Narrative Superfluity and Gags

Just finished watching Adventureland this afternoon. It’s really quite a forgettable movie by and large, though with a few nice gags and comedy bits and pieces. It’s that kind of movie. Importantly, it’s the kind of movie that you watch and “know” the plot as it unfolds – perhaps not a split second before it happens, but in the way that you simply recognize each dramatic beat and say “ah, yes.”

It’s the “neurotic boy meets sullen girl, falls in love with her, she’s so cool, but she’s seeing someone else, then he sees someone else, then it all blows up, then she leaves, then he changes his life radically to go after her, then he convinces her he loves her, and they get it on” script. There’s utterly nothing new in this whatsoever, no surprises offered.

My initial reaction, then, is pretty snide. I think that it’s a shitty movie. But then I started thinking about the nature of comedy, and particular kinds of comedy requiring a context to work properly. That is, you can’t do gags about being a neurotic kid working at an amusement park unless you have some kind of plot that places you there. And you can’t just do the movie of “a kid working at an amusement park” because it has no narrative arc. So the comedy and the story, though essentially separate, are bound together – the shitty narrative gives a setting and some other context to the gags which would otherwise be free-floating and ineffective.

In this way I have pushed myself toward a grudging respect for such flimsy plots as Adventureland‘s – they may suck, but they suck with a purpose.

31 July 2010
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