Exclaim!'s Best Films of 2012: Comedy
10. Sleepwalk with Me
Directed By Mike Birbiglia & Seth Barrish
With so many comedies these days appearing to tick off rote plot points as if on auto-pilot, doling out a series of gags that seem cobbled together by a committee, it's nothing short of a revelation when a genuine voice emerges—especially when it comes from multi-talented comedian Mike Birbiglia. As co-writer, co-director and star of Sleepwalk With Me, Birbiglia succeeds in telling a funny, heartfelt and—most importantly—wholly original story that works on three different levels. On one hand, it's a painfully realistic portrayal of the growing pains associated with a struggling comic finding his voice, perfectly suited for a modern culture where podcasts are regularly pulling back the curtain on the craft. It's also a morbidly hilarious account of Birbiglia's real-life affliction with a sleep disorder that causes him to act out his dreams, something that once resulted in a fateful leap through a second-story window. And finally, it's a wonderfully perceptive examination of a relationship gone stagnant, capturing the brilliant highs of a new love just as beautifully as it observes the way two people can begin to desperately cling to each other for reasons that can scarcely be articulated.
Directed By Steven Spielberg
Though not intended as comedy, having the levity and humour of Sean Penn at a Conservative rally, Steven Spielberg's profoundly heavy-handed, overwrought and redundant take on the emancipation proclamation is, unintentionally, one of the funniest films to grace theatre screens in 2012. With solipsistic severity, it takes the fascinating life of Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day Lewis) and reduces it to the manipulative tactics involved in abolishing slavery; veiling it beneath the guise of ending the Civil War. Lincoln is left sitting around doling out painful metaphors to anyone that will listen while Mary Todd (Sally Field) screeches out self-important monologues. The intention is to mirror slavery to our present day malaise—glibly suggesting (with unintentional racism and ignorance) that the modern worker is like a slave for the 1%--and empower the audience with a pro-Obama disposition. And while there's nothing explicitly wrong with using film as a pedagogical tool, the exploitation of a long-dead president and the very real issue of slavery for current political posturing is exceedingly tacky and darkly hilarious. Moreover, the melodramatic manipulation of the audience, wherein swelling music and zooming low-to-high angle shots accompany every sanctimonious political speech, takes patronizing to an entirely new level. After watching Lincoln tell a litany of pointless stories and hearing the same arguments fly back and forth about the emancipation proclamation ad nauseum for two hours, it's hard not to laugh at the misguided pomposity of it all. Even more amusing is that there are educated, adult, presumably professional film critics that took this dreadful, even childish, nonsense seriously. Never underestimate the human need to fit in and say what they think is expected of them.
8. Celeste and Jesse Forever
Directed By Lee Toland Krieger
Written by and starring Parks and Recreation actress, Rashida Jones, Celeste and Jesse Forever plays as a realist, character-driven romantic comedy of sorts. The titular Celeste (Jones) dives into a tailspin of self-loathing and introspection after her ex-boyfriend and best friend Jesse (Andy Samberg) eventually rejects her controlling indifference to him—despite their natural ease with one another—and reaches out into the world on his own. Noting his ability to flourish when removed from under her thumb, this ode to the indie conversation films of the mid-'90s exaggeratedly explores the intense difficulty of embracing self-awareness. Celeste's sense of superiority, while extremely amusing in application, is a distancing technique that keeps her from establishing any sort of sincere human connection. In such, her quest to better the self holds an abundance of easily relatable universal truths. Despite receiving little acknowledgement during its theatrical run, Celeste and Jesse Forever is the sort of movie that should stand the test of time for home viewers.