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A Brief Review of "Better Living Through Chemistry"

I did not expect that I'd have as much contempt for Better Living Through Chemistry as I did.

It doesn't deserve to be skewered - it's just your average not-very-good dark(ish) comedy - but holy hell, it struck a nerve.

I think it was around the third time Jane Fonda said something snotty in her ~~ totally edgy ~~ narration.  It's not her fault; she just got saddled with the really lame comic relief.  (Which is kind of a dumb thing to call it since ostensibly the whole movie is meant to be comic on some level.) BLTC is one of those movies where a lot of the jokes are meant to come from the outrageousness of what you're seeing.  ("Can you believe this guy cheated on his wife and got an STD?  That's shameful - hilariously shameful!")  Since Fonda's narrating, she has to do the heavy lifting on that front.

But years of terrible jokes and not-even-trying-to-be-funny malice on the Internet have made me realize that dryly commenting on or judging somebody's actions - especially if you're trying to go for shock effect - is somewhere at the bottom of the bargain bin of comedy.  To put it another way: if being an asshole to get a laugh is the lowest form of comedy, then standing five feet away from that asshole and sarcastically saying, "Well that was classy" is only five feet higher.

And I should know - I'm a blogger.  I obsess about the respective levels of shitty judgement I'm passing as a matter of daily practice.

The rest of the movie isn't too bad.  It's got a halfway decent crime story going on and the cast is all professional enough to deliver, so there's almost a movie here.  It's just that any time they thought they were being funny, I had to go take a walk.  I couldn't find the patience to sit through it.

It seems like dark comedies have this problem more than any other kind.  There must be some "How To Write a Dark Comedy in 101 Days" course online somewhere that provides the same model they all follow: insert sad sack protagonist, insert element of danger and/or crime, be dry and morbid, resolve.  You'll note that "insert set up and punchline" is absent.

Like the scene where Sam Rockwell makes meth-powered Bike Booster tablets to help himself win a bicycle race.  We're supposed to be laughing because he has the balls to drug himself and cheat at a stupid contest.  But that by itself isn't really funny - people cheat all the time, and people do drugs all the time.  No, the joke here is that he's doing something so stupidly dangerous (doping up with meth) for something so lame and unrewarding (winning a small town bike race).  That actually can be funny if you focus on it - so why not?  Make that the point of your joke.

Like he should take the tablets and win, and then he has this uncontrollable craving for more tablets that he can't fight.  And then every now and again for the rest of the movie, you see him popping pills, and eventually you pay off when somebody finds out and they're just like, "Jesus, I would've given you my trophy, asshole.  The mailman has like six of them.  Nobody cares.  Where are you gonna get the money for your rehab?"

Although, I will say there was one genuine laugh I had, but I think credit goes to Netflix.  After the credits started rolling, the "Recommended For You" screen popped up with this:

Bravo, Netflix. Bravo.

All the Other Nonsense That Got Pushed Off the Main Page (Post Archive)