Almost every time I go to a mainstream movie, I get demoralized by the coming attractions. Reel after reel is dominated by special effects, deafening noises, imminent catastrophe, meaningless violence (I always prefer my violence meaningful and swollen with organ music, which would explain my extreme attachment to Godfather I and Godfather II).
Equally depressing is what passes for comedy these days, which, I know, makes me sound like a cranky old bat, but sometimes, cranky batdom in the defense of good comedy must be embraced. So sue me. Sue me and my friends and anybody else who don’t find smart-ass, low-brow fraternity-boy humor to be sidesplitting.
It’s male humor, my husband tells me, bringing up the object lesson of the Three Stooges. He’s right: I’m pretty sure every low-rent movie and TV comedy with adolescent jokes about women is descended from Curley and Moe and whoever that third stooge was. (I particularly don’t want to Google the Three Stooges for his name and find out how many millions of sites are devoted to their oeuvre. No, let me live in ignorance.)
Anyway, all of this is a lengthy preamble to an antidote — one of the best movies I’ve seen in recent years, The Messenger. It’s the story of two military veterans whose job is to notify next of kin after a death in Iraq or Afghanistan. You see horrific moments of grief — parents and spouses overwhelmed by the news of their losses, collapsing, screaming, sickened. At the same time, you see the tremendous toll of being the bearer of that wrenching news, of keeping to the military script, of pretending almost not to be human.
It’s not an antiwar movie, by any means. It’s a movie about the hideous consequences of war — even though you see no battlefield scenes or corpses. I’m inclined to think that every American is now complicit, at some level, in the wars we’re waging in the Middle East, wars that were approved and enthusiastically promoted by an administration of draft-dodgers. I think we need to see the psychic carnage we have created.
But there’s something else in The Messenger that touched me greatly. In a world where real-life frat boys plan wars and movie frat boys get drunk and fart and salivate over beautiful women seemingly without brains or aspirations or personalities, here is a movie about two guys struggling to grow up and live with real pain and face the truth about themselves and their lives. Unlike too many of their film counterparts, they’re striving to be men, not boys.
Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster are superb in the lead roles. I Googled their names to make sure I got them correct. In the way that minutiae and debris have of resurfacing in your mind, I also recalled the Third Stooge’s name. It’s Larry, I think. Now, I hope to forget it again. Forever would be nice.
(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read one of my favorite posts about the real threat to marriage
Love your side humor parts. Funny. The post wasn’t bad, either. 🙂
I’ll have to add that to our movie list … and have plenty of tissues at the ready.
I have to wonder, though, what kind of scary spam a headline like that will get you.
I’ve heard Woody interviewed on Fresh Air with Teri Gross and I’m anxious to see the film. Thanks for the critique. And thanks for the 3 Stooges comments. I’m going to shame my husband into withdrawing his membership in this club if it’s the last thing I do!
No spam so far, Roxanne. Maybe I’m being ignored.
Looking forward to seeing this movie – thanks for sharing.
I have that movie on our list. Your description reminds me a bit of The Chekist, not sure of the sp., a film by the Russian director who made The Coo-Coo. The Chekist’s job was condemning aristocrats to die. He went through lists. People were taken to the basement, lined up, shot. Over and over. At the end the man goes crazy from guilt. The title comes from the Cheka, the secret police. Well, more than you wanted to know. I look forward to seeing The Messenger.
Ruth, I trust your critique of this film.
Adding The Messenger to my Waiting-for-the-DVD List.
Your husband is right. The Three Stooges is all about Male Humor. I like them– a unique physical comedy team. But, as The Three Stooges waned at the end of the ’50s, I think Male Humor (in film) entered into a long period of drought that continues to this day. I don’t even want to speak of frat boys. The only message I get from that is the line between preschool and party school grows evermore muddled.
My all-time favorite-in-the-world comedy film:
BRINGING UP BABY (1938)
I was excited to read this and get to the name of the film that has a real message but, sigh, I hate war movies and movies about veterans. The “horrific moments of grief” would just kill me. I get so upset by these kinds of movies that they haunt me for years. So this is not one I am going to put on my must-see list. But I did appreciate reading about it here!
My own candidates for funniest movies of all time:
The Late Show
The Opposite of Sex
All About Eve
A Fish Called Wanda
His Girl Friday