I was on a flight recently, one of those short ones where you don’t get an individual screen and instead have to crane your neck up awkwardly to the communal one along with everyone else. Naturally, it was showing Mr Bean. It’s usually either that or a strange French version of You’ve Been Framed.
Anyway, my book wasn’t keeping me particularly gripped so I watched a few minutes of Rowan Atkinson doing his scruffy tweed jacketed thing instead. And after a while I started chuckling, because while it might not be the most sophisticated sort of humour (I think he’d just knocked over a three-wheeled car, again), it is funny. Next to me, an Emirati guy and an Indian man were also merrily chortling along, too. And I thought how incredible it was for someone to have made three people from three totally different cultures laugh without making a single sound (not that you could have heard it – we were next to the wing).
Atkinson is firmly among comedy’s greats, a man who can have people in hysterics with just a few waggles of his rather rubbery face (and his performance at the Olympic opening ceremony proves he’s still got it). There are numerous others up there as well. The Pythons, Peter Cook, for example, and perhaps – simply for his outstanding deadpan – Leslie Nielsen (“You so much as sneeze and I’ll be there to wipe your nose”, is a particular favourite).
But then when you look at the current crop of stars regularly wheeled out for cinematic chortles, they’re just not the same. Rowan Atkinson is an excellent comedy actor. John Cleese is (well, was) an excellent comedy actor. Nielsen was an excellent comedy actor. Paul Rudd is not an excellent comedy actor.
You don’t look at Rudd, whose latest role is in Judd Apatow’s This is 40, and want to start shouting out his best lines or re-enacting some of his most ridiculous on-screen moments. And yet, every other month, out comes yet another “laugh out loud” bromance/rom-com/com-rade (I made that one up) with him in the centre. Same with Jason Segel, Zach Galifianakis and all the others in this unfunny ensemble. And it’s all Apatow’s fault.
While I appreciate it’s almost sacrilegious to criticise the ’Tow, given that he helped bring us Ron Burgundy (which, granted, was hilarious), I just don’t get the fuss regarding the rest of his rather sizeable output. Check out his list of films on IMDb. To say he’s prolific is akin to suggesting Kim Kardashian has an above-average sense of self-worth.
But look closer and you’ll see they’re pretty much all the same. They’ve all got the same flimsy plotline and stuttered dialogue, with the majority of LOLs reliant on “wacky” characters, usually on the wrong side of chubby and often channelling a strange confidence that belies their appearance.
Bridesmaids, for example, was OK, but did it deserve the hoopla it received? No. Was its “outrageous” food-poisoning scene funnier than, say, the “help, help, I’m being oppressed” scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail? Nope.
I recently saw the “highly recommended” Five-Year Engagement. One word: rubbish. Wacky characters, pointless script, inane situations – it just followed the same cliched route down a distinctly mediocre road.
Unfortunately, I’m fighting a losing battle. The financial success of Apatow and his copycats ensures more of these types of movies are being spewed (sometimes literally) out each year, most with the same largely un-comical cast of misfits.
I’m just looking forward to the new Monty Python film that was announced last year. Fingers crossed they don’t replace Graham Chapman with Rudd.
Alex Ritman is a reporter for The National’s Arts & Life