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Making Parody Funny

14/05/2012

 

Last night, I watched “Not Another Teen Movie,” a film that made fun of the stereotypical elements that existed in teen comedies of the late ’90s and early ’00s. It, along with the first Scary Movie, helped pave way for other parody movies such as “Epic Movie,” “Date Movie,” the rest of the Scary Movie series and the aptly named “Disaster Movie.”

Unlike those other films (first Scary Movie not included), Not Another Teen Movie was actually pretty funny.

I’m not saying it was a perfect movie — far from it, actually. This is no “Best In Show,” people. Not Another Teen Movie had too much reliance on juvenile potty humor that added nothing to the movie but took too way much away. Without those moments of pure stupidity (that bathroom scene comes to mind), this would have been a much better film.

But there were elements that worked, while the other parody films I mentioned had little-to-no redeeming qualities. Here is a short list of those parts, in contrast to other modern parodies:

1. The parodies made sense:

 

In parodies such as Date Movie and Epic Movie, there was a heavy reliance on modern pop culture references that had nothing to do with the subject material. Characters such as Borat, Amy Winehouse, Napoleon Dynamite, Hannah Montana and Captain Jack Sparrow were thrown in simply for brand recognition and had nothing to do with the genre of film the parodies were supposed to be mocking.

On the other hand, just about every parody in Not Another Teen Movie had a reason, an explanation and a purpose. There was no Amy Winehouse; instead, there was Janey Briggs, who was a parody of every teen movie’s modern “feminist” archetype who just needs man in her life. There was no Captain Jack Sparrow; instead, there was the “Token Black Guy,” who served to represent how underrepresented minorities were in teen comedies at the time.

Simply using pop culture references because you think it’ll get a cheap laugh is not how to make an effective parody — every single parody used has to mean something. Without that meaning, it’s not actually parodying anything.

2. The creators respected the genre they were working with:

Let’s look at the follow-up to Not Another Teen Movie: Date Movie. In all respects, this movie should have worked. It had a great subject to parody, great characters to poke fun of and numerous “romantic” situations that could have been exposed for the ridiculous, over-the-top awful things they were. This, unfortunately, didn’t happen.

Why? Because the creators clearly didn’t like romantic comedies.

The thing that worked about Not Another Teen Movie was the people who made the film obviously liked or at least enjoyed the genre they were working with. There were subtle references to teen comedy greats such as John Hughes and Molly Ringwold — not in a way that demeaned or degraded them, but paid tribute to their strengths, while also poking fun at their weaknesses (such as the “Duckie” friend-zoned character).

Date Movie could have done this with romantic comedies, but sadly didn’t. This is the same across many of the other parodies mentioned — especially Disaster Movie, which clearly had no grasp on why its target audience (disaster movie fans) would actually enjoy that genre. By alienating the types of people who enjoy the films they’re parodying, they not only lose a great deal of respect within that community, but also a huge portion of their profit potential.

3. Not Another Teen Movie was funny:

This is perhaps the biggest benefit Not Another Teen Movie has over the other films: It’s actually funny. I couldn’t even finish any of the other films I mentioned because they were so ridiculously stupid, low-brow and bottom-of-the-barrel. If a parody can’t even be funny, it’s not worthy of actually existing.

I’m not saying a parody can’t have slapstick — heck, I’m not even saying a parody can’t be low-brow. I’m just saying it should actually be funny. Throwing in pop culture references for a cheap “laugh” while having no respect for your audience or the genre you’re representing combine to make a film that is in no way enjoyable.

I do hope the disasters that were these films don’t spoil parody filmmaking for the rest of us. I do believe parody films should exist, because they encourage us to poke fun at ourselves and the movies we enjoy. I’m guilty of liking stupid films just like everybody else — as long as the stupidity comes from my own “guilty pleasure” enjoyment, and not from the film itself.

Now I’m off to go put on my glasses, ponytail and paint-covered overalls. Oh, and don’t forget my copy of Sylvia Plath. I am woman, hear me roar.

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