In Popcorn Dialogues, Jenny and Lani study movies in series defined by theme, genre, or subject matter. For a description of each series, scroll down the page or use the links below to jump to the one you want.
The Great Depression began on Oct 29, 1929 and lasted for the next decade, people lost everything they had . . . . We know. Familiar. But people still went to the movies, and the screwball romance was one of the most popular genres, tackling basic subjects like class, wealth, and sex with fast-paced comedy so the truth didn’t sting so much. And it didn’t hurt that there was always a happy ending. It Happened One Night was perfect, Ninotchka was really bad, and The Lady Eve had one of the worst heroes in the history of romcom. But the heroines? Fantastic, every one of them, setting a standard for romcom heroines to come.
So after six movies with kick-ass heroines, we headed into the post-war era when America tried to persuade women that there was no place like home, and since romantic comedies are the stuff of entertainment, not revolution, the films we saw followed the party line: these heroines’ careers are either woman’s work—teacher, librarian, interior decorator, mistress—or non-existent, and what most of them really want to be is married. The Cold War, Civil Rights, the struggle for equal pay? The romantic comedy world didn’t seem to notice, concentrating on big strong heroes who saved the day. Pillow Talk has the worst hero since The Lady Eve, How to Steal A Million’s hero stole the movie from his heroine, and The Apartment . . . who said that was a romantic comedy? Thank God for The Desk Set, that’s what we said.
If the movies of the last era were about women who wanted to get married, this era is about women who are slavering for it. The most notable change: a definite loosening of the moral code, with everybody having affairs including two adulterous ones. Biggest craft shift: four of these movies have TDTL (Too Dumb To Live) heroines, only two of whom are likable (see Avanti and What’s Up, Doc?), and one of the non-ditzes is a doormat. Bring on the Liberation, or at least some admirable heroines again. The Depression era heroines would be appalled.
Hurray! Smart heroines again. A lot of romances between equals in this era (including one where they’re in the same body), so the battle of the sexes is happening with real wit as weapons. We were incensed by character violations and entranced by another perfect movie: Moonstruck. Also Steve Martin and John Cusack really know how to make romantic comedies. (Yes, Better Off Dead is a romantic comedy. Trust us.)
It’s the internet age and everything can be explained either scientifically or mathmatically except that love thing, so the movies from this era tend toward fantasy, either literally (love potions exist!) or narratively (a hitman is GREAT husband material). One of these movies surprised us by how good it was (love potions exist), another split us (Jenny: “If the first half of a movie is bad, I don’t care how great the last half of it is, even if it is in France.” Lucy: “I don’t care, I love this movie”) and another one we were both bananas about (a hitman really is great husband material). Also, our podcasts from this era are better because we’re getting smarter.
And now we’re up to modern times. We’ll tell you what we found out here when we get to it. Stay tuned.
Because we’re big Grosse Pointe Blank fans and because the link between stress and love is strong, we want to look at killers who give up the gun for love, or at least put love in front of the gun. No, that’s not right, either. Okay, we wanted to look at love and non-domestic violence.
Guy Comedy is comedy written by guys for guys in a guy POV full of stuff that guys find funny. Guy Comedy doesn’t care how low or ridiculous it goes to make you laugh, or how many marginalized women it uses to accessorize the story, so leave your taste, maturity, and feminism at the door. This is Guy Land.
The Heist/Con hero (he’s almost always male) is a direct descendant of the picaro/trickster/anti-hero. His appeal rests on his wit, his reflexes, and his ability to flaunt the law without blinking. He’s Tom Jones, Moll Flanders (okay, one woman), D. B. Cooper, Frank Abagnale, and Simon McDermot (Peter O’Toole in How To Steal a Million, close cousins to Martin from Grosse Point Blank and the Franks from You Kill Me and Red, and it really helps if he has a Robin-Hood-heart-of-gold. The most important part of the heist/caper movie after its trickster protagonist? The plot which had better be as smart and as fast as its law-breaking hero.
One of the most difficult challenges awaiting the television writer is that of building a community of characters which will engage the audience and generate story. In our Writing Communities season, we looked at the ways in which five TV shows — all with a mystery/caper flavor — established their communities, and developed them through the first season.
For the purposes of PopD, a mystery is a story where the goal of the protagonist is to solve a crime, preferably murder. The protagonist thereby becomes the detective even if he or she is not a private eye or on the police force. If it detects and solves crime, it’s a detective. This usually means that the antagonist is the criminal which makes plot analysis so much easier than in a rom com. Three cheers for a just society.
Noir is technically a subset of the hardboiled mystery, its main difference being that the detective is not a professional but an ordinary man thrust into dangerous and violent circumstances. The terms have blurred now, probably because when hardboiled fiction is brought to the screen, it’s usually called “film noir.” The four noir mystery films we’ll be watching include two adaptations of hardboiled novels, a modern noir film, and a darkly comic homage to genre.
Romantic mystery is a natural. Mystery has plenty of plot but not much room for character development; romance is all about character but has a tougher time with plot; marry the two and you’ve got a winner. Romantic suspense, woman-in-jeopardy, rom-crime, whatever you call it, this kind of story puts two people under a great deal of stress while they work together. The excitement of falling in love, the fun of flirting, the exhilaration of great sex . . . . A good romantic mystery has it all.
Here’s the thing about mixing mystery and comedy: you’re trying to mesh a serious threat to humanity, real tragedy, with laughter. It can certainly be done, but usually you have to sacrifice either the light-hearted part of comedy (see Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang) or the tragic part of murder (see Trenchcoat), and either choice kneecaps that part of the genre. So while we’ll be sticking to our six main points, we’re also going to be looking at the choices the writers made as to what to sacrifice.
The episodes on comedic mysteries: High Anxiety, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, Clue, The Big Lebowski and Hot Fuzz.