I watched Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can yet again (third time) over the weekend and now I’m back to my original opinion (as opposed to the one expressed below). Despite being promoted as ‘fun,’ and despite the sixties style ‘fun’ animation of the title sequence, this is really a rather somber story of a young man desperate to save his father from a marriage and life that are disintegrating.
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.)