June 8th, 2021

Blow My Mind

In which I imagine other people doing work

I've been thinking about It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. As one does.

I saw it two weekends ago, knowing it by reputation (Simpsons writer vet Bill Oakley loves the film and the show did a homage to it) and wanting to laugh. It's funny and large-scale, and very, very much of its 1963 time. Filmmakers were still trying to figure out how to shoot widescreen movies in interesting ways, and a lot of IAMMMMW is frustratingly cluttered, as well as flat. (Though as I said in my earlier post, there's some good use of the locked-off comedy frame where funny stuff is happening in the far, far background.) The tone's mostly a little flat, too, with everyone and everything screaming and crashing more and more as the film goes on. That IAMMMMW was a hit had a lot, of course, to do with its stacked cast of comedic performers — the single shot of the Three Stooges as firemen got laughs and applause from audiences — but it being in American theaters as people dealt with the shock of JFK's assassination suggests that in that moment, Americans truly, deeply wanted to laugh. No judgment, people of November 1963.

The movie happened because producer-director Stanley Kramer wanted to do a non-drama, and he got weirdly ambitious in deciding on the goal of "funniest movie of all time," when his skills as a filmmaker were mainly for dramatic films. (Honestly he wasn't that great as a dramatic filmmaker, either; most of his movies don't hold up.) But it happened.

And made me wonder if something like IAMMMMW could happen again.

There've been similar large-scale comedies and in-spirit remakes, some with fans (like 1941 or Rat Race) and some unloved (and deservedly so, like the absolutely wretched Million Dollar Mystery), but now that we're in an era of So Much Blockbuster Filmmaking OMG, couldn't a large-scale-but-nowhere-near-$200 million comedy make an audience impression?

I wondered what comedy stars would want to make something like this, but you need someone on Eddie Murphy's, Adam Sandler's, or Dave Chappelle's level to spearhead it, and Murphy, Sandler, and Chappelle don't seem to be ambitious that way. I'm not up on the current comedy stars, and don't know their level of acting ability, which you'd want to make any such film as satisfying as possible.

So have a really good filmmaker spearhead it. Someone with filmmaking chops and cred, who interesting actors want to work with. Maybe a film like this is an unrealized ambition of, say, P.T. Anderson, who likes to laugh, but it hit me who might be perfect:

The Coen Brothers. They write, they direct, they're funny when they want to be, they zig when people expect them to zag, and they have a stupendously high batting average. Many damn good actors seek out roles on their movies. They could conceive something large-scale and funny and with a point. They've also had the experience of making a larger-scale-by-their-standards movie that didn't connect with audiences, 1994's The Hudsucker Proxy (which is still hilarious and a cult film), and they could apply lessons from Hudsucker to Completely Made Up By Some Internet Guy Big-Ass Comedy. Maybe.

Now I want to imagine a film from them (or someone else interesting) like this. Outdo It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. It's possible.