Sometimes you really just need to laugh. But comedy is really tricky for me-- there's
a lot of stuff that other people find hilarious that just doesn't seem that amusing to me. And then, once in a while, there's a film that really just tickles me. Last night we went to see Talladega Nights, and I was really pleasantly surprised. I haven't laughed that much in a movie theater in a long time. It helped, too, that we were in a crowded room, with mostly adults, not just teenagers -- there's something communal and therapeutic about laughing with other people.
Anyway, why did I like this movie? Besides the fact that John C Reilly and Will Farrell were hilarious (especially since we'd last watched Will Farrell try to be Woody Allen in Melinda and Melinda -- which I liked, except for his performance, which was mostly just painful to watch). And that the ever-amusing Jane Lynch was in it, and various other people too. But even though it's a comedy about NASCAR drivers, it was actually really kind of sensitive underneath the gags. The humor was largely verbal, rather than physical (always a plus for me), and it was not hateful or mean.
It's a movie about Southerners that isn't mocking the South. It's a movie about the homosocial world of racing that does not veer into homophobia -- when the openly gay French driver (played by Sacha Baron Cohen) shows up to put Will Farrell's career to rest, the film could have turned really ugly. I'm always nervous at moments like those. But instead, the film pokes fun at homophobia itself, and by the time Farrell locks lips with Cohen, the audience we were watching with didn't groan or squirm uncomfortably.
Underneath it all, it's a movie about male friendship, and about believing in yourself. Facing your fear and finding your self-esteem internally rather than externally. Nothing new, nothing that hasn't been the structure of many other Hollywood films. But it infuses this comedy with a a generous spirit, one that made me feel safe to laugh and enjoy myself. (Unlike, for instance, My Super Ex Girlfriend, which was so misogynistic and homophobic that we walked out after 10 minutes and saw John Tucker Must Die instead. Which, as a mashup of Heathers and Mean Girls, was way better than the former waste of Wilson and Thurman talent.)
I realize that in talking about the movie in this way, I'm not really conveying the hilarity of it. But when Ricky Bobby begins saying grace at the dinner table, "Dear sweet baby Jesus" and his family gets in an argument about the right way to picture Jesus, I was dying laughing. Or when he crashes his car and runs around convinced he's burning with invisible fire. It's definitely going in the corner of our DVD shelf designed for making Crappy Days better.