A friend recently put a great article from The Chronicle of Higher Education in my mailbox at work. “On the Pleasures (and Utility) of Summer Reading” by Rachel Toor talks about the value of reading for pleasure, which is frequently an occupational casualty for folks like myself who read so much for work (books I like–usually–but books that I’m also supposed to like). Toor lists her “guilty” pleasures and reminds fellow academics that it’s a good thing to have them. One of mine this summer was Tina Fey’s Bossypants, which chronicles her childhood, her early years with Second City, and her shapeshifting experience of becoming Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live. I laughed out loud while reading her chapter on how not to learn the facts of life.
What have been your guilty reads this summer?
My wife and I had a fun “in-house” date night watching the film Date Night last evening. It was one of the best screwball comedies I’ve seen in a while. You take a typical, believable couple from the ‘burbs, put them into an improbable situation, and then watch what plays out.
This sounds simple, but so often these movies end up being one boring sight gag after another. The key to success in this genre is never the situation itself, but the way the characters respond to their circumstances. Steve Carell and Tina Fey create such sympathy with the audience that you find yourself thinking time and again, “ok, so what would I do now?”
Roger Ebert, one of the most perceptive critics writing, had some great insights into the film. In his review, he writes of Fey and Carell:
But they know, as great comic actors like Cary Grant and Jack Lemmon knew, that their job in a comedy is to behave with as much realism as possible and let the impossibilities whirl around them. To begin with, Carell and Fey look like they might be a pleasant married couple. Attractive, but not improbably so. Young, but not that young. Fit, but they don’t reveal unexpected skills. And frightened when they need to be. Do you ever wonder why the characters in some movies are never gob-smacked in the face of what seems like certain death?
All of this is a way of saying that “Date Night” is funny because, against all odds, it is involving. Each crazy step in the bizarre plot made a certain sense because it followed from what went before; it’s like the Scorsese masterpiece “After Hours.”
I hadn’t thought about After Hours until I read Ebert’s review, but he’s exactly right. The same comic anxiety I felt for Griffin Dunne’s character was there for the Fosters. I’d give it two thumbs and two big toes up.