These films are toxic, I’m slipping under.
During my reveal of Get Out being my Film of 2017, I mentioned that this was the year that I fell back in love with watching movies. In years past, I had sort of been taking them for granted – not recognising how great of a year 2014 was until long after it had passed, fixating on the glut of bad films provided by 2015 rather than those I loved, and being too preoccupied by everything else going on in my life and the world to give 2016 its proper due. But in 2017 I realised once more just how fucking awesome the movies can be, aided by the year being stacked from top to bottom with outstanding films. In fact, working on these year-end articles has increased my appreciation, since I’ve been able to spend more time thinking about the films I loved this past year rather than the various voids that currently make up my life.
The flipside to this, however, is that I haven’t been thinking too much about the truly awful films I saw this year. Not just during these Year-End pieces, I mean that I made a conscious effort throughout 2017 to not allow the kinds of movies that take up residence on this list to occupy my thoughts for too long. I did see a tonne of terrible films this year, but most of them, and the assorted anger or bile that came with them when I first saw them, largely slipped my mind by the time we came to the Year in Review. After all, why let the bad films get you down when there were so many fantastic films out there instead? In fact, why waste time writing a Bottom 10 list at all, when there are Platinum Trophies in the Crash Bandicoot: N-Sane Trilogy winking at me with come hither eyes? I’m only passionately furious about seven of these entries (at time of intro writing) anyway, if I’m being fully honest…
Of course, the answers to those questions are “because I promised you a list yesterday” and “because these are the only non-Jai Courtney articles that get hits,” so here we are. For those of you who are new here: first of all, welcome! Hope you stick around! This is not a Worst Films list. I find Worst Films list to often be lazy, slapdash, fish-in-a-barrel type stuff, made up of easy targets that aren’t in any way interesting to talk about, or whatever is this week’s undeserving Internet whipping mule, and that’s just not for me. I am also a huge Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan, so I have an appreciation for the kind of garbage where I can groove on the passionate badness on display (hence no Book of Henry or anything similar). No, to make it onto my Bottom Films of 2017 list, you had to make me truly angry. You had to offend me, enrage me, leave me agog, disappoint me, make me question what I am doing with my life, or embody everything that is wrong with the current state of moviemaking. These are the kinds of bad films that do not disappear after a few hours; these are the stains that stick, and you scrub and you scrub and your skin starts peeling off as a result of your frenzied scrubbing but the stain never leaves and you descend into madness yelling “UNCLEAN!!! UNCLEAN!!” to no-one at all until you’ve scrubbed yourself to death.
Same eligibility rules apply as in the Top 20 (go here for those), which is why you won’t find a trace of Lion or Patriot’s Day, and I can’t talk about films I haven’t seen – hence the notable lack of The Mummy, The Greatest Showman, The Snowman, and a thousand crappy-looking Netflix comedies. Long-time visitors with worryingly keen memories may be wondering where Una, a film I saw at the London Film Festival in 2016 but didn’t receive a theatrical release until 2017, is. That’s a good shout, Hypothetical Reader, and it’s not on my list because, despite it being unquestionably an appallingly offensive crock of shit (“Maybe paedophiles are just misunderstood because women are CA-RAY-ZEE BEE-ATCHES!?”) that was the worst thing I saw at the Festival in hindsight, putting it on this list would have meant watching it again to refresh my memory and I would rather walk naked through London in Rush Hour traffic during the dead of Winter than do that. So, think of it as a Dishonourable Mention, speaking of which: Fifty Shades Darker, The Beguiled, Gifted, Viceroy’s House, All Eyez on Me, Baywatch, and mother! (as foretold).
OK, let’s get this over with. Today, numbers 10 to 6. Tomorrow, the Final Five. Arm yourself because no-one else here will save you.
There may be spoilers, proceed with caution.
