The New New Comedy

The New New Comedy Scene from The Heat. Fairly graphic.

In his ‘Introduction: Words for a Conversation’ to his Pursuits of Happiness: the Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage, Cavell, citing Northop, mentions the traditional thinking of the Old Comedy and the New Comedy (Cavell, 1). He then goes on to distinguish his theory of the comedy of remarriage, saying it draws more from Old Comedy, due to its stronger reliance on the heroine than New Comedy (Cavell, 1-2). This comedy of remarriage Cavell places as being popular – in fact, Cavell claims it as being the most popular form of Hollywood comedy in its peak time frame – from 1934 to 1941 (Cavell, 1-2). The main difference Cavell identifies between his comedy of remarriage and the former two is simple: that, instead of the hero and/or heroine overcoming obstacles to be together, they face obstacles in order to ultimately come back together (Cavell, 1-2). In recent years, a new form of ‘Comedy’, one not quite following any of the definitions Cavell lays out, has appeared.

Let’s be unimaginative for a moment and call this new form the New New Comedy. There are two key ways in which this new from differs from Cavell’s definitions. This comedy, rather than being about romantic love, is more often about platonic female friendship (although romantic attachment may feature). Secondly, the obstacles faced in the New New Comedy are not overcome in order for a ‘(re)marriage’ (literal or symbolic) to occur, but rather to create or preserve female friendship independent of male influence. This does not mean that men do not feature in these films; men are simply not part of their narrative thrust, beyond being an obstacle to overcome, frequently as the primary antagonist. Often, men in these films represent the patriarchy, and/or at some other element of problematic masculinity.

The New New comedy is essentially a female version of the ‘bromance’, or ‘buddy film’; while this is nothing new, it is only in recent years that the genre has chimed with the zeitgeist (women finding solidarity with other women and tackling powerful and abusive men has been rather dominant in the news lately), and, perhaps as a result, become much more popular. Also, it is inly in the last ten years that such films have employed ‘gross-out’ humour, something traditionally thought to be exclusive to ‘male’ comedies. Examples of the genre in its new, more forthright form include Ocean’s 8 (Gary Ross, 2018), The Heat (Paul Feig, 2013), Girls Trip (Malcolm D. Lee, 2017), Rough Night (Lucia Aniello, 2017), and, of course, Bridesmaids (Paul Feig, 2011).

Harry Johnson

One comment

  1. I really like the point you make about the feminization of the buddy film and I think it could be described as outdating Cavell’s argument. The advent of sound and the talking picture did give a voice to women. But as it seems, in today’s society, comedy is not a matter of the voice anymore but about what the voice can do. And therefore, more genres of comedy can be said to have proliferate.

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