Tickling One's Laugh-o'meter

We all know what it takes, visually or aurally, to get our engines running when it comes to humour. But it requires something pretty special to crank up our personal laugh-o’meters to maximum revs. To have us guffawing and snorting, rolling around n the floor, apoplectic with mirth, holding on to our guts for dear life – well, that is the ultimate. For me, visually, it takes a Mr Bean emerging from his kitchen with a turkey festooned over his head; a Basil Fawlty physically and verbally berating his jalopy for all the indignities he’s suffered at its behest or a Victor Meldrew mistaking his cat for the telephone to do the trick. In very recent times there’s been the irascible Cleaver Greene gatecrashing an intimate dinner party via hot air balloon. Aurally, for this punter, there’s nothing better than the rapid fire repartee between David Mitchell and Lee Mack on ‘Would I Lie to You?’ Sometimes I fall off the sofa when those two get going.

But, all of the above, is humour played out for maximum effect on its audience. It’s a far cry from the gentle chuckles that are produced from watching ‘The Meddler’. In this no one is in any way in danger of rupturing something as Marnie Minervini (Susan Sarandon) attempts to find relevance in her life after the passing of a partner – a partner who was the fulcrum of her existence. Her coping mechanism is, well, meddling – meddling in the world of her daughter, Lori (Rose Byrne). When Lori enforces some boundaries she moves on to her daughter’s circle of mates. Ms Sarandon has come a long way since her wide-eyed turn in ‘Rocky Horror’. Although perhaps not quite in the came league as Streep, she is now a veteran who can still pull an audience. In this she is thoroughly believable as as the well endowed (financially) widow who’s struggling to remain positive in a situation where the world can quickly turn inwards and be shut out as one follows an inclination to go to ground. The film, for those of us of a certain age ourselves, could lead us to take stock of our own situations and engage in an inner debate about what ifs. I know I couldn’t imagine going it alone without my wonderful Leigh.

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Last century I was very partial to the manly ways, gruff voice and bristling moustache of actor Sam Elliott. In ‘The Meddler’ we have a new version of Sam for our now not so new millennium in JK Simmons. At first Marnie pushes away any notion of love re-entering her orb as a suitor is set up for her. But an accidental encounter with Zipper (Simmons) is a different kettle of fish altogether and she finds herself drawn to him, together with his rustic lifestyle. His quiet, hands off approach works away at her defences.

This is not an offering that will make many top tens for the year. It’s just something that lightly tickles the funny bone for, as Marnie re-invents herself with the help and hindrance of those around her, she’s in a better position to take on how many years remain to her. We can leave our screening room with a smile to continue on into the fraught world of our own ageing.

From Kiwi-land comes a movie to ratchet up the laugh-o’meter. It’s ‘Hunt for the Wilder People’. Yes, it’s somewhat rough around the edges and some of the acting, even from the redoubtable Sam Neill, is a tad on the dodgy side. And, yep, some of what goes on doesn’t make a great deal of sense in director Taika Waititi’s production. But it does rate five stars for heart and that more than makes up for its other faults. In it we encounter many a comic weirdo as the story-line plays out. Neill plays a crusty bushman, not adverse to living off the land. He, too, is suddenly bereft of his life partner, leaving him floundering and suddenly responsible for the care of a ward of the state. When he arrives at the isolated property of Uncle Hec (Neill), the tub of lard, citified teenager, Ricky (Julian Dennison), is singularly unimpressed with his new surrounds, but gradually he thaws and develops a type of affection for the place and his carers. The sudden death of his partner has Hec under suspicion for kidnapping, so he and the kid go bush big time, leading the NZ constabulary on a merry chase up mountain and down dale.

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Those of us who have had time in the teaching game are well aware of misfits like Ricky, struggling with the lack of love they receive and flaying around, too, for relevance. Young Dennison well evokes this, but he also possesses some serious chops when it comes to comedy and his playing off the veteran is a joy. Adding to the pleasures is some petty awesome scenery. Forget the film’s deficiencies. At the packed house screening Leigh and I attended we joined everybody else in enjoying this Kiwi gem immensely. It looks as though it will conquer Oz, as it did its homeland back across the Tasman.

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Ramping it up several more notches is ‘The Nice Guys’ – who are anything but. It is, though, a hilarious romp. If you found copious humour in the ‘Lethal Weapon’ franchise, or ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’, then this offering is for you as some of the same people are involved in its making. I had no sooner recovered my breath from one comic set piece than we were amidst another. Frenetic action abounded as Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) duck and dive through LA’s tawdry 1970s underbelly. Crowe plays straight man to Gosling’s hapless goofiness which sees the duo beset by all sorts of mayhem. The NZ icon’s reactions to Gosling’s prat falls and dimness are priceless, leading to a full-throttle attack on our laugh-o’meters. Aussie ingenue Angourie Rice, as March’s practical tweenie daughter, doesn’t quite steal the show, as the young fellow does in the previous movie, but she’s pretty damn good considering what she is asked to do in this effort from director Shane Black. It was a far different world this movie was set in – pre-digital, pre-political correctness; a world before the fun police took complete control and this is milked for all it is worth. I am hoping that, like ‘Lethal Weapon’s’ Gibson and Glover, there’s at least another sequel for this in the pipeline. Gosling and Crowe are guffaw inducing comedy gold.

As the great philosopher/songster Jimmy Buffett once remarked ‘If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane’ and I thank these three movies for helping me keep insanity at bay for a while longer.

Trailer for ‘The Meddler’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XbN58_kYZrU

Trailer for ‘Hunt for the Wilder People’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dPaU4Gymt3E

Trailer for ‘The Nice Guys’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQR5zsLHbYw

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