The Anarchic Brilliance of Adam McKay's Comedies

A very funny filmography with some very big ideas.

Step Brothers

A very funny filmography with some very big ideas.

Writer/director Adam McKay might not be your first thought when it comes to artists grappling with satire and commentary on America. Well, that might have changed recently with The Big Short, his deeply affecting and urgent tragedy of idiocy that was the 2008 housing crisis. But the man is still mostly known for his imminently quotable and hilarious farces of the mid-2000s: Anchorman, the rise and fall of a news anchor grappling with gender equality, Step Brothers, a raunchy tale of family and drum sets, Talladega Nights, a sports biopic for middle America, and The Other Guys, a buddy-cop movie that effectively takes on the corruption of Wall Street.

As you probably would guess, these diverse but equally hilarious comedies have more in common than iconic  Will Ferrell performances. McKay seems obsessed with capturing the absurdity of the American populace; characters with manic dependence on money, pop culture and sports, even as they try to carve out a little slice of home for themselves and their families. It’s “dumb comedy”, in reductive terms, but dumb comedy with a lot on its mind, perhaps more so than any other mainstream comedy director of the last couple decades.

This unlikely topic is given a fantastic educational edge in a new video essay from Patrick Willems. He makes sure to stay away from breaking down specific jokes or comedy in his films  (because that would kill the humor), instead of finding what makes the director tick and what themes he explores throughout his career. McKay might be moving on to more “serious” topics with his films, but there’s no chance he’ll leave behind his taste for character-heavy humor and taste for the surreal.

 

21. Filmmaker. Writer for Film School Rejects. Featured on MTV, Indiewire & The A.V. Club.