Grant Mitchell

Through all generations and communities there appears to be a certain level of attitude and thought that caters to a toxic level of nostalgia. This leads to people saying ill-informed things that usually involve the phrase, “back in my day” in order to justify their stances and beliefs. 

When it comes to the transmuting of comedies from their form in the second half of the 20th century to now, there is truth in the saying that the “old days” had a better product. 

An excellent example of this is found in the 2010 Todd Phillips comedy “Due Date,” which is basically an updated version of the 1987 John Candy and Steve Martin buddy comedy, “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.”

While the beginning of “Due Date” is comical, playing the absurdist dry humor of Zach Galifianakis off of Robert Downey Jr.’s excellent wit and observational comedy, the novelty quickly wears off. 

Galifianakis’ Ethan is grating as hell, at first I gave his character a chance, assuming that eventually we would see some mirth and endearing qualities in the character. That was my mistake for expecting more. For a little background, Ethan is a man child with no social skills, a dog, a coffee can filled with his father’s ashes and a penchant for screwing up and having Robert Downey Jr.’s Peter suffer and pay for it all with his time, energy and actual money. Oh, and he wants to go to Hollywood and be an actor, which he is clearly ill-equipped for. 

That’s about it when it comes to Ethan. I can in fact promise you that if you watch this film you will keep waiting for Ethan to become a likable and more realistic character as these types of films usually shift characters towards. I can also promise you that this film will end and you’ll still be waiting for that to happen. 

Now that is completely and entirely an independent fault of this film that isn’t due to the fact that the source material for “Due Date,” “Trains, Planes and Automobiles,” is a far superior version of the 2010 film. 

Every other flaw comes from the fact that these two films are bound to be compared and contrasted against one another. When you do this, you’ll see that while John Candy’s Del does and says frustrating things while seeming to exist out of some cosmic spite for Steve Martin’s Neal, but as the film goes on, we come to love Del.

Not only because his character mellows out with his ridiculous statements to an extent, but also because his character feels more realistic and is sympathetic as we find out later in the film that Del is dealing with the fallout of his wife’s death and is all alone. 

This ultimately contributes to the growing and plausible bond between Neal and Del in “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” All the while you are left wondering for the entire time in “Due Date” why Robert Downey Jr.’s Peter doesn’t just kill Zach Galifianakis’ Ethan, I’m not kidding. 

While this is certainly an indictment of the 2010 comedy, “Due Date,” it is moreover also a scolding of the current genre of comedy, as we have seen a significant decline in the quality in product delivered to audiences. 

While there are still certainly exceptions to the rule, most of those exceptions are seen in comedy films with big budgets and expansive topics. Such as the 2018 satirical Bio-pic “Vice” which contains as much moral debate on politics and humanity as it does satirized comedy. 

The difference between today’s comedy and that of yesterday’s is that films with small-to-middling budgets in decades past such as “Caddyshack,” “Animal House,” or “Tommy Boy” had heart and character in them. 

For instance, when Tommy’s dad dies in 1995’s “Tommy Boy,” we feel the pain that he does, we grieve with him and go through the motions of loss with him. In absurdist and at times “problematic” film such as “Animal House,” we feel contempt for Faber College’s Omega fraternity and root for the rag tag team that is the Animal House Delta Tau Chi fraternity. 

While those examples of course have lived on to be cult-classics, there is a bevy of films in between all of those with the same kind of thick-skulled heart and lovable nature. 

Which is more than what can be said for today’s films within the comedy genre which feel more like studio cash grabs made with cheap laughs and no real meaning, all for a quick buck. 

This isn’t a matter of a lack of talent and ability to create truly memorable and endearing films in the comedy genre, it’s more about the lack of heart. 

Grant Mitchell is a junior majoring in public relations. He can be reached atgmitch16@vols.utk.edu.

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