What the heck is this sub-genre of comedy films that are cropping up on our screens? Well, filmmakers aren’t being rude. They just want audiences to know that screenwriters toiled over their keyboards to write “dumb” gags. They are purposefully farcical and deserve more respect than dumb comedies which are poorly developed and badly written.
Such comedy movies are often relegated to low-brow status by the critics. However, they are anything but. They include metaphors, cautionary tales and outright social commentary using comedy as a vehicle. Pretty smart move, I’d say.
Why would a screenwriter consider a smart dumb screenplay?
For starters they enjoy the belly laughs. The scenes can border on the outrageous. The can be self-conscious without being self aware. Forget the cliched water cooler moments we see in broad comedies which delicately maneuver around homely gags that even your grandparents can enjoy. What about gross-out comedies which rely on a high cringe factor that often eclipses the story? It’s torture porn for comedy.
Smart dumb comedy fills the space with surgical precision. They inject each joke with a cleverness and ingenuity that highlights their thematic depth.
The smart dumb comedy has class. Every action is goofy, but inventive and intentioned in its execution. Consider the hyperactive film “Don’t Stop Stopping” starring the very versatile Adam Sandberg. The title is both hopeful and a subversive motto about never giving up. Is this rapid-fire exploration of the rise and fall of super stars a mockumentary or documentary? Is it a parody, satire or lampoon? Probably a combination of all three. Done with surgical precision.
The characters may appear dopey… wait they are dopey, but they aren’t stupid. Far from it. They accurately inhabit the music world with deep parody and industry satire. They are mildly aware of their hilarious antics, but the screenwriters are most certainly not. Every smart dumb gag is doubled-dipped in authenticity, right down to the last mental breakdown of a washed up singer.
The half-witted characters in these movies have seemingly traded their smarts for heart. And can damn well trade them back again if necessary. Life’s too short to take seriously.
Consider the “Dumb & Dumber” film franchise. It wasn’t called “Dumb & Smarter” for good reason. The screenwriters lobotomized their characters and turned them into snarky, one-dimensional clowns with no hopes, morals or purpose. They don’t stand for anything other than to be as dumb as possible. That’s pretty crass and mean spirited screenwriting if you ask me.
Smart dumb comedies steer away from the saccharine style of romantic comedies. There are no wedding scenes with the effervescent uncle that gets too drunk or the neurotic aunt who can’t find her calming pills.
Did you ever see the film “Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates?” Perhaps it teetered on the razor’s edge of falling into the dumb comedy camp, but you have to admit the characters had verve. Their immature antics had a smart warmth and wisdom to them. I’ll never look at a banana the same way again. Enough said.
Smart dumb comedies work on so many levels and are extraordinarily difficult to nail tonally. They really are an incredible balancing writing act between being too absurd and snarky, to being too smart for their own good. In their own way, they must satisfy both audience desires. They also have a peculiar power to invite audiences to focus on each element separately.
The muddled animated comedy “Sausage Party” becomes smarter every time you watch it. The script writers ventured deep into the thematic jungle with their biting dig at religious freedoms and discrimination. Who knew God Hates Figs? Then you watch the title sequence again and devolve into fourteen year old schoolboy giggles and snorts.
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is an older example of the smart dumb comedy genre. But it does demonstrate the screenwriting mastery of this movie. Many of the gags are so subtle that the untrained movie goer may not even recognize them as jokes. Therein lies the ingenuity of this goofy, screwball comedy. It even packs in a refresher history lesson to boot. Entertainment and education all rolled into one film.
Smart dumb comedy may be just the tonic for sophisticated audiences who are jaded with bland, unadventurous and reductive comedic cinema.
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