A look at the new dark com­edy Gringo and how taboo hu­mour keeps au­di­ences laugh­ing

Metro Canada (Vancouver) - - Entertainment -

We can all agree that se­rial killers, teenage sui­cide, al­co­holism and un­em­ploy­ment are not laugh­ing mat­ters and yet films like Se­rial Mom, Heathers and With­nail & I mine those top­ics for gig­gles. They’re called dark come­dies and un­spool jokes about taboo sub­jects.

Slaugh­ter­house Five novelist Kurt Von­negut, who knows a thing or two about find­ing the cheer in gloom, says dark com­edy is about “small peo­ple be­ing pushed this way and that way, enor­mous ar­mies and plagues and so forth, and still hang­ing on in the face of hope­less­ness.”

To a cer­tain ex­tent his def­i­ni­tion de­scribes the plot of this week­end’s Gringo. David Oyelowo plays Harold, a hap­less man who finds him­self kid­napped, then on the run from ev­ery­one from drug lords to the DEA af­ter a quick busi­ness trip to Mex­ico.

“I am some­where in Mex­ico with a gun to my head!” Harold screams into the phone. “What a cry­baby,” scoffs his hard-as-nails boss, played by Char­l­ize Theron.

From slap­stick to ver­bal hu­mour, Gringo misses no op­por­tu­nity to take a dire sit­u­a­tion and wring out the laughs. It’s trick­ier than it seems. “Dark com­edy is very dif­fi­cult,” said Pierce Bros­nan, who played up the gal­lows hu­mour in the hit­man farce The Mata­dor. “You have to bring the au­di­ence in and push them away at the same time.”

You might imag­ine that au­di­ences drawn to grim hu­mour are very spe­cific, that they’re an­gry or per­haps have neg­a­tive at­ti­tudes — but a re­cent study from the Med­i­cal Univer­sity of Vi­enna sug­gests oth­er­wise. They found peo­ple who laughed at dark jokes scored high­est on ver­bal and non-ver­bal IQ tests, were more ed­u­cated, scored lower on ag­gres­sion and had bet­ter moods.

If that sounds like you, here are some films that suc­cess­fully nav­i­gate the light side of the dark side:

A Se­ri­ous Man, in­volves two very bad weeks in the life of physics pro­fes­sor Larry Gop­nick, played by Michael Stuhlbarg. In an es­ca­lat­ing se­ries of events, his life is turned up­side down.

Though billed as a com­edy, this may be the bleak­est movie the Coen Brothers have ever made. And re­mem­ber these are the guys who once stuffed some­one in a wood chip­per on film. The story of a man who thought he did ev­ery­thing right, only to be jabbed in the eye by the fickle fin­ger of fate is a tra­giom­edy that shows how ruth­less real life can be.

Del­i­catessen is a high­volt­age vari­a­tion on Sweeney Todd, set in post-apoc­a­lyp­tic France where there is very lit­tle food and no meat; when peo­ple will eat al­most any­thing — or any­one. It’s a dark and moody world wor­thy of any se­ri­ous science-fic­tion movie that stylis­ti­cally owes more to mu­sic videos and an­i­ma­tor Tex Avery’s fever­ishly wild Bugs Bunny car­toons than to other post apoc­a­lyp­tic films.

At the same time it’s filled with belly laughs — es­pe­cially for veg­e­tar­i­ans.

What could be fun­nier than world an­ni­hi­la­tion? Com­ing just a cou­ple years af­ter the Cuban Mis­sile Cri­sis, Stan­ley Kubrick’s com­edy Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Wor­ry­ing and Love the Bomb’s story of an al­most nu­clear holo­caust works so well be­cause it is an ex­ag­ger­ated look at some­thing that could ac­tu­ally hap­pen. It’s a mas­ter­work of black com­edy fea­tur­ing one of the best lines in movie his­tory: “Gen­tle­men, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!”

Richard Crouse is Metro’s movie colum­nist. He ap­pears every Fri­day.

Ama­zon Stu­dios/ap

David Oyelowo, from left, Char­l­ize Theron and Joel Edger­ton in Gringo.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.