Sunday, January 2, 2011

What's Up, Doc?

The problem with most comedies is they're lazy. The filmmakers rely on tired jokes, actors do their usual shtick, or the things that are kind of funny are run into the ground. Peter Bogdanovich's What's Up, Doc? (1972) isn't lazy. There's really effort in the performances, choreography, editing, and cinematography to the point everything comes together in a kind of controlled frenzy. I just didn't find it all that funny.

Discussing the plot is almost futile. Various guests arrive at a San Francisco hotel along with four identical travel bags, each containing something different: rocks, jewelry, government secrets, and underwear. Needless to say, the bags end up switching owners, and soon, everyone is chasing everyone to get their hands on the bags. There's a square researcher (Ryan O'Neil), a con artist (Barbra Streisand), the researcher's controlling fiancee (Madeline Kahn in her first feature film), and other assorted intellectuals, spies, rich folks, weirdos, and fools.

What's Up, Doc? is reminiscent of the old screwball comedies of the 1930s and 40s; everything is one big slapstick farce. Nothing here is to be taken seriously. The central storyline is the romance between O'Neil and Streisand, as she forces her way into his life and drags him along on one wild scheme after another: posing as his fiance at a reception, sneaking into his room, and finally, getting chased by in a scene involving cars, bikes, and a Chinese New Year dragon.

Everything has the ingredients for something I should enjoy, but it just doesn't work for me. The pace is rapid-fire, never slowing down for a minute, and the dialogue is a mile-a-minute and contained some good lines. It's not raunchy or cynical but silly and good-natured. Maybe it's one of those movies I need to watch more than once to pick up on everything' I'm sure I missed the more subtle jokes in the midst of all the chaos. It's also possible I'm 38 years late. Since this movie came out, other movies have probably used so many of the same concepts and scenarios, I'm familiar with it before I've seen it.

Humor is subjective. This just didn't do it for me. I admire the style and tone of the film but just couldn't get into it. It's diverting enough, and you could do much worse. If you're in the mood for something old-fashioned, check it out, and hopefully, you'll laugh more.

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