The Refreshing Comeback of Ensemble Comedy

What We Do In The Shadows

After years of what seem like lackluster and tired attempts at humoring audiences, the past few years have brought us creative comedies that remind us movies can be both thoughtful and hilarious.

As of late, many big blockbuster comedies have had fairly disappointing results at the box office, relying on an all-too-familiar formula that makes the films feel predictable and riddled with jokes that seem dull and overused. But a few very recent comedies released in the past few years have shown that there is still creative importance and fresh humor to be found in big comedy films. But what is it in these comedies that truly make them different—and what do they mean for the future of comedy?

One of these spectacular, fairly recent comedies is Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s beloved 2014 horror satire What We Do in the ShadowsThe film is a mockumentary-style affair about a group of vampires who live together in New Zealand, sharing the ins and outs of their lifestyle with the world beyond. Based on the premise alone, the film sounds somewhat bizarre, yet the movie itself seems to have the ability to evoke endless laughter in its audiences from start to finish. But what is it about this comedy makes it perhaps one of the best of the decade?

Clement and Waititi’s unique senses of humor and charm were definitely a great contributor to this film’s success, but perhaps what made it so spectacular was the vampire narrative itself. It may seem odd at first thought, but in fact, is incredibly smart: vampires are riddled with clichés that everyone is familiar with, making for 90 minutes of pure joy. The film received such a widely positive response that it’s even getting its own TV series that is currently in the works. 

Popstar

Another fun but intelligent comedy is 2016’s Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, directed by Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone—otherwise known as two-thirds of comedy trio The Lonely Island, the third member being the film’s lead actor, Andy Samberg. Once again done in the style of a mockumentary (perhaps they’re onto something here), Samberg portrays pop sensation Connor4Real, who pursues a career as a solo artist after leaving his rap group The Style Boyz (the other members, of course, portrayed by Schaffer and Taccone).

Despite the sort of blunt humor that dominates the film for the most part, it actually possesses a nuanced commentary on celebrity culture and fame-driven narcissism. The beauty of this is that the movie can be enjoyed merely at surface-level, but if you happen to be looking for something deeper, it’s there. Not to mention the several fun celebrity cameos and incredibly catchy musical numbers. All things considered, it’s a film bound to be a great time.

Girls Trip

Plenty of fun and adventure came in 2017 in the form of Girls Trip, directed by Malcolm D. Lee and starring Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, and Tiffany Haddish, who was perhaps one of the biggest breakout stars of the year thanks to this film. Girls Trip tells the tale of 4 best friends, once known as the “Flossy Posse,” who take a trip to New Orleans together after growing distant in recent years. The girls get caught up in several wild escapades along the way, and it is truly a joy to watch.

While Girls Trip might appear to possess more-or-less the same essence as any other raunchy comedy, this one, in particular, is upheld by its captivating lead performances. Most remarkable of all is arguably Tiffany Haddish, whose performance was highly praised by critics thanks to her bubbly energy and wonderfully over-the-top expressionism. It was also refreshing to see a comedy spearheaded by four black women in a genre that is often overrun by white males. It showcased the need for diversity in comedy and paved the way for others like it to hopefully come in the future.

Game Night

2018 found a surprisingly clever and original comedy in John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein’s Game Night. Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams play a competitive couple named Max and Annie who host a weekly game night amongst their circle of friends, but things take a turn for the worst when Max’s brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) comes to town and hosts a murder mystery party that goes awry.

Fun, charming, and unpredictable could all be used to accurately describe Game Night. The plot is impressively intricate and carefully planned, especially for a comedy. For almost the entirety of the film, it was near impossible to guess how everything might be resolved. It also showcased rather creative cinematography, featuring a certain suspenseful long-take that keeps viewers holding their breath. Game Night’s creativity and originality definitely worked in its favor.

So what does all of this mean for future landscape of comedy films? We can only hope that filmmakers continue to follow in the path of these recent comedies that have been quite successful, which seems to involve presenting familiar concepts in a unique way. Whether this involves bringing in technical elements that are typically not prominent in comedy, such as the plot and camerawork in Game Night, or subject matter we’ve seen in film several times but not necessarily always in a comedic context (cue the vampires and narcissist celebrities). Or sometimes, even so much as a fresh powerhouse performance like Tiffany Haddish’s is enough to shake things up.

We can only hope that these are the kinds of comedies we’ll be seeing in the future. Perhaps if we’re lucky, we’ll even get a comedy about a murder mystery party thrown by famous vampires—which would, of course, be starring Tiffany Haddish. I suppose we can only wait and see what’s to come.

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I write about film and occasionally other stuff. Xavier Dolan enthusiast. Trying to read books before seeing their film adaptations and sometimes succeeding.