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Welcome to The Fourth Wall, CHIRP's weekly e-conversation on cinema. This week's subject is the Brad Pitt comedy War Machine.
This edition is written by CHIRP Radio volunteers Kevin Fullam and Clarence Ewing.
Most of my friends know that I'm a tough crowd with regards to comedy. A very tough crowd. These days, I've generally sworn off seeing comedy films in the theaters -- I've joked (no pun intended) that it's incredibly frustrating to hear folks all around me laughing at bits that I find wanting. Like my own real-life, 360-degree laugh track from hell*? Sometimes I experience this at improv shows and the like as well; it's a twisted dream of mine to have the offending party on stage treated to an audience of Kevin dopplegangers, all with crossed arms and blank stares. Cue the beads of sweat from those on stage. (Clearly, the lesson is that I'm an awful human.)
[*Comedy trailers are worst of all. Humor is all about context, and with trailers, you obviously have zero context. So editors are reduced to using cheap gags and punchlines, often with "full-stop" sound effects for added emphasis.]
It's actually made me think quite a bit about the nature of the genre and the subjective nature of humor. In my estimation, most attempts at comedy in film and television just try too damn hard, and my preferred brand of levity arrives in the midst of tales that are generally on the level. Dramas like The Sopranos and The Wire were wickedly funny at times -- Paulie Walnuts, when he wasn't a vicious sociopath, almost qualified as comedy relief. Clarence, you and I have discussed the genius of Extras in the past; even when celebrities in that series were playing caricatures of themselves, I can't ever remember them winking at the camera.
Which brings us to War Machine, a military satire based on the non-fiction book The Operators, an account of writer Michael Hastings' month-long stay with General Stanley McChrystal's forces in the Afghanistan war. The basis for the book was Hastings' article "The Runaway General," a 2010 feature in Rolling Stone which captured not only the chaos of the fight, but also McChrystal's mocking of White House officials (including VP Joe Biden), which ultimately resulted in his resignation.
Hey, this sounds like a fascinating subject for a film! But couldn't they have gotten someone other than Brad Pitt to play the McChrystal character, Gen. Glen McMahon? I'm guessing Hollywood studios demanded a star. Fine. Then why demand that Pitt utter every line with an overblown, gravely voice? The man sounded like JK Simmons in full-on J. Jonah Jameson mode from the Spider Man films.