00] Transformers: The Last Knight
Dir: Michael Bay
Star: Mahrky Mahrk Wahlberg, Sir Anthony Hopkins, other people apparently
Somebody was going to ask, so I’ll get this out of the way up front. If you want to get technical, Transformers: The Last Knight is my #1. It should be on this list, it should be sat atop the rest of its kingdom, swirling a chalice filled with piss from its throne of shit. I saw nothing else in a cinema this year that was worse than The Last Knight. They could have shown a Tory orgy for two-and-a-half hours, and I still would have found it vastly preferable to The Last Knight. Somehow, even with the incredibly low standards of Michael Bay’s Transformers movies, all shining beacons of the very worst of modern blockbuster cinema, The Last Knight manages to sprint face first into the lowered bar and die as a result of those injuries. It is, and I am not being hyperbolic here, incomprehensible. Not just on a grand narrative level, like most of the other movies in this franchise, but on a scene-by-scene, moment-by-moment, and even shot-by-shot basis. I attempted to follow along, because I do really want to enjoy these films in spite of everything, and doing so gave me an actual migraine by the hour mark. Again, not exaggerating, this really happened.
13 Hours worryingly displayed a similar total disregard for quality filmmaking with a surprisingly incoherent opening hour, but it turns out that Michael Bay’s devolution as a director was only just getting started. Play an action sequence from this and one from The Rock or Bad Boys 2 or, hell, even The Island side-by-side and marvel in utter bewilderment that these are both films by the same man! It’s almost like, since he finally got to make Pain & Gain a while back, he’s now intentionally sabotaging his own career because he just doesn’t want to make films anymore. The Last Knight doesn’t even have a consistent aspect ratio, switching between 3 in quick succession in almost every single scene, and it runs its opening titles twice! Those are just two of the many, many, many untenable flaws that should be nowhere near the 2-and-a-half-hour, near-$300 million, fifth instalment of a mega-successful franchise! Yet there they are, front and centre, just not giving a fuck! I honestly still cannot quite believe I watched it, but I had the day-long migraine to prove it was indeed real.
And, despite those things, Transformers: The Last Knight is not an official part of my Bottom 10 Films of 2017 list because to grant it entry would be to classify this thing as a film, when it is not. Sure, by dictionary and technical definitions of the term, The Last Knight is “a film,” but I reject the idea that this and something like Get Out are operating in the same medium. The Last Knight is a feature-length Vine compilation, it is a $260 million migraine-inducer, it is an artless supercut of unwatchable unconnected bullshit, and I refuse to grant it the honour of topping this list or the dignity of classifying it as a “film.” If I had to assign scores to movies, I would abstain, it would get 0. I have gone to the well of “[x] is not a film” a few too many times over the years in which I have taken this profession seriously, so I fear this does not have the impact I wish for it to, but I truly mean this from the bottom of my heart: Transformers: The Last Knight is not a film. I don’t know what it is technically, but I know that it is an abomination and an insult to this entire artform.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get on with proceedings proper.
10] Justice League
Dir: Zack Snyder
Star: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher
As promised. Again, I really don’t have any strong feelings towards the DC Cinematic Universe anymore. The shock wore off by the time the house lights came up on Suicide Squad and I’m just numb to their tricks now. I mean, when you’ve decided to top the most ideologically-horrifying rancid reels of soul-destroying celluloid yet made at a major Hollywood studio, by willingly releasing an unfinished movie into theatres the world over and having the gall to demand money for it, there’s kind of nowhere else to go, you know? Every movie in this Universe has been terrible, built on the rotting foundations of Man of Steel (the celluloid manifestation of the abyss), with each subsequent attempt to course-correct being the most surface-level non-fix that one could manage, and the closest one to “good” is just the bog-standard Marvel movie with a truly monotonous final third that even Marvel have largely outgrown by this point. I’m supposed to be shocked and appalled that their grand team-up, a film that bears the unavoidable scars of a Frankensteined deadline-rushed trainwreck of a production even if you somehow weren’t aware of that fact, is also an absolutely dire and bizarrely cheap-looking barrage of sound and fury signifying nothing?
