The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

May This Post Have Your Hand in Marriage?

The fifth of Christopher Booker’s Seven Basic Plots is ‘Comedy’. The classical form of comedy follows an arc from chaos to peace. When the lovers at last unite in marriage, the world is put right. It’s interesting that the classical form of tragedy follows the reverse arc: from peace to chaos. When the protagonist’s fatal flaw is revealed and put into play the world is torn asunder. It’s interesting that for the ancients comedy was essentially intersubjective while tragedy was individualistic; you need two people to set things right, but it only takes one screwed up person to tear everything down.

I was thinking about more recent comic stories. Are they always romances with happy endings? Take the two recent hit comedies, Borat and the Trailor Park Boys movie, both feature a marriage near the end that signifies the dawning of a better world. And yet I doubt anyone would label those films ‘romantic comedies’. Take the Marx brothers. They rarely marry anyone themselves, but you’ll notice that there is usually a cute couple whose eventual jointure is brought about by their antics. These lovey-dovey stories seem dull compared to the anarchy of the brothers. But in the only one of their films that dispenses with this organizing principle, Duck Soup, there is a sourness by the ending. The world isn’t really set right. What’s the point of having a laugh if it doesn’t change the world? And how do we know that the world’s really changed unless some two people start having babies? I guess it makes sense, even though I find this rather depressing.

I wonder if there isn’t a darker spin, though, to put on the marriage at the end of the comic plot. Often comedies are romps. The funny guy at the center has a whole set of wacky adventures. The trouble is… how do we end things? It could go on and on and on. Well, there’s nothing that ends a man’s wild adventures like getting tied down. Perhaps the marriages at the end of Tom Jones and the Shakespeare comedies aren’t so sunny. The fun stops once the ball and chain are attached. Isn’t that correct, Seth Rogan?

I notice that one of the interesting alternatives to the romance is the buddy comedy. Move over Doris and Rock and say hello to Simon and Nick! I guess we’ve gotten sick of the love stuff, so these days we have two guys. I suppose it is possible to see these things as disguised same-sex love affairs, but whether we do or not, they often follow that same arc- there’s chaos and only when the buddies learn to truly appreciate each other and work together (ie, marry their talents) is the world set right. Isn’t that correct, Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker?

The interracial buddy comedy has been a trend in American film- Eddie and Nick, Tim and Martin, Adam and Damon, Eugene and Samuel. Perhaps that’s the marriage that needs to happen in America, the conflicted world that needs to be set right- race! If the goofy pair in the goofy movie can learn to get along, so may we all. Isn’t that correct, Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy?

Can we have comedy that doesn’t end in a kind of marriage? Could we have a funny story about getting out of a terrible marriage? The world set right by the end would be the dissolution of the union. Would people like it? I wonder. Can we actually believe that ‘all is right with the world’ if there’s even one person left single? I wonder. I mean, I hope so, but I truly do wonder.


Anonymous Ruth Taylor said...

Another popular subset of comedy are the dog movies, which are often like buddy movies (man has to learn to appreciate slobbery or sometimes vicious dog and deserve dog's love) and often end in puppies!

Tue Oct 16, 08:04:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger MelBell said...

Great food for thought...and wondering, Andrew. Can you think of any buddy movies that involve a man and woman with no marriage?

Tue Oct 16, 10:23:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

There are several man/woman pop culture pairings that were 'professional' instead of romantic, but they always teased at romantic tension between the leads- for example, Moonlighting and The X-Files. This is more common in tv series than in film. I can't think of a male-female pairing in film that didn't involve romance. In a film like "Absence of Malice" is might have made sense to have the Sally Field and Paul Newman characters work together without any romantic connection, but the filmmakers couldn't leave it out. There should be movies in which brothers and sisters work together, for example, but I can only think of the tv series, "Dexter".

Wed Oct 17, 01:47:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

"Thelma and Louise" is a buddy movie that doesn't end in marriage. I suppose it isn't a comedy, either, but I remember laughing a lot. One of my favourite comedies, "Doctor Strangelove," ends in annihilation. I love a classic romantic comedy like "When Harry Met Sally" or the more offbeat "Some Like It Hot" and "The African Queen." Lots to think about here, Andrew. Thanks

Wed Oct 17, 02:33:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Chumplet said...

A hilarious buddy movie where one of them happens to be married, and everybody wins in the end is Waking Ned Devine.

The wicked witch gets what she deserves, too.

A buddy movie that involves a man and a man with no marriage -- Blazing Saddles.

A comedy where the guy doesn't get the girl -- Local Hero.

Wed Oct 17, 09:49:00 pm GMT-4  
Anonymous Ruth Taylor said...

Tricia, I thought of Thelma and Louise, too, and thought that their joint suicide works as a kind of a marriage, too, and (unfortunately) by removing themselves from the world they create a kind of return to harmony at the end. Perhaps, like the concept of anti-heroes, this is an anti-comedy?

Thu Oct 18, 09:21:00 am GMT-4  

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