This week I wanted to look at the differences between two of 2016’s comedy movies; the mega wide release ensemble comedy Office Christmas Party, and Mike Birbiglia’s indie flick Don’t Think Twice. Neither of these are about talking animals, so they didn’t dent the 2016 box office very much.
In case you’re going “HUH?” as to what either of these movies are, let me do a little old-fashioned summarization for you. Office Christmas Party is about a rich man-child (T.J. Miller) and his management underlings (Jason Bateman and Olivia Munn) trying to save their tech company’s branch from getting shut down by Miller’s unreasonably mean sister (Jennifer Aniston) by throwing a big Christmas party to try to win over a big money client. The rest of the cast is filled out with “Oh yeah, I’ve seen them in a bunch of stuff” actors like Jillian Bell, Kate McKinnon, Vanessa Bayer, Rob Corddry, Randall Park, etc. It has literal fart jokes, it has suburban white people dancing poorly to old school hip hop, and it has a guy accidentally doing cocaine and then falling off a balcony. It’s, ya know, an assembly line R-rated comedy. I bet several critics told you that “If you liked The Hangover, you’ll love this!”
I’d say I laughed maybe a dozen times during Office Christmas Party. Though, I laugh quite a bit at a lot of things. I laughed throughout the John Cena SNL this weekend, and then at the end of the episode I still said “Well, that kinda sucked.” So I laugh a lot, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the quality of the overall product is representative of how many times I impulsively chuckle at something. I think sometimes I like to laugh at something that’s not even that funny because I’d rather be happy than bored. I give in to easy jokes as they happen, it’s in my nature, but it doesn’t mean I need to feel good about it when they’re over.
Don’t Think Twice, on the other hand, didn’t forcefully attempt to get me to laugh once throughout the entire thing (I did by the way, but the laughs came naturally). And you know what? I’m not 100% sure that Birbiglia ever planned on putting a reindeer-drinking-out-of-a-toilet gag in his movie for a cheap laugh. JUST A HUNCH. Don’t Think Twice is the story of improv comedy team “The Commune” (Keegan Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs, Birbiglia, Kate Micucci, Tami Sagher, and Chris Gethard). They are a mid-level crew, going seemingly nowhere, until one of them (Key) gets picked up by SNL equivalent “Weekend Live”. Then comes the bitterness and jealousy that follows among those unchosen. It made me laugh a bunch of times, it had well-developed characters, and it even almost made me tear up a little at one point.
Before I wrote this, I didn’t know if I wanted to say that this is a really smart comedy vs a really dumb comedy. But I’m not entirely sure how else to phrase it? I definitely don’t want to say that someone is dumb *for* watching Office Christmas Party or someone is smarter *for* watching Don’t Think Twice. But I also can’t help but think that someone who *really* liked Office Christmas Party would say that Don’t Think Twice is “like, one of the most boringest things I’ve ever seen”, and someone who really liked Don’t think Twice could say that Office Christmas Party, for example, is “a generic care basket of low hanging fruit”. It doesn’t point out anyone’s overall intelligence just for seeing something (I mean, I saw both), especially something as subjective as comedy.
However, you can look at how both movies handled a similarly touched upon subject: the loss of a father. In Office Christmas Party, two main characters squabble over the literal ashes of their fallen dad by loudly wrestling on the ground like turds until Jennifer Aniston puts T.J. Miller in a headlock, and he taps out (oh, sorry… spoiler?). Meanwhile, in Don’t Think Twice, as one of the team member’s dad is on his deathbed, he has to struggle with how he’s supposed to be funny on stage when something not all that funny is happening in his personal life. This is a comedy movie that has the line “I don’t want my dad to die while I’m still a failure”. And as grim as I’m painting it, and I know some of you are probably going “Why would I ever want to watch this depressing movie?”, I don’t know, I really liked how Don’t Think Twice offered up real emotional challenges that actually made me reflect. I enjoyed a little genuine humanity amidst the comedy. Is that just me? Or should I have just wanted the characters to play with Nerf guns in a department store until they knock over a big Christmas tree? Then the scene just ends?
Seeing these two movies in the same weekend got me thinking… Have my comedy tastes just matured? Am I an old curmudgeon now? I don’t know, I mean I still laughed during Office Christmas Party, but I was also like “Why did they make this instead of something better?” afterwards. If I was a 32-year-old small time film blogger in the early 90s (or would I be writing zines? Memmmmbah zines?), would I have thought that Wayne’s World was needless low hanging drivel, and touting Barton Fink as something better to see by comparison? I don’t know. If I watched Office Christmas Party when I was 10, would I have fond nostalgic laughter memories for it now? I have fond memories of watching Problem Child 2 when I was a kid, and that movie is definitely abysmal looking back at it. And even conversely, I’m not sure what I’m hinting at here even makes sense, because I thought the purposefully stupid Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping was one of the best movies of this year. But was that because it was purposefully stupid, and not just proudly stupid?
Well, maybe here’s the thing… If you’ve read my reviews for a while now, you know that one of my favorite topics is the epic internal struggle of accepting your mediocrity. I just love that so much. Don’t Think Twice is certainly one of the best movies I’ve ever seen about acknowledging yourself being mediocre. And Office Christmas Party is just plain mediocre. Maybe I like a comedy movie where the characters aren’t just existing without consequence of their actions; where characters actually devolve and learn lessons about who they are through failure? Or maybe I’m just becoming a snooty old jerk? Or MAYBE if a movie wants to just be a straight up dumb comedy like Office Christmas Party, it better be *really* freaking funny (like This is the End).
And on top of all of THAT, comedy is subjective anyway. Why should I trash something that made someone else laugh a ton and made them really happy? Why should I try to force someone to have to be thoughtfully introspective in their search of comedy, when they just want to feel mindlessly stimulated? People can laugh at whatever they want, I guess. That’s why there’s so many different types of comedy out there. I mean, I would almost have to group Office Christmas Party and Don’t Think Twice *together* if I was trying to defend my comedy tastes against something else, like Madea or Adam Sandler. There’s too much going on here, and I’m not sure any of it really matters. I’m just a guy who watches movies and reduces them down to a inconsequential letter grade for a small group of people’s potential amusement. Oh, right.. Here you go…
Office Christmas Party: C-
Don’t Think Twice: B+
So what did we learn from this whole review? I’m not sure anyone did learn anything. I think I just rambled 1400 words out of my butt. Different people like different comedy. I think that’s the brilliant analysis I settled on. That’s my film school degree hard at work, folks. I didn’t take a 1980s New German Cinema class my junior year for nothing.
See you next week for my last group of reviews of the year, followed by my annual year-end list! IF YOU EVEN CARE ANYMORE.