Look, like I said in that linked article, I just don’t have anything else to say about these movies anymore, and I’m tired of giving them the time of day when they clearly aren’t even going to have the common decency to be interestingly terrible again. I really do have no strong feelings towards this franchise anymore, and I have nothing more to add other than mild incredulity that this is supposedly the best that $300 million, some of the most iconic superheroes in the history of comics, the backing of one of Hollywood’s biggest studios, and a literal army’s worth of manpower and talent can do. Justice League is honestly just here because I promised that I would be, also because it sort of fits with the overarching theme of the Final Five, and I would like to think that I am a man of my word when I try. You want a proper rundown on why this is here? Go read that aforementioned linked article. I’m not going to waste my time trying to condense and rewrite that for here; not when Warner Bros. can’t be bothered to make any actual goddamn effort with their movies.
09] Pitch Perfect 3
Dir: Trish Sie
Star: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Anna Camp
I have this theory, one that I’m hoping to properly explore once 3 comes out on home media, that the Pitch Perfect series has only ever worked in spite of itself. Here’s the thing, I love Pitch Perfect. 1 and 2, love them. Yes, even 2 which, upon reflection, is obviously not better than the original like I claimed in my review at the time, but whose themes of splitting friendships in the face of impending graduation hit me right where it mattered for reasons that should be obvious if you’ve glanced at almost any of my articles following June 2016. And yet, Pitch Perfect kind of sucks at all of the reasons why I and so many others love them. As comedies, they’re surprisingly lacking in genuinely funny laugh lines. As musicals, it’s really only the Riff-Offs that are musically interesting, and nobody’s managed to find dynamic or exciting ways to stage any performances. And as female friendship movies: the first was best at it but still frequently marginalised that in favour of Beca and Jesse’s non-starter of a romance, the second indulged in so much racial stereotyping for its comedy that it undermined the whole thing, and the third’s best jokes display that The Bellas aren’t actually that great a bunch of friends.
Honestly, it feels like Pitch Perfect only ever succeeds at the idea of its best self in spite of series writer Kay Cannon, rather than because of her or anything these movies do themselves. It’s a series that, sort of like The Bellas, is a complete shambles at almost every other moment, and yet pulls it together right when it counts so you can forgive all of the other times that they screw up. Despite how this sounds, I really do love the Pitch Perfect series – I would not have jumped at the opportunity to go attend the film/interview combo for the second one were I not a legitimate fan of this series – but as Pitch Perfect 3 wore on, I couldn’t help but think that maybe I was in love with the idea of Pitch Perfect rather than the movies themselves. Because, in my head, if this had to become a series rather than just the one film (and it really did not), then there has to have been a better idea for a send-off than this.
Pitch Perfect 3 is 90 minutes of deleted scenes sewn really awkwardly together into a semi-coherent releasable product. It’s a film that starts off with a very strong foundation to build from – three years since Barden Bellas Classic graduated, everybody’s split off, everybody’s struggling to get by, and nobody is happy with their lot in life – that it junks completely within 10 minutes in order to get us onto a jet-set re-tread of the second Pitch Perfect as expediently as possible, only for the film to very noticeably get cold feet as soon as the obligatory Riff-Off is done. From there, the film lurches between half-baked romances, unbelievable backstories for Fat Amy, extended and over-elaborate homages to the video for Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” and a level of fawning worship over DJ Khaled that most people reserve for human beings that are actually capable of giving half-decent reaction shots. Each plot is visited in roughly that order, oftentimes before the previous plotline has received any conclusion (some just full-on do not have conclusions and are straight-up abandoned), and whilst I would like to give everyone involved points for taking risks and ripping up the rulebook, the truth is that the film never fully commits to any of these digressions. Cannon’s heart never once seems to be in it, like she and co-writer Mike White are just typing any old shit and knocking off for lunch.
