Monday, July 28, 2008

Comic Tragedy and Tragic Comedy

Here's another movie for you that touches on aspects of writers and writing…
and brings up the question of comedy vs. tragedy.
A Woody Allen movie, Melinda and Melinda.
Neither Bart nor I had seen it and we watched it a little while ago. We both enjoyed it.
It begins with people in café, one of them is Wallace “Inconceivable!” Shawn. Shawn is the advocate of comedy. A playwright who believes that escapism of the horrors of our lives from the incidental to the insurmountable is the true human condition…laughter to be able to survive.
The other view is that people are looking for a catharsis through tragedy, that comedy is a light meal, but the real dish is served as a hearty tragedy…one that we can learn from if we digest it.
What happens in the movie is this: Someone at the table tells a simple story of a woman who crashes a dinner party, which supposedly happened to a friend. The debate rages: is this a comic situation or a tragic event? It depends on the action, of course. So each of the writers begins to craft what happened.
You then “bounce” back and forth between the two stories of Melinda the accidental party guest and what ensues afterward, being interrupted by a “No no no…” and then you’re back in the café for a bit. It’s quite clever. Will Farrell is in this one. And he’s not “Will Farrell.” Once again he proves that he can do something other than Willfully embarrass and make a fool of himself. He’s “normal” and tender, sweet, sympathetic, etc. Bart figured out that Farrell is Allen in this picture. Yup. All of the lines that would have gone to Woody had he starred in this one went to Will. The personality and traits of the character totally matched one of Woody’s lovable, troubled neurotics. Farrell did a great job.

It’s worth seeing, for the performances, the “dual” story and its discussion about tragedy/comedy and the nature of writing. Granted, it’s not going to present you with any deeply profound insight. But it’s smart, fun and worthwhile.


Mel said...

I also really enjoyed this movie. I guess it's not that surprising considering my love for Woody Allen, but I had read some pretty scathing reviews of it. I found it really engaging and entertaining and was pretty riveted to it, waiting to see what would happen. This and Stranger than Fiction prove that Will Farrell is more than a belching, preening manchild.

Danielle Mari said...

I haven't yet seen this flick, but sounds like one I would enjoy.

In teaching my dramatic lit unit, I always relished the day that we'd discuss the difference between comedy and tragedy. One school of thought is that comedies end in weddings, tragedies in funerals. (Though Death at a Funeral disproves this theory.)

It seems to me that when a character approaches a low-value objective (say, buying chocolate ice cream) as a high stakes event, we look at it as comedy. Tragedy occurs when the stakes match typical perception of importance.


I dunno.

Anything Woody Allen related=comedy?

Peter Von Brown said...

I really like your explanation/theory, Danielle. And of course you would use chocolate as an example. :)
But really...that's a great view of it.

Danielle Mari said...

Yes. My students repeatedly brought to my attention that most of my examples (impromptu, on worksheets, on tests) had to do with FOOD. And most often, chocolate.
If chocolate can't help literature and grammar seem more fun, what can?