Todd McCarthy‘s description of The Informant! — “amusingly eccentric rather that outright funny” — reminded me that I almost prefer the kind of comedy that is clearly coming from a place of modest merriment (perverse or otherwise) but which you don’t really laugh at. Call them smirkers or half-chortlers or simply no-laugh comedies. Films that seem to float along on a charged-attitude high — a frame of mind that’s clearly dispensing amusement but not quite to the point of inspiring audible reactions. (Except from those awful people in theatres who laugh too loudly and too often.)
And I’m not talking about flagantly and painfully unfunny films like The Year One, any of the Rush Hour movies, any of the “comedies” by the Wayans brothers, anything starring Anna Faris or Will Ferrell or anything like Duplex or Rumor Has It or Gigli or what-have-you. I’m talking about movies that know what they’re doing and have a fine sense of dry humor but aren’t actually “funny.”
I’ve probably enjoyed at least a thousand high IQ/high-pedigree no-laughers in my time, but…now that I think of it it’s almost a book idea. Seriously. Anyway, off the top of my head…
Fargo. Lolita. Wonder Boys. Bottle Rocket. The Candidate. (Every single scene in this film has a comedic/satirical edge of some kind.) The Long Goodbye. Beat The Devil. Borat. Dr. Strangelove. (A brilliant satirical classic but you don’t really laugh at it — at best it makes you smile and smirk) The Hit. Burn After Reading. The Birds. Rushmore. Slap Shot. The Last Detail. Clerks. True Romance. Prizzi’s Honor. North To Alaska. The bowling alley scene in There Will Be Blood (after you’ve seen it three or four times). After Hours. Local Hero. Strangers on a Train.