There are certain movies I can make a reference to and people immediately know the film and usually recall it with a smile — if not outright laughter. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is one of those movies. It didn’t change the world of movie making when it came out and didn’t win any awards. It simply did what most movies hope to do: get seen, be appreciated and remembered.
The Frank Oz comedies
I’ve always liked the comedies of Frank Oz. In fact, I would say that of the films I watch repeatedly, Frank Oz comedies are among the ones I most watch over and over. In a sense, they are a kind of cinematic comfort food. I always enjoy them and I always feel good after having watched them.
His comedies are a bit deceptive. They seem too nice (whatever that means). They seem perhaps too slick, or too something, because they have a pleasant Hollywood gloss to them, which gives them a feeling of unreality.
But that’s really why they work the way they do. They aren’t realistic and they aren’t intended to be. They’re movies about interesting, and funny, characters in absurd situations.
What I like most about his comedies, however, is that they are funny without being mean-spirited, as many comedies tend to be. It isn’t the humour of a misanthrope but rather the humour of someone who finds life and people to be wonderful, but also wonderfully ridiculous.
Still, there is a certain (if minimal) element of darkness, even anger in them, but it is kept in abeyance. It’s never allowed to overwhelm the films; it simply serves as a root element from which to spring and inform the comedy. (An example would be In & Out, with intolerance at its core, or the satire of The Stepford Wives – not the best Oz film but certainly better than some gave it credit for.)
Ultimately, Frank Oz comedies are delightful confections that seem to laugh at us while loving us, and loving us especially for those things that make Oz laugh.
Comedies directed by Frank Oz (a partial list):
- Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)
- What About Bob? (1991)
- In & Out (1997)
- Bowfinger (1999)
- The Stepford Wives (2004)
- Death at a Funeral (2007)
(Of the above, I think my favourite may be Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which I’ve watched so many times I’ve lost count. I can’t believe I’ve never written about it.)