Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Dear Charlie:

I know, I know. Sherlock Holmes. I'll get to it.

Ya know...when I won't just squee with delight until I pass out and you throw up from fangurl overload. Seriously. I'm trying to save you guys, here.

For now, for the life of me, I can't figure out why the critics had such a lukewarm reaction to the movie Ghost Town. Admittedly, it took me this long to watch it because the trailer put it out as a sort of wacky hijinx kind of romp with a romantic subplot. I tend to avoid rom-coms like the plague -- no, I don't want to talk about my book coming out on May 11 -- so I similarly bypassed this one.

Until now. Until Pesh became a hilariously obsessed Ricky Gervais fan and suckered me into his odd, creature-of-impulse world.

But leave all that behind and return to the central point with me: Ghost Town is not just a wacky hijinx comedy. It's not a Romeo and Juliet tale of star-crossed lovers where Mercutio didn't die but ended up with Juliet when Romeo bit the dust. Heh, you notice I used Mercutio. See, he's the funny one.

Like Ricky Gervais.

See what I did there?

Okay, moving on. Anyway, like everything Gervais does -- with the possible exception of strapping-taping his editor -- Ghost Town uses its comedy to shed light on philosophical ideals we all want to explore but sometimes aren't brave enough to face on our own.

Think The Invention of Lying. I actually watched it before Ghost Town, but I'm talking about it second. My blog. I can do that.

On the surface, it's another rom-com. And really, it's not about lying, despite the title and the inciting event of the film.

At its heart, it's a philosophical discussion of why we lie. They took a concept that is, in theory, bad -- thou shalt not lie, though it's not one of the Big Ten -- and asked why we do it anyway.

And then Ricky Gervais stepped in. He's not the typical, upwardly-mobile woman's dream come true of a happily-ever-after man. He's not traditionally handsome. He's not the best at his job, nor is he ambitious enough to strive to be better. He's not rich. He's not particularly charming -- but it's hard to hold that against him, as it's hard to be charming when you're stuck with the absolute truth.

But he does have something no one else has, and it's not the ability to lie. It's a certain kindness that's lacking in everyone else.

See? If we were unable to lie, we'd all have to be psychologically numb from the diatribe of blunt hurt and rejection we'd receive on a daily basis. If you're told a hundred times a day that your butt looks big by everyone you see -- because it's not just that no one can lie but that no one can omit the truth -- you'd either kill yourself, run yourself to death to get rid of it, or mentally inure yourself to that unkind truth.

Then, Gervais' character kicks in. True, his first lies aren't out of kindness, but you can see how much what's said to him by the other brutally honest characters hurts him and how it affects him. How it pushes him to lie to better his immediate situation.

At which point he's able to be nice to the one woman he's had a crush on for half of forever. Ironically, his only lies to her are to make himself look better. Never about how he feels about her. In that, he is just as honest -- but in a sweet, kind, and earnest way -- as everyone else.

Jump back to Ghost Town. The critics seem to think it's formulaic in its approach -- though some dare to complain that it misses the mark in several scenes that they obviously didn't pay real attention to or just plain didn't get -- to getting the not-so-great guy hooked up with the gorgeous, funny, and rich girl.

Not so, Watson.

Sorry. Couldn't resist.

Because this movie isn't about the ghosts. It's about the people they left behind. It's a brilliantly simple twist on the reason why the soul might hang about in the first place -- not because they need us but because we need them. Sorry if you haven't seen it yet.

And yes, you do have the seemingly by-the-numbers Grinch-turning-into-a-nice-guy schtick, but seriously, he fights it all the way. He fights it until he realizes he's all alone but not, as he previously thought, because he wants to be.

But underneath that is, again, a philosophical look at the difference between how we see ourselves and how other people see us. If we could just get others to see us how we see ourselves, everything would be all right, right?

Ask Greg Kinnear's character, Frank. It takes him until the very end to realize the kind of person he really is and how it affected not only his own life, not even only his wife's life, but everyone he's been in contact with since.

He had to see himself as everyone else did to understand why he was so wrong.

In a weird way, this flick reminds me of one of the hilarious conceits of The History of the World, Part One.

I know, I know. Stay with me, here. It's not as big a detour as you might think.

In ancient Rome, what was Comicus' job title as he stood in line for vnemployment (and no, that's not a typo)?

Stand-up philosopher.

Get it? It's a joke. But it's not.

At its heart, all comedy is philosophy. Comedians -- especially off-the-cuff ones -- must be both keen observers of the human condition and brutally pithy in pointing it back at us. The best jokes are the ones that make you laugh nervously because they strike juuuuust a bit too close to home.

So, from now on, that's how I'm going to classify Ricky Gervais: not as a comedian, but as a stand-up philosopher. And I will definitely continue to watch both his movies and his other comedic activities.

Not quite as big a fangurl as Pesh, but hey.


At 6:14 AM, Anonymous Pesh said...

You do realize his degree is in Philosophy, right?

I know way to much about this guy. I feel creepy...and weird. Both of which I should be used to by now.

At 11:48 AM, Blogger GutterBall said...



At 8:46 PM, Blogger Pesh said...

Pay no attention to the Pesh behind the shrubbery!


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