The Blog

Where's the Comic Relief?

This year's Academy Awards ceremony, at four hours long, required a similar amount of endurance as some of the heavier dramas nominated. The difference is that whilst Neil Patrick-Harris' role as compère offered welcome comic relief, the winners of the 'big four' provided little.

This year's Academy Awards ceremony, at four hours long, required a similar amount of endurance as some of the heavier dramas nominated. The difference is that whilst Neil Patrick-Harris' role as compère offered welcome comic relief, the winners of the 'big four' provided little.

Comedy is a serious business, it seems. It is possible to do well at the Oscars or BAFTAs with a comedy, but going by previous nominations and winners (including this year's), an award-winning comedy will have to do more than just make its audience laugh.

One of my favourite images of an Oscar winner is a diminutive Billy Wilder struggling to hold and balance all three of his Oscars during a photo call for his 1960 comedy drama The Apartment. This isn't a clear-cut 'laugh out loud' movie, but its success does prove that a comedy can do brilliantly if it does more than merely tickle you.

Another Billy Wilder picture, Some Like It Hot, is a funnier movie, at least in terms of its sheer laughter count. However, the only Oscar that film won was for costume design; much like The Grand Budapest Hotel picking up mostly technical awards. For me, as for millions, Some Like It Hot is the quintessential comedy, and often tops 'Best comedy of all time' lists. I image the Academy of that year laughing their socks off and then saying "Funny movie, but let's find something more serious to champion"...

In the same year that Some Like It Hot failed to be nominated for Best Picture the films that were nominated, and their themes, were Ben Hur (religious conversion), A Nun's Story (religious sacrifice and high ideals), Anatomy of Murder, Room at the Top (melodramas) and The Diary of Anne Frank (heartbreaking biopic).

So yes, you will find much funnier films, doing what they are supposed to be doing - making people laugh - but that will somehow fail to register during awards season.

A more modern example of this is Bridesmaids. I have yet to sit in a cinema where the laughs were so big and so consistent. Entire audiences left cinemas with their stomachs aching from the laughter. It also broke new ground; written by, and starring, mostly women. Yet Bridesmaids received only two nominations and no wins. It may go on and have a life like Some Like It Hot, ending up topping 'best comedy' lists, and people will wonder why the film didn't register for more awards. It begs the question as to why the laugh out loud comedy doesn't do as well as its dark comedy-drama or heavyweight biopic counterparts.

Perhaps the answer lies in something more mysterious. Perhaps, at some level, we are all searching for those stories in movies that change how we look at ourselves and the world. We love comedies; they are essential to helping us deal with the highs and lows life throws at us. We need to laugh. However, when it comes to holding that one movie up against the others, perhaps some mythical notion kicks in of 'the best way to live'.

Film as a form of storytelling, much like a novel, often focuses on a single protagonist and his/her journey. When you go to the cinema, you are briefly hypnotised, and you suddenly become the main character up there on the screen. You are the hero of every story you ever watch on screen. His or her rise and fall is yours, and his or her successes and failures are your own.

The greater the journey undertaken by that character, the greater the audience appeal, box office takings, and yes, the greater the awards.

Many comedies don't often deal in these huge ranges of character development, and whilst you may be laughing your head off and walking out of the cinema smiling to yourself, you may not have experienced the heroic, awe-inspiring and heart wrenching journeys of films such as Gravity, Twelve Years a Slave, or The King's Speech.

The trick, therefore, lies in creating a comedy that still gives the audience that range character development and catharsis. Shakespeare In Love is a great example. Its portrayal of a man who cannot write very well, but desperately wants to be a playwright resonates with our own, personal struggles. His plays, initially, are awful, but by the end of the film he has become William Shakespeare; the greatest writer of all time. And I suspect it's in that journey that we have the heroic arc that lifts and inspires us all. We haven't just witnessed a comedy, but we've also been on the journey of what it took to become the world's most famous playwright; falling in love and opening one's heart to love.

So, if you want to know which comedies will do well come awards season (if they get nominated in the first place, that is), take a look at the main character's arc. Whether or not comedy comes into it is often irrelevant. What resonates with audiences, in terms of "Oh, that's me up there, trying to get through this challenging thing called life," is how the character changes positively or negatively as a result of the things that life throws at him or her. The greater the changes in character, the greater the emotional impact of the audience. The greater the emotional impact, the greater the chance of that ever-desired award, side-splitting laughs aside.

Marcus Markou wrote, directed, produced and self-distributed 2012 comedy Papadopoulos & Sons. An alumnus of Met Film School, he will be judging the School's upcoming competition to determine the essence of British comedy. More details, including information on the competition's prize of a £10,000 course voucher and how to enter, are available here.