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Humor at American and British Film Comedy

Human nature never ceases to look for ways that can relieve pain and avoid suffering. Recent research has shown that the most powerful and healthy way to deal with sadness is humor. However, it appears that the film industry has not been using humor as a way of healing; instead, they use it as a way to convey messages. These messages could either be delivered in the form of tragedy that begins with euphoria and ends in a bad way, or comedy which most often ends with a reunion or rather a resolution.

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British comedy films indirectly deal with themes that relate to their culture; such topics include forbidden love among different classes, behavior, and language. It could also be about rigidity between the countryside and town people as it is represented in the film Tom Jones. On the contrary, American comedy films adopt a real-life situation, exaggerate it to provoke laughter. For example in the film Modern Time, Charlie Chaplin symbolizes the working-class status (that is according to the period of the post-Industrial Revolution) where he gets a serious anxiety break down through excessive work.

By doing so, producers not only keep the minds of the viewers away from their burden and stress making them relax for a while; it also educates them on how to deal with frustrations and aggravations that occur in everyday life. The storyline can range from poverty, unemployment, homelessness, and social unrest as it is depicted in the film Modern Time to divorce, alcoholism, and even murder. In this essay, I will focus on the theme of addiction as it is represented in the American movie Little Miss Sunshine, as well as in the British films Educating Rita, and Tom Jones.

Little Miss Sunshine is a film that revolves around winning, losing, and the distinction between chasing a dream and addiction. Richard, who is the head of the family, is seen to be addicted to success and power. He has the notion that his ideas are truly original and of importance to the whole world and thus MUST be published. In the beginning, Richard appears to be unstoppable and convinced that his book deal is at the publisher’s top priority and that he is simply “waiting for the deal to be sealed.”

However, the fact that he is constantly checking his messages and even harasses the publisher (Stan Grossman) with numerous phone calls, even while Stan is out of town, shows Richard’s fear of actually losing this deal and bankrupting his family. Worse off is when Richard finally decides to get hold of Stan by driving a scooter 23 miles to Stan’s hotel in an attempt to “fix the deal” and Stan tells him, “it is not the book, it is you!” No one has ever heard of you…it is time to move on. You are not going to win this one”, he continues.

After Stan has officially ousted Richard’s lack of power, Richard channels all his energy to Olive by taking her to the pageant and making sure she believes she is going to win. At this point, Richard’s addiction to success is being transferred onto Olive where he tries to live vicariously through her. Even as his daughter, Olive’s importance to Richard seems to be based on how effectively she carries out his wishes. What kind of a father would tell his young child, that he is sure that “none of the winners eat ice cream, because ice cream makes you fat?!” When Olive pushes the ice cream aside, Richard feels like his mission has been accomplished and his daughter is under his spell.

Thankfully the rest of the family convinces Olive that her father is being unreasonable and she smugly digs in. How disappointing it must have been for him to finally witness Olive’s disastrous routine, which he would have known about if he were a caring father, who took the time to see what Olive and her grandpa had rehearsed.

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When Richard’s father suddenly passes away, he doesn’t show even the slightest ounce of sadness. His main concern is that the issue of transferring the body might delay their chances of getting Olive into the LMS contest on time and, of course, winning at the end. However, Richard learns his lesson the hard way, while watching Olive’s doomed performance (Associated Content). Not only is Olive’s routine horrific but the judges also chasing her off the stage! Richard is forced to acknowledge his daughter’s as well as his fate and shows his first modicum of support for his daughter when he gets on stage with her and begins to dance.

Finally, Olive and Richard are joined on stage by the rest of the family, who in turn dance as well. Despite all these, Richard Hoover is still in denial of reality because he refuses to accept the notion that his ideas are not going to change the world’s way of thinking. He, however, seems to truly believe that his ‘resistance to losing’ policy will get him and others especially those close to him, everything they desire.

Similarly, in the film Educating Rita, Frank, a middle-class literature professor, is addicted to alcohol. He is in a way also “forced” to acknowledge his drinking problem and wake up from his delusions. As opposed to Richard, who despite his utter failure displays a sense of all-powerfulness, Frank has everything a person can strive for and yet feels dissatisfied with his life. Not only does he stop writing poems, but he also gets exhausted from the teaching profession.

This can be depicted when Rita asks him to be her tutor and he replies: “Everything I know … is that I know absolutely nothing.” In addition to this, when his students complain about not learning much literature he simply answers: “Look, the sun is shining, and you’re young. What are you doing here? Why don’t you all go out and do something?” He tells them to go and make love or do anything else other than listen to him.

From this, it is clear that Frank is highly depressed, which makes him turn to alcohol with the hope of reducing his pain. By drinking whisky which he hides in his bookshelves, he can escape from his stressful world, which ironically is the same world that Rita wants to get in. This is implied when he tells her “Found a culture, have you, Rita? Frank goes on to ask Rita if she has found a better song to sing as he has. Rita remains silent as Frank comments that her lips are hollow, tuneless, and covered with shrillness.

