FILM NEXUS VOL. 3: Better Living Through Chemistry


A timid small-town pharmacist, with a wife who walks over him every chance she gets, a son with a strange obsessive take on school vandalism, and a boss who belittles him on a regular basis meets an eccentric, bored with life, femme fatale who convinces him to give into his darker side, with a lot of help from various chemical sources – a remake of countless films noir?  Not exactly, though the film “Better Living Through Chemistry”, now showing at Cinema Center, definitely owes a quite a bit of its set-up to movies like “Double Indemnity” and “The Postman Always Rings Twice.” However, as the greats from the film noir period where weighted down, almost literally, in the shadows of the characters’ immoral deeds, “Better Living Through Chemistry” pokes fun at those elements and satirizes them to great effect.

What makes the dark humor in “Better Living Through Chemistry” work is the transition of humdrum protagonist Doug Varney into uninhibited hedonist, and that transformation is believable because Varney is played by Sam Rockwell. There always seems to be some anger just under the surface with Rockwell’s characters, even in his role as the mentor lifeguard in “The Way, Way Back” from this summer, he seemed to be mad at the world and his place in it. No matter the role, Rockwell holds a lid over that darkness that is just ready to erupt, and that inner conflict creates great comedy in many of his roles.

Dark comedies are one of my favorite film genres, but there is a great level of difficulty in pulling them off effectively, think about how easy it is to go “too far” and lose faith from the audience from making fun of a character’s suffering. Here is a list of some of the successful dark comedies that can be found on Netflix streaming. Feel free to binge watch them all after seeing Sam Rockwell do his thing in “Better Living Through Chemistry” at Cinema Center. Also, if you have any ideas for films you would like to see at Cinema Center, private message our Facebook account before midnight tonight (3/21) and we will send you a coupon for FREE concessions.


World’s Greatest Dad (2009)

Very few directors could turn the tragedy that occurs at the beginning of this film into the jumping off point for a biting satire about fame, family, love, and all those other things that people aspire to obtain, but lucky for us Bobcat Goldthwait (yes, the guy from the “Police Academy” films) has turned his attention to making dark comedies like “World’s Greatest Dad.” The film stars Robin Williams as a well-meaning father and struggling writer whose most famous work is spawned from a lie and humiliating catastrophe. Like most great dark comedies, this film walks a thin line between making you want to laugh, and just making you cry for its characters. It features one of Robin Williams’ best performances, who is able to invoke sympathy, even after doing some pretty despicable things throughout the course of its mostly high school-set story. The tight script even finds a way to integrate the Bruce Hornsby-heavy soundtrack into a bit of a plot point.


Tabloid (2010)

Uncle Errol (that’s what I call him, anyway) Morris is known for making documentaries that showcase all forms of the human condition, in a nonjudgmental way, mostly because he has the ability to get people talking and they forget they are being filmed through the use of his interrotron machine. In “Tabloid,” Morris explores the famous ‘Mormon Sex in Chains’ case that created a British tabloid war throughout the late 1970s. Joyce McKinney was accused of kidnapping a Mormon man, who she knew before he moved to England, and keeping him chained to a bed, and forcing him for sexual favors. The film goes to lengths of not making fun of anyone involved, or the nature of any alleged crimes, but it allows McKinney to explain herself, and as she does so, her story begins to double-back on itself, unwind, and soon it doesn’t even seem like McKinney is exactly sure what happened. A bit like Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashomon,” nearly everyone in this film has a different idea about what happened during the course of events it explores, and no one’s account is quite as outrageous as McKinney’s.


Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010)

Poor Tucker and Dale, they just want to spend some time together fixing up their vacation home that just happens to look like the every dilapidated cabin found in almost every horror film. That is exactly what a group of college students think, and through a series of misunderstandings, believe the harmless Tucker and Dale are murderers out to get them, so they decide to attack the duo before anything horrible happens. And, then very, very horrible things happen. Decapitations, impalements, and other horrible ways to die have never been quite as funny as in “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil,” and part of the reason is because the heroes are so sweet, and the pesky college kids are so privileged and stupid to think that just because the cabin needs a coat of paint, anyone who resides in there must mean them harm. When you look past the blood and the gore, at its heart, “Tucker and Dale” is a comedy of manners, not unlike a lot of Shakespearean comedies, only full of more entrails.

In case the dark comedies above can’t hold you over, here is a list of other films worth exploring. Don’t forget to Facebook message us your film suggestions and get a coupon for FREE concessions.

Where the Buffalo Roam (1980) – Hunter S. Thompson’s first screen persona, played by the one and only Bill Murray!
Fargo (1994)
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002) Another great film starring Sam Rockwell
Wilfred TV Series (2011)
Vampire’s Kiss (1989) – the mother of all dark comedies, the mother of all Nicolas Cage performances – Not available on Netflix, at all.


Jonah Crismore is Cinema Center’s Executive Director, he was just kidding when he said he would lead a workshop based on Nicolas Cage’s leadership style in “Vampire’s Kiss.”


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