Let's break down the facts: when it comes to awards season, The Academy and its brethren shit all over comedy films. They're just not as revered and taken as seriously as dramas or documentaries and the like. Why? Well other than the fact that it's easy to shit on them, it's because a lot of people see comedies as merely a function-server of the sort of light and airy fare made to keep people from thinking and feeling. But looking at the trailer for Alexander Payne's latest flick, the dark comedic Nebraska, it's easy to see that sometimes the Academy's opinion on comedy is just plain wrong. Dark comedies need more attention.
One of the biggest misconceptions about comedy films is that they're not smart when really, to do comedy well, you sort of have to be. Nuance is the name of the game. When comedies really strike an audience chord, they've given you a bit of a hilarious reprieve from everyday life, but also forced you to examine the flawed existence that is being human by finding sameness within this character's struggle.
Like Nebraska here. Sure, it may be a literal "dark comedy" because of its black and white visage, but at its core, it's about one man's folly (he believes some sort of spam email about his winning a million dollars) in an attempt to bring home said Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize to his family and friends. There's a lot going on here that the unobservant viewer would be quick to pish-posh: who would believe a marketing scheme? Will getting a million dollars now really help this man? And why now, when he's an old alcoholic pretty much waiting for death?
But the answers are simple, and deeper. There's a universality to the idea that eventually, we all have to delude ourselves a little bit, believing that which we are afraid to, in the name of moving forward, be it in a new job, a new relationship, a new move, or yes, taking a gamble on something big. It's funny because it's true, you guys! We're all a little bit delusional in the end. We have to be.
But also, to make someone laugh at the "yep, too good to be true" aspect — whether in the name of blind optimism or righting a past regret — is ultimately a really effective way of telling a story that makes people see themselves and the world around them in a different light. It's about finding empathy because, like it or not, we can all relate to the dark stuff (why else do you think we're all up on antiheroes' dicks right now, y'all?) because it all comes from a deep, universal place: be it a desire to be better, to provide, to love, to protect, or just because it's better than the alternative, these are all things we use to make our decisions on the daily. Dark comedies just heighten the stakes.
So it seems to me that the answer to comedy's awards season problem can be at least slightly remedied by putting faith in, and making more, smart comedies. Comedies with nuance, with heart, with equal parts light and dark (we all have 'em, after all). Just have them made by people who know that the core of all of the silly bullshit and absurdity is the truth. Because that's wherein humanity lies.