Winter may be larded and filled with Oscar contenders, to be sure, but Hollywood — knowing that a little desert makes the broccoli go down — has made sure to fill the winter Oscar-qualifying and Oscar-waiting season with a few comedies to break up the drama and depression. There's plenty of funny stuff if you know where to look — with, of course, the warning that you may not find the same things funny as Hollywood. …
The Men Who Stare at Goats (Nov. 6)
Packed with an all-star cast – including George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey –this comedy would be absolutely unbelievable, if it weren't all true. Based on journalist John Ronson's book, The Men Who Stare at Goats tells the true tale of the U.S. Military's Cold-War era experiments in creating psychic soldiers who could spy and kill with the power of their minds alone. McGregor's a journalist who tracks down Clooney's ex-psychic, while Bridges and Spacey butt heads over how the psychic soldier program should continue — or if it should at all. The Men Who Stare at Goats has been getting some play on the festival circuit — I saw it in Toronto — and while it's a bit uneven, there's a few solid laughs in it, especially when Clooney plays the silly psychic stuff …. perfectly … straight.
Did You Hear About the Morgans? (Dec. 18)
Directed by Marc Lawrence — who's previously struck gold with Hugh Grant in Two Week's Notice and Music and Lyrics — Did You Hear About the Morgans? has a plot as old as the hills, the fish-out-of-water-but-in-trouble. The unhappily married Morgans (Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker) of New York are witnesses to a mob murder, and have to be put into witness relocation. Together. In Wyoming. Sure, it all sounds a little too much — the odds that the Morgans will reunite seem approximately the same as that of the sunrise tomorrow — but Grant and Parker are always reliable. More interestingly, the supporting cast is amazing — Sam Elliott, Mary Steenburgen and Elizabeth Moss of Mad Men, for starters — and as theaters get crowded with Oscar contenders, Did You Hear about the Morgans? might be the down-home vacation from deep, dark movies that audiences want.
It's Complicated (Dec. 25)
Of all this fall's comedies, It's Complicated may have the closest thing to a comedy dream team, as Alec Baldwin, Meryl Streep and Steve Martin team up for a story of how while, as Frank Sinatra says, love is lovelier the second time around, that doesn't mean it's any simpler. Streep and Baldwin are a divorced couple who start fooling around again despite their divorce and Baldwins' new marriage with a younger woman; Martin is the fourth wheel in the lumpy love triangle that's already filling Streep and Baldwin's life with havoc and happiness. Meyers wrote the good, funny Something's Gotta Give — a similar comedy about love in later life — and the so-so The Holiday, but her work as the writer and director of the 1998 under-rated version of The Parent Trap makes me hope that with this film, like that one, will be revved-up and fast and funny, not dawdling and dreary like The Holiday.
Youth in Revolt (Jan. 8)
Adapting C.D. Payne's much-loved cult novel, Youth In Revolt looks like more of the same from Michael Cera, playing Nick Twisp, a shy, lonely teen who falls for the girl next door (Portia Doubleday) at the new trailer park his fractured family's just moved in to. Nerdy and nervous, Nick seems a lot like Cera's characters from Superbad and Arrested Development — until Nick, convinced that the only way he can win his new true love's heart is by playing the bad boy, invents an entirely new personality, Francois Dillinger — also played by Cera — who starts breaking laws, and hearts, with Devil-may-care antics that don't work nearly as well as either side of his split personality might hope. Directed by Miguel Arteta, Youth in Revolt is the kind of movie (and book) that teens will love because it depicts just how crazy adolescent life can be — and adults will hate for exactly the same reason. …
The Tooth Fairy (Jan. 22)
Just looking at the trailer for this comedy gives me diabetes — then again, I do tend wind up watching everything Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson does, so I'm sure this will be no exception. At the same time, the director's the man behind The Santa Clause 2 and 3, and the list of credited writers is seven scribes long — never a good sign. Johnson plays a minor-league hockey brawler nicknamed "The Tooth Fairy" for his skill at knocking enamel out of opponent's smiles, but when he invokes the wrath of supernatural forces, he has to serve as the actual tooth fairy — picking up teeth, dropping off cash — for a week. I know, I know; it sounds like a movie Arnold Schwarzenegger would have made in the early '90s, but with Johnson on board I'm almost — almost — willing to give The Tooth Fairy a chance.
(Which winter comedy are you most looking forward to?)