As a result, Trish Sie is left utterly floundering. Here is a woman responsible for a great Step Up movie (and the outwardly-comedic one at that) and several instantly iconic music videos, stuck largely having to point and shoot, with the occasional deployment of super-slo-mo and laughably cheap CGI, because the film never commits to anything enough to let her throw some style around. Instead, she’s stuck filming B-Roll that the editing suite has to turn into a movie. The jokes largely miss, and the ones that do hit mostly come from meanspirited insults against the cast – Fat Amy’s unexplained vehement dislike of Emily, the group’s uptight “am I the only one around here that gives a shit about the rules” attitudes during the Riff-Off, continued meta-jokes about Jessica and Ashley’s complete lack of character or importance despite three films having rolled by – that once again undermine the entire “female friendship” hook that these movies supposedly run on. It’s all just so utterly joyless and workmanlike. When the cast hang out together and get to riff as a group, there’s a hint of the heart that is vital to this series, but the film never does anything with it, and one suspects that they’re more concerned with getting to holiday together rather than acting in the film they’re being paid for.
Did I see worse films than Pitch Perfect 3 in 2017? Tonnes. Did I see films that disappointed me more than Pitch Perfect 3 in 2017? Yes, albeit primarily because I saw the writing on the wall when that first trailer dropped in June and could steel myself accordingly. Did I get no enjoyment at all from Pitch Perfect 3? No, I did get some laughs and my heart did swell a little bit at the actual B-roll from across the series that plays over the end credits. But, even with the niggling feeling that maybe this is the send-off that Pitch Perfect really deserves, I wish that everyone involved tried, instead of just shooting random junk and then sending it to cinemas to gain a little extra cash on top of selling the broadcast rights to HBO.
08] American Assassin
Dir: Michael Cuesta
Star: Dylan O’Brien, Michael Keaton, Taylor Kitsch
Ah, this again. In case you’re wondering: yes, about four months on, I am still curious as to what the thought process was that led to a scene where our “hero” being implied to set about destabilising a Middle Eastern country, purely because his superiors hadn’t explicitly told him not to, being a crowd-pleasing film-ender instead of something deeply horrifying. I’d accuse American Assassin of lacking in self-awareness except that, as we discussed back in my review, displaying any modicum of self-awareness would indicate that tangible effort went into the making of this thing. It takes a complete and total absence of any level of effort from everybody involved to make a film this anonymously ugly and hateful. This is corporate-mandated ugliness, the kind that ticks off all of the boxes required to double as a piece of right-wing scaremongering – indiscriminate scary Arabic-speaking terrorists, torture sequences, vicious acts of terrorism we’re forced to be in the middle of, a fetishization of American military might, casual misogyny, more fondness for throat-based murder than even MacGruber – without leaving any traceable fingerprints. Like the monolith, it’s just always been and we’re not supposed to question how it came to be.
American Assassin is also just really badly made and incredibly boring. That’s the part that offends me the most, I reckon, which itself worries me rather. Kind of like how I placed the similarly ugly and hateful London Has Fallen at only #7 last year, directly behind Jason Bourne of all movies, I just can’t work up the level of sustained anger or hatred to justify ranking this any higher. Hell, this was #7 until I realised that I was finding it far easier (and getting far angrier) to write about the actual #7 than this, so I switched them around at the last minute. But I watch films like these, I get sufficiently appalled at them, I voice said appalment via some kind of outlet, and then I mostly just move on with my life. I feel like I’m largely numb to them, in all honesty. Part of that may be the fact that I grew up with 24 and that makes American Assassin look like fucking Lazy Town by comparison – which is doubly hilarious because Vince Flynn, the guy who wrote the Mitch Rapp books that American Assassin is based on, was a story consultant on Day 5 of 24 – but the other part of it might be that I’m just tired of this shit? I mean, I can get rampant misogynistic ugly xenophobia by just turning on the news, or scrolling through my social feeds for a few minutes, or even reading a high percentage of seemingly unrelated critical pieces about films, y’know?
