Archive for June, 2007

Laura Solon – Favourite comedy film

June 17, 2007

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Spaceballs
Dir: Mel Brooks, 1987
by Laura Solon

‘It’s a spoof of Star Wars and other epic space films. Rick Moranis plays Dark Helmet, in homage to Darth Vader. In my favourite scene he makes the ship go to ludicrous speed but won’t put his seatbelt on, so when they make an emergency stop he flies into a machine and it crushes his helmet. It’s a great visual gag.

I saw it in the cinema when I was about eight and it’s the first film I remember really, really laughing at, and the first time I left the cinema thinking, I wish I was in that film. The best comedy in general is when everyone in it looks like they’re having a good time, and when you finish watching it you wish you were in the gang. It’s not knowing, it’s not really clever and high status. It’s just everyone pissing about on screen.

As I got older I was influenced by Christopher Guest’s films. Best In Show is my favourite. Sideways, and was fantastic too. I really like that kind of offbeat humour. You wouldn’t necessarily sell that story as a comedy, but it has that real subtlety of detail the Americans do so well.

I haven’t worked out the secret of comedy yet, but I think it’s important to surprise people. In terms of my own work, if there was a test to see what people would find funny it would be amazing, but I don’t think you can ever tell. You can only go with your instincts.

This piece first appeared in Observer Review’s Best comic films of all time piece

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Martin Freeman – Favourite comedy film

June 17, 2007

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Lucy Davis – Favourite comedy film

June 17, 2007

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The Jerk
Dir: Carl Reiner, 1979
by Lucy Davis

‘I just loved The Jerk so much as a child. I had an LP of it that I would listen to repeatedly. Steve Martin is so good – it doesn’t matter who else is around him. In everything he does, I can’t take my eyes off him. I love the very end of the film. The idiot Navin has made his millions inventing something ridiculous and then at the very end he loses it all. There’s this big, dramatic, morose sequence when he’s got his trousers round his ankles and he’s walking round the house and down the street and saying: ‘I don’t need anything. I don’t need possessions. I don’t need anything. Oh, except this!’ And then he would pick up something random like a telephone and say: ‘That’s all I need. A telephone, and I don’t need anything else. Oh, except this!’ And he picks up something else random, and by the time he’s walking down the street with his pants round his feet he’s carrying a huge pile of the weirdest things.

Comedy in film is a weird thing. If something’s sold as a comedy, as an audience member you can sit there thinking, OK then, let’s see how funny you think you are. When you’re watching something that isn’t meant to be a comedy and something funny happens, it’s easier to laugh because you’re not expecting it. I had always thought I liked comedies to come out of very real, natural situations like The Office, but I love the sitcom Nighty Night, which isn’t natural, because every moment in there comes from her being truthful.

This interview first appeared in Observer Review’s Best comic films piece

Meera Syal – Favourite comedy film

June 17, 2007

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Zoe Wanamaker – Favourite comedy film

June 17, 2007

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Charlie Skelton – Favourite comedy film

June 17, 2007

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Siobhan Donaghy – Ghosts

June 17, 2007

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Waitress

June 12, 2007

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(l to r Cheryl Hines, Keri Russell, Adrienne Shelly)

Billed as a romcom, Waitress is actually a cleverly disguised portrait of the widespread travesty affecting many women across the globe; domestic violence.

Jenna is a waitress in a pie diner married to real bully of a husband. The film follows her various attempts to leave him – stashing money away which he then finds, packing a suitcase only to be discovered at the bus stop.

Jenna’s husband Earl is verbally bullying and threatening, slaps her round the face a few times and tries to force her into having sex. So why were women in the cinema laughing when he raped her?
Admittedly it was not an extreme rape scene in that Jenna was shown as more annoyed than distressed, but it was still rape.

The actor and comedian Lucy Davis recently explained to me how audiences go to watch a comedy film expecting to laugh, and therefore may be harder to entertain than an audience who are watching what they have been sold as a straight film, which just happens to have some funny bits in it.
Perhaps this was the case with Waitress. Were people laughing in the bits that I found most harrowing, because they thought they were supposed to?

What is funny about a scene where an abusive, violent man pressures his pregnant wife into having sex with him? Nothing. But if you are at a comedy film, perhaps you think you are supposed to laugh at this grotesque caricature of a man, in a Men Are From Mars way. The sad truth is that Earl is not an exaggerated character. In many ways he is a tame pussycat compared to the evil monsters a lot of women on the receiving end of domestic violence endure.

To me the audience reaction was chilling proof that sex forced upon women has been normalised, and particularly that domestic rape is not seen as rape, or less damaging than rape by an unknown perpetrator.

How despicably resonant that Adrienne Shelly the writer, director and supporting actor of a film whose central theme is male violence towards women should herself be murdered by a man whose explanation was that he ‘was having a bad day.’ And how deeply sad to imagine Shelly’s only daughter Sophie, who she was carrying when she wrote the film, and who features in the last few scenes, watching Waitress – a portrait of Shelly’s pregnancy and love poem from mother to daughter.

In an industry where 7 percent of films are directed by women, Shelly’s no holds barred refreshingly female world view is to be applauded. The lineage is clear and the message is direct. Like Thelma and Louise, Jenna and her two best friend are waitresses in a diner and sisters doing it for themselves. How depressing that 16 years later this story is still relevant.

There are some very atypical sympathetically drawn characters here – our heroine for instance is a heavily pregnant married woman repeatedly initiating sex with a married man, and is also ambivalent about her unborn child to the point of considering selling it. Just two behaviours women are still publicly shunned for.

Waitress also contrasts dramatically with the traditional Bridget Jones/Jane Austen ending where the story resolves with the beginning of the relationship.

In practically every novel, drama, film or narrative of any sort women are typically given the choice between falling out of the arms of a bad man into the arms of a good one, between marriage and a career, between settling for any old man or loneliness.

It shows just how far women’s liberation has to go that a film where the woman keeps her power and chooses none of these options, instead choosing her daughter and the companionship of her two best friends feels dramatically radical and unusual. For this reason alone Waitress should be compulsory viewing for all teenage girls.

Released 10 August

Meera Syal

June 10, 2007

Interview with Anne-Marie Duff

June 10, 2007

Age: 36

Training: Drama Centre

Coming up: Saint Joan at The National (opens 4 July). Irish film Garage just shown at Cannes.

Big break: ‘I’ve never turned on a sixpence. It was an quite old-fashioned trajectory really. Commercially it would probably be Shameless. It would be daft to deny it.’

Career high: ‘I’m on a high at the moment. It’s not often you get to be in the rehearsal room with 21 men and just you. To be doing Saint Joan is a dream come true. When I got the phone call I had to sit down on the sofa for about five minutes.’

Are you proud to be British? ‘I’m very proud of our astonishing writing.’

Why is British acting so good? ‘Perhaps it’s the training, perhaps it’s a natural aptitude.’

This interview first appeared in Observer Review’s Why Britannia Still Rules the Stage piece