Despite all these accusations, Rita works as a hairdresser who battles to improve her life in the best way possible so that she ends up singing the better song. Her true desires in life include; the acquisition of good education, being able to take part in intellectual conversations, freeing herself from the life she has been born to, and belonging to the middle-class people where she believes she will no longer feel embarrassed coming from.

No matter how hard her integration into the academic world is, she does not complain, compromise, or give up. It is because of this that Rita’s determination can be viewed as a form of addiction to success. Nevertheless, unlike Richard in the film Little Miss Sunshine, Rita luckily achieves her goal, bypassing the exam and becoming part of all the students she was badly afraid to talk to.

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In the film When Rita says to Frank, “God, what’s it like to be free?” I felt that this is exactly what she sincerely wishes for. I am not surprised at all because it appears to me that she does not acknowledge his situation. Even though in the beginning she urges him to stop drinking, it is only towards the end of the film especially after she attended his last lecture, where he was completely drunk that she finally realizes his depression.

Furthermore, it seems that the more Rita becomes educated, the more he becomes addicted to alcohol. No wonder he feels so dependent that he was afraid of losing her. Before she got educated Rita used to provide him with power, confidence, and worthiness, but things have now changed. Thus, when he was once drunk he revealed his feelings and said that it is of no gain if a man achieves much education and ends up losing his soul.

Rita in turn replied: “I’ll tell you what you can’t bear, Mr. Self-Pitying Piss Artist. What you can’t bear is that I am educated now.” Luckily, the same characteristics of Rita such as spontaneity, ambition, and determination which intimidated him were the ones that eventually awoke Frank and brought him back to reality. This is depicted at the end, when she says to him, “You have given me a choice,” I felt that this was her way to remind him of the purpose of life, and thus save him. Finally, by moving to Australia, Frank chooses to have a better life by making the same choice that Rita has.

Even though the main dominant theme in the film Tom Jones is about the differences between the country and townspeople as it also has been shown in the other film Educating Rita, I still found traces of addiction represented by Tom’s obsession with women. Tom Jones is a handsome, country young man, who was abandoned, at Squire Allworth’s bedroom right after his birth. Because he was not raised by his biological parents, it was expected that he will grow up to be a dependent, unconfident and unstable man. On the contrary, Tom evolves into a person who posse’s strong characteristics such as self-confidence, compassion, and generosity which help him to not only survive in his unnatural environment but also to become a favorite among women.

Although Tom’s true love is, Sophia Western, he could not stop his obsession to have love affairs with other ladies. His first sexual relationship begins with Molly, George’s daughter, which ends when he realizes he is not the father of her baby. Nevertheless, when he meets Molly once again in the bushes, they both make love until they are discovered by his “enemy” as well as by Sophia. After Allworthy expelled Tom to London, he wrote a letter to Sophia to request her to send him some money instead of the money that has been stolen.

However, this tribute does not prevent him from jumping into bed with Lady Waters, whom he rescues from a violent man. Once again, while in a search after him, Sophia finds out that Tom is in a room with another woman, and immediately leaves the place. At this point, Mr. Jones decides to stop his “game” and seeks to find Sophia wherever she is. When he arrives in London, at a masquerade party, he mistakenly assumes that Lady Bellaston, a very wealthy woman, is Harriet Fitzpatrick, Sophia’s cousin, and in a moment of weakness he is seduced by her. Since money is power, Tom has been advised that the best way to end the relationship with Lady Bellaston is by proposing her for marriage through the letter. As always, Sophia discovers Tom’s affair through the proposal and swears not to see him again.

Tom’s true love for Sophia cannot be questioned, since it is reflected in many scenes. However, his attraction towards other women as well as his manners to respect them almost causes him to lose the love of his life, Sophia. Just like Rita’s strongest characters which save both Rita and Frank’s lives, also Tom Jones’ characters save his life not only by preventing his execution but also by marrying Sophia despite his behavior.

It can therefore be concluded that in all the three comedy movies the theme of addiction is presented in different ways. In my point of view the American movie, Little Miss Sunshine, deals with the demands of western society which strives for beauty and success. By beginning the movie with a humoristic line; “There are two kinds of people in the world: winners and losers,” the producer not only successfully places in his audience interest and sympathy towards the characters, but he also enables them to identify with the same issues that ground stress and anxiety among people. Similarly, the British film, Educating Rita, represents class differences as a cause of inferiority both to the lower class and to a few upper-class members who mock the society’s high standards as well as it rigidity in which they belong.

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Ironically, the same reason that drowns Frank into his addiction is the one that throws Rita into the addiction to success. In other words, Frank did not value the same class that Rita strived to be part of. Last but not least the film Tom Jones reveals the same themes of class differences as well as obsession and passion to women. I felt that by presenting Tom as a charming, sensitive, and respectful figure, the producer was not only able to deal with a complex subject such as sex (despite the era), but he also justified his main character’s behavior.

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