Over the past few weeks, as is our habit, my wife and I have been unwinding at the end of long work/school weeks by checking out the latest movie offerings.
[Quick side note: If you're a movie-lover (or even just a movie-liker), go get yourself a Moviepass right now. Here's the link (https://www.moviepass.com/). Seriously, stop reading now and get one. We get to see so much stuff that we couldn't afford otherwise. And who knows how long it might be around - if you read the news it could implode any second. End of (not so) quick side note.]
Our current movie theatre of choice is a small-ish Regal Cinema (just a few minutes from our house). Being on the smaller side, it mostly gets comedies and kids movies, while the bigger movie (just a few minutes further from our house), gets the bigger blockbusters and wannabe blockbusters.
Anyway, it gives us a great chance to see comedies that we might not see otherwise because we can't always justify the cost. [Seriously, Moviepass is amazing]. Over the past few weeks, we saw two average-to-above-average comedies, that I've been thinking alot about because they seemed to go about their screenwriting in very different ways.
So - ding, ding, ding - let the battle begin.
It's OVERBOARD vs. LIFE OF THE PARTY!
Right off the bat, I will say that I laughed a lot during both of these movies. I didn't think they were great, and neither of them will probably work their way into my all-time favs or even a movie that I'll watch more than once.
But I liked them both. And I didn't feel like I wasted 90 minutes on either. And that's not nothing.
"Life of the Party" was a perfect vehicle for comedy genius, Melissa McCarthy (who doesn't love her?). She journeys down the well-worn path (notably also journeyed by Rodney Dangerfield) as an adult returning to the wild and crazy life of a college student. I don't want to give much away (because I feel like built up expectations are killers of good comedy), but there were points where I was crying laughing. Some of the funniest stuff I can think of ever seeing were in this movie. My stomach hurt from laughing at times.
Wait a second... Didn't I lead you to believe this movie was just okay?
Yes, I did. And, yes, I still stick by that.
The big problem with "Life of the Party" is that it just feels like a loose collection of funny bits. It created a general premise (again perfectly tailored to the talents of Ms. McCarthy), but then didn't hold them together all that well. Character development was almost nil. Side characters were basically just different versions of "odd and unusual" with no real pay-offs. Challenges arose more or less out-of-the-blue, only to inspire another hysterical bit, but were then quickly overcome without leaving much of a mark.
Now, people are wondering, "Did he actually think this was a good movie?"
Yes, I did. And, yes, I still stick by that.
However, with as funny as it was at times, I think this could've been a great movie if it had put a little more effort into developing a stronger thru-line with real character growth and story. It seems to me that Ms. McCarthy and her co-writer/director husband, Ben Falcone, fell back on their background as sketch comedy artists (they met and fell in love in The Groundlings - L.A.'s premier playground for improv and sketch). This movie feels like a series of (again SUPER funny) sketches with only a thin plot guiding us from one sketch to the next. I laughed and laughed and laughed at parts, but since I didn't really know or care about the characters, the movie dragged during the weak connective tissues.
"Overboard," on the other hand, gave a lot of thought to its plot and character growth.
I like Anna Faris, and although I had never heard of him before, I was willing to give Eugenio Derbez a chance. But (SPOILER ALERT) they're not as funny as Melissa McCarthy (almost no one is). Both Anna and Eugenio made me laugh a bunch, but I was never making my popcorn saltier with my tears of glee.
Still, at the end of the day, I think that "Overboard" was a better movie.
In this movie, the screenwriters had the difficult task of making unlikeable characters likeable, and I think that gave them focus. Let's be honest, this is a movie about a stuck-up billionaire manchild, who gets kidnapped and manipulated by an angry mom looking for revenge. That's not necessarily the recipe for a laugh riot - it sounds more like a dark thriller.
The writers knew that and worked hard to overcome it.
[Full disclosure: I'm not a huge fan of the original "Overboard," for a lot of the reasons that I just outlined. That movie seemed to work solely based on the chemisty and charisma of Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell who are just so damn charming that we didn't care that they are both absolutely horrible people in that movie.]
Anna Faris and Eugenio Derbez don't have the personal relationship (re: chemistry) or the fame of their original movie counterparts (who were two of the biggest stars in the world when the original "Overboard" came out), so instead they needed a better story. Anna Faris is a mom who is literally about to fall over from trying to give her kids a good life. She works two jobs. She goes to school. Her mom isn't helping at all. Her house is falling apart. How could we not want her to succeed (even if she has to do dubious things to achieve it)?
Eugenio, on the other hand, is taken in the opposite direction. He is so terrible, and treats everyone so badly, and is so obnoxious, that we don't mind at all seeing him get forced to perform menial labor and sleep in a shed where he has to pee in a bucket. Then we can come along with him little by little as he evolves.
This movie also wisely uses its side characters to carry some of the load. It's not Anna Faris's plan to kidnap the jerky billionare (like Kurt Russell does); instead it's Eva Longoria who comes up with the plan and all but forces Anna Faris to go through with it. In the same way, Anna Faris doesn't just steal Eugenio from the hospital, his much worse sister abandons him there, which paves the way for Anna Faris to almost perform a good deed by saving him and giving him a home.
Are people thinking, "He must've really loved this movie!"?
I didn't. Because, while it had some good laughs, it wasn't SUPER funny. Just enjoyable.
But I was invested in the characters. I wanted to see Anna Faris succeed and get to go to school. I wanted to see Eugenio Derbez evolve into a good person. I eventually even wanted them to end up together. I wanted to go along for the ride.
In the end, I would recommend (and have recommended) people go see both of these movies. Like I've said many times, they're both legitimately funny and a good time at the movies. [Plus if you have a Moviepass, they're basically free. Seriously, if you haven't already, get a Moviepass. I'm not paid by them, I just love mine]. And in the end, I love comedies and I love to laugh. Both of these movies succeed at that in varying degrees.
In the end, though, the point I really wanted to get across is:
In the battle of jokes vs. story, I think focusing on story will make a better movie everytime.
Thanks for reading! (I promise I won't talk about Moviepass in every blog. Probably.)