Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Movie Report: Looking for Comedy

A lot of reviewers think the problem with the new Albert Brooks movie, "Looking for Comedy in a Muslim World," is that it's not funny. I disagree. It is funny, but in a low-key, smiling sort of way, not in an uproarious guffawing kind of funny.

The premise of the movie is that the United States State Department, realizing that we understand very little about Muslims decides to send a comic, Albert Brooks, playing Albert Brooks, to India and Pakistan to research what makes Muslims laugh and then to write a 500-page report, which will earn him the Medal of Freedom. It doesn't matter that India is mostly Hindu, Brooks is told by Fred Thompson, playing himself, Muslim, Hindu, they're all alike. Granted, that's not the kind of humor that will make your sides ache from laughing, but it made me smile.

After Brooks gets to India, his first attempt, interviewing people on the street about what they think is funny, doesn't get him very far so he decides to put on a free show and have an assistant take notes on what makes the people attending it laugh. He puts on the kind of show that he apparently used to do as a young comic in the United States; a ventriloquist bit as an incompetent ventriloquist, an improvisation bit in which he changes all the audience suggestions to do what he was going to do anyway, stupid kindergarten jokes, "(Why is there no Halloween in India? Because there is no Gandhi,)" and predictably his act falls flat. It is so bad that it is funny. At one point, nobody in the audience having cracked a chuckle, he asks whether anyone speaks English. They all raise their hands. That was one of my laugh out loud moments.

After being unable to make any Indians laugh, who speak English perfectly, Brooks was smuggled through the barbed wire over the border into Pakistan where he spent several hours doing his act in a terrorist camp where no one, except his interpreter spoke English. They were an appreciative audience, laughing uproariously, although one got the feeling that perhaps the interpreter was juicing up the lines a little. Al-Jazeeri, the Arab television station, found out about Brooks's presence in the area and brought him in to offer him a role in a new sit-com, "That Darn Jew."

There werre only three other people in the showing I attended Sunday afternoon, one of whom I noticed was a Sikh. After the movie, I spotted him, his wife and his very-Americanized daughter in the lobby of the theater. Although Sikh's are not Muslims, the religion originated in north India, and I was curious what Indians thought about the movie. So I went up to the man and said, "Excuse me, I noticed you were in the theater for 'Looking for Comedy in a Muslim World,' I'm curious what you thought about the movie. Did you think it was funny?" "No," he replied emphatically. "It was not funny. That's why so few people were in the theater." His daughter said something about Brooks's comedy being very dry and low key, but I left them, grinning to myself. I think Brooks did find comedy in a "Muslim world." The problem is that the world, Muslim and otherwise, thinks it can't laugh at subtle humor. I thought the movie deserved four stars (out of five.)

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