Edgar Wright is one of the most influential comedy filmmakers out there. But why do we enjoy his clever wit and humour so much? Winchester anyone?
For me, comedy films these days have really lost their way. Whether that’s down to actors, bad scripts or, in general, unfunniness, they just don’t do much for me. I’m a fan of the genre, don’t get me wrong. Shane Black’s buddy cop comedy of 2016, The Nice Guys was my favourite movie of the year, and it was hilarious. Taika Waititi is also a comedy director who seems to be doing exceptionally well at the moment too, and with comedy legend Mel Brooks winning the Academy Fellowship Award at the BAFTAS in February.
The comedy genre is still ever growing whilst paying homage to greats such as Brooks. Of course, it’s all about what you yourself find funny in these films – humour is of course subjective. But there is one director in particular, an auteur you may have heard of called Edgar Wright, who never fails to make a clever and witty comedy.
He’s famous for his ‘Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy,’ you know, Shaun of the Dead, (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007), and The Worlds End (2013) starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost? They’re pretty iconic comedy spoofs that take a satirical look at the zombie genre, the buddy cop/action film genre and the sci-fi/disaster film genre, respectively. He’s also responsible for Scott Pilgrim Vs the World (2010), based on the popular comic book/video game series. I’m going to pick apart these four films and discover what makes Edgar Wright such a quirky and crafty auteur in the world of the comedy film.
It’s worth looking at the social connotations that Wright uses to create comedy in his films, most notably a narrative device that is used throughout his cornetto trilogy, and also can be applied to Scott Pilgrim. The device in question is the idea of the ‘pub’ as a safe haven, a place where all problems can be avoided, and also acts in a way of ‘heaven’ for the characters in these movies. If you’ve seen Shaun of The Dead, you’ll know of the iconic line where Shaun sets a plan for them to survive the zombie apocalypse: “Take car. Go to mum’s. Kill Phil – “Sorry.” – grab Liz, go to the Winchester, have a nice cold pint, and wait for all of this to blow over.’’. The inclusion of the pub and drinking in these movies is a reference to the ‘lad’ culture in Britain, and the humour that could result from these situations. This is something that the Hangover trilogy does well for American audiences in particular, in the same way that Wright applies to a British audience. However, the humour behind this stems from the idea that Shaun suggests that going for a pint at the pub will allow them to avoid the zombies and hopefully everything will be ok soon enough. They just want to have a good time!
This is also seen in The Worlds End, as Gary manipulates his friends into acting like the ‘blanks’ (the alien antagonists), so they can continue their pub crawl and not be captured. I believe, any audience watching this ‘pub heaven’ ideology, can find something funny about this. It’s that classic ‘mum and dad’ scenario. Dad forgets to pick you up from school, and mum isn’t too happy about it until maybe the next Monday. So what does dad do to avoid being shouted at by the Mrs? He goes to the pub, and waits for it to ‘blow over.’ Wright is very clever with this indeed, and if we’re going by the example I have given, men and women will find that funny for the irony.
It is something so subtle, yet so iconic, which can also be seen in Scott Pilgrim. After Scott and Ramona finish their fight with Ramona’s fourth evil-ex Roxy, Scott excessively starts drinking at a bar and starts to seem not so phased with the whole ‘evil-ex’ thing. We see it similarly in Hot Fuzz in which Nick Frost’s character Danny suggests multiple times that he and Nicholas Angel should go to the pub, as it’s probably the only exciting thing there is in Sandford, (which later turns out to be false). Showing yet again, how Edgar is playing with the idea of lad culture and drinking, by crafting it through various unique narratives.
However what Wright is probably the best at is visual comedy. Whether it is the two tracking shots that follow Shaun’s walk to and from the shops pre- and post- zombie apocalypse in Shaun of the Dead, or the fact that Wright’s characters are constantly making unnecessary exits from windows, such as in Worlds and Scott Pilgrim. But one noticeable visual element that Wright uses in all of his films are the dramatic action film style shots that zoom in on random items. Wright uses this to create comedy in his own way. He blends everyday behaviours with an action style zoom in all of his films. For example, when Shaun spreads jam on his toast or opens the fridge, or when Scott Pilgrim gears up to save Ramona but in the last shot the zoom stops and waits for him to tie his shoelaces. It is a really clever way to make everyday things less boring and just, in Edgar Wright’s world, utterly ridiculous. Like the paperwork scene in Hot Fuzz, paperwork is boring, but when combined with the over the top dramatic music and zooms, it’s exciting and just stupid. And that’s what makes it so funny.
Its also interesting to see how Wright subverts genre norms with comedy, especially bearing in mind how the Cornetto trilogy is a series of pastiches poking fun at different genres. The subversion comes from the idea of setting.
We would expect the zombie apocalypse to be set in a massive city or in a busy shopping mall, but in Shaun its mostly set in a pub. In Hot Fuzz we would expect an action/buddy cop film to take place in a big crime ridden city, but no, it takes place in a quiet rural British village. The same idea of the village is used in The Worlds End in which we would expect an alien invasion narrative to take place in a massive city like New York or Washington, but nope, Wright settles with a village. And that just works brilliantly, again it’s just silly and ridiculous, nothing ever bad happens in small villages, an idea that Nicholas Angel holds when he is sent to Sanford and again, of course he is proved wrong, when the city council are revealed as the antagonists.
You can argue that The Worlds End is a narrative that is very similar to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or of course that Hot Fuzz parodies the buddy cop formula found in Bad Boys, and Point Break, (which are both directly referenced), but that is exactly the beauty of Wright’s films. They are parodies. While the films are clever, they are also very self-aware through Wright’s directing and writing, which make these parodies even more special. He adds his own quirks and examples of ridiculous cinematography, characters and settings, separating them from other comedies, making them very unique indeed.