and what appeared to be a diminishing inclination to laugh at anything short of mean-spirited political memes on late-night TV or online. After hitting something of a low point in 2017, comedy—judged by the number of pictures scheduled for release—seemed poised for a comeback in 2018. But a fat-shaming controversy took the edge off I Feel Pretty, and only Crazy Rich Asians, among the grown-up comedies (putting aside family fantasy, like Jumanji), broke through the earnestness of a year that was dominated by Black Panther.
Instead of laughs, 2019 brought Joker. Most of 2020 was a wipeout.
So we’ve drifted from a genre that used to provide some of our biggest hits, right through the Hangover series (and, of course, the somewhat atavistic Bad Boys).
This seems strange, given a deep-rooted human tendency to find humor in the harshest situations. In the ’60s and ’70s, which had their bleak moments, the movies certainly didn’t stop laughing. Film comedies, some of them major hits, had a go at nuclear war (Dr. Strangelove), racism (Watermelon Man), presidential incompetence (Being There), leftist revolution (Bananas), corporate hypocrisy (Putney Swope), assassination (Sleeper), the counter-culture (The Party), and even the Vietnam war (by refraction, in MASH). Lighter comedies (What’s Up, Doc?, The Odd Couple) never disappeared. Even the Westerns (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Little Big Man) played for laughs.
Indeed, in living memory, the movie mood was never quite so dour as in the time just past. So it’s good to see an adult comedy, even a dark one, reaching for the top.