This is basically our culture now. A work like American Assassin isn’t an aberration, or at least the kind of thing that I can watch with the knowledge a majority of us are repulsed totally by it or know that the values it’s espousing aren’t ones to aspire to… It’s the norm. It’s the world now. Brexit is happening, hate crime has been rising in the wake of that and recent terror attacks, and you of course do not need me to remind you that Trump is still in the White House, disgracing the good name of democracy even further with each passing day. Those people who share American Assassin’s views, who would find our lead destabilising a country to be a cheery send-em-home-happy laugh line, got into positions of power, and they have spent the last interminably long year drowning us in their shit, aging us by what feels like 40 years in the space of just 1. So, now, I just feel numb to it. I recognise that it’s awful and terrifying and oh so very shitty, sputter about it for a short while, then go back to trying to keep my own mental health from falling apart rather than sending that energy in the direction of everything else.
So, that’s why American Assassin is only #8 instead of anywhere higher and, just like last year, I fear that it says worrying things about me that I cannot muster up the sufficient amount of caring to place it any higher. Mostly, though, I’m irritated by the fact that this and The Hitman’s Bodyguard are representative of the state of the mid-budget actioner in 2017. Jaume Collett-Serra and David Leitch & Chad Stahelski can’t keep this subgenre afloat by themselves! They can’t commit to that kind of work rate!
07] Daddy’s Home 2/A Bad Moms Christmas
Dirs: Sean Anders/Scott Moore, Jon Lucas
Star: Will Ferrell, Mahrky Mahrk Wahlberg, Mel Gibson, Jon Lithgow/Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn
Now, I know I said back in my Meh-gnificent 7 list that I wasn’t going to put any Comedies on the Bottom 10 list this year; by which I mean, this sort of low-effort, improv-heavy, artistically-empty American Comedy that I’ve been railing against for years. Here’s the thing: both Daddy’s Home 2 and A Bad Moms Christmas are slapdash, unfunny, creatively-bankrupt sequels to terrible movies rushed out in order to strike whilst the iron is hot – literally in Bad Moms’ case, the original came out barely 15 months earlier, despite that timeframe feeling so much longer – and wrapping themselves in Christmas branding to guarantee its fixture as some Cable channel’s “Alternative Christmas Movie” in a couple of years. I sat through them both largely stone-faced, mostly bored, and, in the case of Bad Moms, with the realisation that Girls Trip had shown it up for the utterly conservative and half-assed Middle-Class pabulum that it was. As comedies, I’ve seen more offensive ones, I’ve seen shittier ones, and I’ve seen vastly more memorably shitty offensive comedies than both of these movies this year alone. I could instead be using this space to talk about Baywatch or CHiPs, which perfectly fit that outlined bill.
But, no, I picked Daddy’s Home 2 (or Daddy’s Home Too according to the in-film title card because not even the film’s various graphics designers were on the same page as one another) and A Bad Moms Christmas. Both of them, even, instead of just the one! And they’re not even on here because of their “comedy;” I can’t remember a single joke from either film, not even one to get mad about. No, instead, they are both here because of one segment from A Bad Moms Christmas that perfectly encapsulates the way that both films mix meanspirited comedy with the forced-sentimentality of Christmas to create something far more personally offensive. In this sequence, Kiki and her mother Sandy have paid a visit to Dr. Karl for some mother-daughter therapy. Sandy, you see, is an overbearing smother who refuses to ever give her daughter any space, even attempting to watch Kiki have sex with her husband at one point, resultantly making Kiki feel like she can’t mature into being her own woman. Trying to tell Sandy her feelings on this matter results in Sandy either blatantly lying about some kind of debilitating illness or assuming that this means she is the worst mother in the world and that her daughter doesn’t love her anymore, attempting to make Kiki feel like a bad person for criticising her own mother. Once Sandy leaves, Dr. Karl weighs in with the following abbreviated quote…
“Your mom was probably pretty normal before she had you. But then you were born, and you didn’t sleep for six months, so she didn’t sleep for six months. And you refused to eat, and when you did eat, you would barf all over her clothes, and that made your mom a little bit crazy… And then you got married, and you bought a house you can’t afford, and you’re raising kids who never say ‘please’ or ‘thank you…’ And all those things made your mom super-duper crazy. And then you come into my office and you go, ‘Dr. Karl, why is my mom so crazy?’ and the answer is…?” *beat* “YOU, MOTHERFUCKER! You made your mom crazy! So be nice to her, because you the one who fucked her shit up!”
