Family Movie Night
By Karyn Bowman
It wasn’t that he was goofy looking or had funny eyes that made Gene Wilder funny. It was that he was willing to take every character and every scene to the nth degree. He wasn’t the romantic lead or the true action hero. But what Wilder gave us was perfect comic timing and ideas that seemed outlandish until he performed them.
Interestingly enough, Wilder stated that comedy was even funnier when you played scenes straight. You don’t need to make funny faces or sounds, playing the scene as most people might live it can be funny.
As soon as the word came out that Wilder passed away last week, my husband instantly stated we needed to get Blazing Saddles. It is this movie, Willy Wonka, Young Frankenstein, and Silver Streak that may be what Wilder is known for doing. It is these movies that he seems to be the straight man while creating total havoc.
It is a different formula from what the Marx Brothers were doing but his work makes us laugh just as hard. It could be the timid accountant in The Producers or the mad creator doing the soft shoe with his monster in Young Frankenstein. His performances always seem like he is completely present in that character no matter what the character is doing, whether it is a mean character or someone kind of sweet and lost.
Wilder had not performed in movies for the last twenty years. He stated that he did not like the modern films with so much swearing and explosions that seem to make no sense to the actual story. Then in the last three years, Wilder dealt with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. He left public life after that. It was comforting to hear that in the end he was surrounded by family and listening to Ella Fitzgerald.
Another actor in that mold of playing it straight no matter what is Tom Cavenagh. My son watches the CW network show, The Flash in which Cavenagh plays a bad guy masquerading as a good guy. Each side of his character is believable. I find his character especially compelling because Cavenagh has played a number of good guys.
His first big role was in the TV show Ed in which he played a former New York lawyer who comes home to his small town, buys the local bowling alley, and sets up a new law practice. He sweetly romances the girl he had a crush on during high school with some success and some failure. But you instantly like this guy. It feels that what you see is what you get. I have noticed this in other movies as well.
But in The Flash, there is something different driving the character. He has a desire to create what he needs to happen in the future and so he must be a mentor to the one person he will destroy in the future. While I would say that The Flash is better for teens and young adults, Cavenagh’s other movies – Yogi Bear and How to Eat Fried Worms are better movies for younger children.
As for Wilder’s movies, Willy Wonka is better for the younger generation but his other movies are more suited for teens.
Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.