Farce/Off

We just finished rewatching The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret. The first series (there are two series, of six episodes each) aired in America on IFC before Portlandia really caught on, and I don’t remember there being much marketing or Internet buzz about it. (Folks from Britain—was it any bigger over there?) The show’s a textbook example of pure farce, and watching it got me thinking about the work of David O. Russell.

While he’s risen to prominence with his last three films—The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook [really? that’s what you named your move?], and American Hustle—Russell has four other full-length movies under his belt: Spanking the Monkey, Flirting with Disaster, Three Kings, and I ♥ Huckabees. I’ve written (10 years ago?!) plenty about my affection for Huckabees, and I love Three Kings as well, but watching Todd Margaret brought to mind Flirting with Disaster, since that movie is another example of how entertaining a farce can be.

Then I hit on what my objection to Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle boils down to: Russell still thinks he’s directing farces, and his actors behave like they’re appearing in farces. That’s a fundamental problem when Russell’s actually making dramas.

If you’re going to make a drama, commit to it: Russell’s probably the most successful at doing this with The Fighter. I’m a little foggy on the details of that movie, so it wasn’t a memorable drama, but I didn’t walk out of it fundamentally confused as to what motivated the outlandish behavior of major characters, which I can’t say about the more recent Russell films. So in that sense, it’s was a success.

And if you’re going to make a farce, make a farce. Russell has the skills to do it well. But I’d imagine it’s hard to move away from the mainstream success he’s found with his recent movies—is there a modern audience for farces? How about a shot-for-shot remake of Flirting with Disaster, but recast with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence as leads? (Christian Bale could be in it, too.)

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