Under the guise of comedy and “the spirit of the season” or whatever such bullshit, both Daddy’s Home 2 and A Bad Moms Christmas glorify emotionally abusive and toxic family behaviour. A Bad Moms Christmas is more direct about it – particularly with Amy’s mom, Ruth, a domineering ruthlessly cold, casually racist, aloof and verbally abusive arsehole who believes her heart to be in the right place but is completely unaware of the genuine lasting damage she’s inflicted upon her daughter; behaviour she never properly apologises for even during her designated redemption scene – but Daddy’s Home 2 also engages in this, and far more insidiously to boot. Mel Gibson’s Kurt (and no I still don’t think Mel Gibson should be allowed to star in “wholesome” family comedies that venerate his manliness) is portrayed more as a hilarious pixie agent of chaos rather than a self-involved, confrontational, deliberately-argumentative embodiment of all of the worst aspects of toxic masculinity. As much as the film wants to try and hawk the worst of his effects off as being more about the unspoken issues between Dusty and Brad than anything Kurt himself does, it doesn’t change the fact that spending any time with this douchebag reveals Dusty’s vast insecurities and flaws to be a direct result of his emotionally abusive parenting and that, just like with Bad Moms, his failure to directly apologise is treated as nothing more than a laugh line.
In both of these films, the eventual moments in which our protagonists finally call their parents out on their years of shit are not long-time-coming moments of deserved catharsis, but instead the designated “all is lost” moment because “HOW DARE YOU THROW OUT MOM ON CHRISTMAS, SHE’S NICE TO US!” as the kids of Amy in Bad Moms do. (Setting aside the fact that Ruth conditions her grandchildren to look past her many, many flaws and abusive behaviours by handing them expensive gifts at every opportunity, which would be a funny gag if the film had any semblance of self-awareness about Ruth’s true behaviour.) And both films are endemic of Hollywood’s, and particularly the American comedy’s, refusal to call out toxic and emotionally abusive parental behaviour for what it is. Instead they play it for just “oh, it’s so relatable!” laughs, valorising the concept of family above all else, and portraying finally standing up for oneself in the face of all of this behaviour as being selfish and uncaring, no matter how justified you may be and even if that parent refuses to actually apologise. It’s not “cute,” it’s not “harmless.” This shit is why it took until only recently for me to be able to try calling my parents out on behaviour not too dissimilar to those perpetrated by Sandy and Kurt (although thankfully not to as much of a Kurt-degree), and why I still feel like shit despite that.
I understand the sentiment behind these movies, particularly since we sons and daughters of our parents can take them for granted or just be generally shitty towards them, but, believe it or not, there is a fine line between “parents can be a pain in the ass” and “no, these parents are damaging their kids no matter how good their intentions are,” and media in general too often fails to understand when it’s operating in the second category. That’s why Daddy’s Home 2 and A Bad Moms Christmas are both here. When early-Season 1 BoJack Horseman understands that divide and how to treat it, there is no excuse for this shit. It hurts.
06] The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)/The Party
Dirs: Noah Baumbach/Sally Potter
Star: Adam Sandler, Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller/Timothy Spall, Kristin Scott Thomas, Patricia Clarkson
As I just mentioned, I have refrained from including the kind of Comedy I would usually stick on this list this year. Although it was not for a lack of trying on its part (Baywatch alone could trigger 10,000 rambling words about the dismal state of things), perhaps my expectations have finally been lowered to such an extent where I just can’t get angry anymore when something like CHiPs does cross my path. I’ve been conditioned not to expect much better, to sit through mirthless, ramshackle enterprises held together with sticky tape and mediocre improv. Sure, I may still want better from my American comedies – and it is largely the American comedy that I am forever referring to, by virtue of proliferation and the fact that shitty British comedies have the decency to be terrible in idiosyncratic ways – because I love the genre so much, but I’ve grown to accept the inevitable and to savour the increasingly rare occasions where one manages to elicit more than three chuckles from me.
