Starting off the comedy block is commercial director Jeremy Berger’s The Van, which is able to provide some laughter due to it’s confident style and juxtaposition of Herman Melville’s poetics with a more crass modern humor. Although the image of a blow-up sex toy is paired with Moby Dick’s narrator description of his unhindered history of exploits plays on the social comedy of manners, the film unfortunately hit’s it’s peak. The chase between a biker messenger and the “white van” that assaults bikers is reliant upon technical proficiency rather than motivated by the psychological or emotional complexity of Melville. Perhaps what is lacking is the reason behind the pairing of the text of Moby Dick within the world of the bike-messenger that would really take the work into more complicated jokes, and perhaps become a more biting satire of contemporary eco-business warfare.
Remington Dewan’s The Lemonade Stand, on the other hand, is able to clearly design the metaphor of young business within a young teenager’s first neighborhood lemonade stand. What makes Dewan’s film stronger is a protagonist whose motivations are clear: pseudo-hip business lingo and the addictive game of profit margins is what excites the young entrepreneur, so much she’s invited her friend to join her in this excitement. The Lemonade Stand is thus able to clearly lay out the conflict strongly present in contemporary comedies like NBC’s The Office, where the successful business is in conflict with simple humanity. In the end, the young protagonist confronts the limits of business, and stands up for her friend when a competing water stand dismisses the emotions of her friend. Humanity overcomes the shrewd coming of age business story.
Wasting Daylight, the mockumentary of social activists against Daylight Savings Time is conceptually funny and provides not only the strongest contender of character humor, but also the strongest performances of the comedy block. The strength of the short is it’s ability to quickly hone characters beyond the talking heads format and convey a strong and clear sense of character and personality, allowing for very successful humor to naturally spring from clashes of personality types rather than situations or visual gags. While this short has the strongest character direction, it lingers the longest. The concept of these personality conflicts is clear, but more reliance upon the audience to catch on to each character’s personal agenda could be given, especially due to the strength of Joe Parker’s choices going into the shooting and his confident handling of back story with the performers.
Although Oklahoman Terry Holloway’s The Robbery is quick and sweet, it does take a moment to realize when and what the joke is, but this is what makes the film’s humor so inventive and funny! With visual homages to the indie filmmaking of the nineties, this short sketch delivers a situation so succinctly through carefully crafted physical gags and jokes, because of its short duration it’s easy to dismiss the maturity of these decisions. The cues and pace of the film direct my attention so clearly, I am not only able to understand and empathize with a character that is so quickly introduced, but I’m also able to anticipate the character’s actions in such limited amounts of time that the moment the actions occur it’s as if I’ve willed the character to do my bidding –and thus my participation in the joke makes for the unique and clever comedy that reminds me of Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton.
The sweetest comedy, also playing in the Animation block of shorts, is The Terrible Thing of Alpha 9! from Ugly Americans/Superjail animator Jake Armstrong. While the animation’s design is hip and beautiful, it’s the implicit commentary against “invade and conquer” that allows for a surprising subtly in emotion when an alien monster with a reputation of evil turns out to be as loving and loyal as a puppy. While the moment of the alien headhunter’s violent death treads distasteful waters (its execution could be seen as playing up the violence for drama and joke), it is the alien monster’s despair at the loss of this life that lifts this cartoon violence into bittersweet pity.