Make ’em laugh. That’s a song from Singin' in the Rain. It seems very appropriate for this SXSW Film Festival, and not just because I happily stood in the rain for an hour and a half to see Neighbors. Actually, let’s change it a little bit. “Make me laugh.” There. That’s better. Film festivals can be filled with heartbreaking documentaries and tragic dramas, that’s why I always scan the descriptions for the word “comedy.” I need a little pep in my film if I’m seeing four to five a day for the week.
Thankfully, SXSW didn’t disappoint this year. Here is a roundup of the funny films SXSW had to offer, and that you should look for in the coming months.
The Dark Comedy
Jason Bateman is sick of seeing that nice-guy-wide-eyed-in-over-his-head-Bateman type. So he decided to direct and star in his first film. It’s about a guy who enters a spelling-bee competition. It makes you cringe a few times with its extraordinary foul language, which is totally worth it for the shock factor it provides. The easy comparison is Bad Santa because of the swearing and adult/kid dynamic, but there’s a little more heart and quality discomfort with this film.
Are you thinking what I’m thinking? We don’t have any good tennis movies that seem to respect/showcase the sport and entertain us at the same time. Well, now we do thanks to Jeremy Sisto, David Walton and director Jay Karas. With Break Point, the jokes are very similar to that of Bad Words. There is a young kid who gets f-bombs hurled at him, along with some quality tough love.
This is Josh Lucas as you’ve never seen him before, unless he’s always like this, and you know him really well. He’s a deadbeat who wanders back into his straight-laced brother’s life. It sounds basic. It doesn’t feel that way. There is something going on with this film. It’s addictive, rough and darkly funny. The funny comes from awkward authenticity. This is John Magary's first feature-length film, and he is the one voice I am very curious to hear more from. I didn't love The Mend, but the first half is very strong and it’s the one film that has been lingering.
A Few Funny Moments
Stage Fright and Premature
I can’t say Stage Fright or Premature are great films, but they have their moments. Stage Fright is a horror musical that takes place at a camp. The opening number makes you think you're on the verge of greatness, they just don’t mine the concept for all that it is worth. Neither does Premature. It’s the Groundhog Day concept, but in high school. Unfortunately the lead character spends most of his time complaining instead of realizing the power at hand.
Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon
Mike Myers always gives us effort. It’s sometimes good (Austin Powers) and sometimes bad (The Love Guru), but at least it’s passionate (I’m looking at you Adam Sandler). Myers directs his first documentary, and it has a great subject in talent manager Shep Gordon. There are a ton of celebrity interviews and stories. It also gives us insight in a job we don’t know much about. Where do managers come from? What do they do? It helps that Shep seems like the nicest man in Hollywood.
What happens when a comedian (Jenny Slate) gets dumped, fired and pregnant? We laugh. It’s not the anti-Juno or Knocked Up film, but it’s wonderful to see honest, heartfelt, realistic conversations about abortion in a film. This is Gillian Robespierre's first feature, and hopefully she'll have a long career making women like Slate shine on-screen.
Jon Favreau brings to life a tale about a chef looking for this passion. It’s easy and obvious to compare what Favreau went through with Iron Man 2 and Cowboys & Aliens and see this film as a response. Thankfully, he brings passion and laughter to the screen along with flat-out food porn. Trust me, eat a sandwich or two before the film, because you will be drooling. He gets a great cast to help him out in this small film with Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Platt, John Leguizamo and a great cameo. He even proves Sofia Vergara doesn’t have to be annoying in a film. Nothing super horrendous happens during the course of our chef's journey. It’s a nice comedy.
The Flat-Out Hilarious
Supposedly this is a work-in-progress print. After all, there were no credits at the end of the film. I wouldn’t change a thing, except the “no credits” part. Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne and Zac Efron star in this film about a couple with a newborn baby living next to a fraternity house. There are great one-liners, amazing physical comedy, and Robert De Niro impressions. It’s also tight. Ninety-five minutes means they don’t waste much time, which is something weren't not used to with the Apatow filmmaking family. Even more impressive, this isn’t about a man regressing back to frat behavior, with his wife disappearing on the sidelines asking him to change. This is a likable couple at war with a likable frat. I can’t wait to rewatch this film.
What We Do in the Shadows
Four vampires live under one roof. It's an incredibly creative mockumentary from the minds of Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi. It is showcased like a Real World episode, with the guys giving awkward interviews and talk about the struggles of being hundreds of years old. It has the single best joke of all of the films, involving talk of virgins. Unlike films like Premature, it milks its concept for all it is worth and even has some nice surprises along the way.
To catch up on all our coverage of the 2014 SXSW Film Festival, head over to our main SXSW page.
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