No, the comedies that most grated my nerves and patience throughout 2017 could not possibly be lumped in with those movies, as they’ve had more effort put into them than the entirety of their would-be peers over the past three years combined. Too much effort, one could say. Or, rather, the appearance of too much effort. These are films that are ostensibly comedies, but are completely devoid of jokes and unlike their counterparts, which are straining so very heavily to have recognisable jokes that you can see the more-talented members of their casts on the verge of bursting blood vessels as a result, they seem utterly disinterested in them altogether. What they are instead aiming for is to appear intellectual. Whether they are intellectual is completely irrelevant to proceedings, but they are aiming to appear smart. To throw heady buzzwords and concepts at the viewer, to aim their scopes at intellectuals for fellow intellectuals, and navel-gaze so deeply that their spines somehow curve themselves into the perfect position to allow said navels a nice front-row seat to their body’s own arsehole. And, instead of jokes with carefully constructed punchlines and set-ups and any semblance of wit, characters will instead vomit an entire novella’s worth of excessively flowery verbally obtuse bullshit that takes 27 words to communicate something that could be just as effectively conveyed in 5 – yes, I am perfectly aware of griping about that fact whilst my own work is staring back at us, you’re very clever for observing.
For years, I knew of this type of artless wankery, but it wasn’t until 2015 that I found the perfect name for them, as coined by my good friend Lucy: Smart Person Comedies. After all, the Smart Person Comedy is not for you or I, but for the kind of person so desperate to appear “sophisticated” and “cultured” that they will chortle at irregular intervals for no discernible reason, whilst everybody else sits in stone silence slowly going mad over what everybody is finding so funny when THERE ARE NO JOKES HERE, WHERE ARE THE JOKES, WHAT COULD YOU BE LAUGHING AT, THAT WASN’T A JOKE! Whatever your teenaged self wrongly assumed Film Critics to be, that’s the target audience for a Smart Person Comedy. I make it a point to try my very best to not insult audiences when reviewing films – it’s a very teenage notion to believe that everything needs to be made specifically for your personal enjoyment, and it leads to some very snobby elitism if left unchecked – but Smart Person Comedies are the bane of my moviegoing existence because, and here’s the dirty little secret, they are just your usual shitty comedy except trying to convince you very greatly that they totally aren’t. They are fundamentally dishonest yet insist on hogging the stage anyway like they’re somehow above everybody else, and I cannot stand it.
The one upside to this whole subgenre is that, because it takes a lot of conscious effort to be this goddamn insufferable, a Smart Person Comedy is a whole lot rarer than all other kinds of comedies. The downside is that they can come in packs to film festivals, and that means I end up having to suffer through them all the same. Now, I could attempt to do a pros/cons thing for both The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) and The Party to determine which one is marginally less insufferable than the other. The Party is a full 40 minutes shorter, isn’t shot by a five-year-old suffering from extreme nicotine withdrawal, and didn’t make me actually yell out “JUST END ALREADY” at any point; whilst Meyeorwitz has genuinely decent performances, is at least better than both of Baumbach’s godawful 2015 ventures, and isn’t in black-and-white for no apparent reason. But both were absolute torture to sit through and the lowest points of a relatively-disappointing 2017 London Film Festival. Plus, it’s not really a Bottom 10 list if I’m not cheesing at least a few of these entries. Fact is, though, that picking which of the two I least hate is akin to asking whether I’d prefer to be shivved in the taint or the tit by the sort of person that would spend that shivving lecturing you on how this fatal act is inconveniencing them.
Please, God, let Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird actually be good. I’m starting to lose my mind attempting to figure out why I genuinely love Frances Ha but hate everything else in this unendurable subgenre.
Tomorrow: The Final Five.
Callie Petch wants to let go of this pain they’ve felt so long.