Two Funny Comedies, “Talladega Nights” and “Wedding Crashers”, But Only One is a Good Film

Wedding Crashers – 3 Stars (Good)
Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby – 2 Stars (Average)

There are comedies that can make you laugh that are not good films because they lack any meaningful substance or worthwhile message. An example would be “Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby”, worth a few laughs with Will Ferrell as Ricky Bobby, but not able to get you emotionally involved in a character’s plight.

Then there are comedies that can make you laugh that appear to have a lack of substance, but slowly pull you into a character as you become emotionally involved with his situation. An example would be “Wedding Crashers” with Owen Wilson as John Beckwith.

So what makes one film good and another just average? The difference is in the script, the direction and the acting.

For openers, Talladega Nights was written by Will Farrell, who also plays the lead role, and by Adam McKay, who is the director. My experience has been that when the director of a film also writes the script, the script, the direction and the movie all suffer the majority of the time. When the lead actor of the film is also a writer of the film, the situation becomes compounded, like the blind leading the deaf through a minefield.

Both Farrell and McKay try to tell a story with their comedy but fail because not only is the comedy unbelievable, but the character of Ricky Bobby is not likeable enough to convince us that there is human drama unfolding here.

McKay joins a long list of other writer/directors who have bombed in these dual roles, including Vanessa Parise (terrible rating) for Kiss the Bride; Peter Weir (average rating) for Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World; Nancy Myers (average rating) for Something’s Gotta Give; Thomas Bezucha (average rating) for The Family Stone; Michael McGowan (average rating) for Saint Ralph; Jared Hess (terrible rating) for Napoleon Dynamite; Robert Rodriguez (terrible rating) for Once Upon a Time in Mexico; and Paul Thomas Anderson (terrible rating) for Punch-Drunk Love.

Exceptions to this dual role as writer/director are Kirk Jones (excellent rating) in Waking Ned Devine, and Tim McCanlies (excellent rating) for Secondhand Lions. Both Jones and McCanlies are master storytellers in these films, and other writer/directors who have failed could learn a lot from them.

Wedding Crashers, another funny comedy, is just the opposite of Talladega Nights in that Steve Faber and Bob Fisher can tell a good story, and David Dobkin can direct a good comedy film. Their effort comes together because Owen Wilson as John Beckwith is likeable and has the acting style and ability to emotionally connect with the viewer.

We can see ourselves in his predicament-living a life of fun and pleasure at the expense of others, and then developing a conscience that foreshadows personal growth.

After taking advantage of so many lovely, unsuspecting bridesmaids, he slows down enough to notice Rachel McAdams as Claire Cleary, who shares his sense of humor and light-heartedness. The more he looks at Claire, the more he wants to look at Claire.

Claire, however, is spoken for by a person she has not yet discovered is really a self-absorbed, dictatorial, manipulative, rich jerk, whereas John Beckwith appears more worthless but is wanting and willing to change his ways.

It is interesting that Vince Vaughn as Jeremy Grey’s character, Beckwith’s wedding crasher partner and best friend, is not nearly as likeable, although he also decides to get married to Claire’s immature, dippy sister Gloria Cleary (Isla Fisher).

I saw the unrated and uncut version of Talladega Nights, and the uncorked (not rated) version of Wedding Crashers, the theatrical version was rated R with sexual content, nudity and filthy language.

Despite watching the additional footage not shown in theaters, and enduring the sexual content and language, I would watch Wedding Crashers again but would not watch Talladega Nights again if you offered to pay me.

Moviegoers are fooled less often than you may think, and it becomes evident at awards time. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, was nominated in 2007 for the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Movie Comedy, but did not win. Wedding Crashers was nominated in 2006 for the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Movie Comedy and did win.

Copyright © 2009 Ed Bagley

Read more of my movie reviews on films with a lot more substance than Sex and the City, including:

“A Christmas Story”

“My Big Fat Greek Wedding”

“Secondhand Lions”

“The Chorus (Les Choristes in French)”

“Waking Ned Devine”

“Chariots of Fire”