Today my film reviews are travelling back, way back in time, to the golden age of Hollywood Starlets and Billy Wilder’s 1959 Some Like it Hot. I always hear that humour doesn’t transfer well over generations but I can assure you that Some Like it Hot is just as funny today as it ever was.
Starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in an all-female band the form is more like a Shakespeare play than a modern comedy, but once you tune into the genre it’s actually completely charming. The brunt of the comedy comes from a complex series of mistaken identities and mild sexual innuendos. It seems surprising just how racy some of these jokes are despite their obliqueness. Truly, constraints are the father of creativity.
All three principal players never miss a beat in this film. It’s hard to review Marilyn Monroe’s performance since she acts exactly as the pop culture canon trains you to expect. She’s sweet, a little ditsy and hopelessly, tragically romantic. However I will congratulate the costume department for having found new and innovative ways to drape fabric in such a way as they leave nothing to the imagination. Both Lemmon and Curtis are impressive, switching between distinct personas on screen within seconds. Curtis particularly, pretending to be two different people as Joe is spellbinding in all three incarnations. His characterisation is, naturally, humourous and caricatured but consistent to the point of incredibility.
What’s great about this film is that it hasn’t aged one bit. While, of course, it now feels like a period piece, the humour and archetypes employed are so timeless that it doesn’t feel alien like many of the films contemporary to it. It’s still a living, breathing piece of cinema rather than a dusty, odd museum piece that can only be appreciated through contextual knowledge of the time. That makes this raucous comedy all the better in my eyes.
David Wain has teamed back up with Paul Rudd and Amy Poelher for this giant send up of rom-coms. Wains script swings from slapstick to smugly self-aware and back again every other minute. This really rather confuses the mood of the piece since beneath all the neurotic sarcasm there is a genuine love story being told.
Set in Manhattan like many rom-coms before it They Came Together features New York as “almost another character” in the story, a joke that is repeated over and over but is never substantiated in the plot. Every scene is a new set of gags and a new group of films to be mocked but it never seems to quite get past being irritating. Parts of it will be hysterically funny but then you cut back to the cheesy framing device full of done to death meta jokes. Perhaps if this secondary narrative level was actually serious it would make more sense. This dinner scene is set up as “the real world” where the story is being told but it’s just as smug and stupid as what is being mocked in the romanticised story.
The humour pulls from Woody Allen’s self-depreciating irony in many places but the problem is that beyond the jokes there is nothing. While you’re watching it is funny, it carries you along but it’s a kind of brainless, instinctive laughter – more like being tickled for the duration of a film rather than genuinely laughing. There’s no social comment or even cinematic comment, it doesn’t criticise anything about the tropes it exaggerates and it almost seems redundant to be telling us “films don’t represent real relationships” in this day and age. This concept becomes clear about 45 minutes into the film and then you’re just watching it carry on, wondering if it will ever go there and laughing at the same old absurdist humour as you were shown in the first five minutes.