How cult classic comedies keep their humor relevant


Dominik Perez

Movies such as “Scott Pilgrim VS the World” have left a lasting impression on several viewers. “Scott Pilgrim VS the World”’s ability to seamlessly blend action, comedy, and slice-of-life moments keeps it a timeless classic. “Scott Pilgrim is a masterpiece of comedy. [It] is everything I look for in a comedy/action movie. Chris Evan’s character perfectly captured the idea of ‘American’, and the vegan gag was peak comedy. Scott faking out his vegan telepathy by thinking ‘really hard about pouring cream into the other cup’ was really funny,” senior Stan Alalof said.

Dominik Perez and Jenny Loveland

Comedy movies regularly suffer from fading into obscurity soon after their initial release in theaters. The humor quickly becomes dated due to Hollywood’s tendency to try and draw in viewers with pop culture icons such as Adam Sandler. Without interesting characters or stories to stand on, once the comedy falls flat these films fall on their faces. So what makes certain comedy films stand out amongst the crowd?

Cult classic films Napoleon Dynamite and Scott Pilgrim VS the World manage to nail their specific surreal brands of humor while maintaining grounded and likable characters. The first film of the two tells a meandering story about its titular protagonist, Napoleon, as he goes through his day-to-day life in Preston, Idaho. The film capitalizes on the odd aspects of midwestern life and culture. Meanwhile, the far more action-packed and fast-paced film of the two, “Scott Pilgrim VS the World”, explores the complicated and messy dating life of young adult Scott Pilgrim. While trying to survive an onslaught of evil exes preventing his relationship with his love interest, Ramona Flower, from blossoming, he must also balance the stresses of the average young adult’s life.

Throughout the films, warm moments help ground the stories and create opportunities for the audience to connect to the characters despite unrealistic aspects of the overarching plots. Both movies touch on the importance of friendship, such as in “Napoleon Dynamite” where an otherwise insignificant scene shows Napoleon riding bikes with his best friend, Pedro, an event most viewers can connect back to their own experiences. “Scott Pilgrim VS the World” covers this theme as well, as different scenes show Scott interacting with his bandmates and other side characters in ways that make their friendships feel authentic enough to extend beyond the screen’s confines.

The movies also touch on other universal circumstances such as dealing with difficult relatives, handling the difficulties of a breakup’s aftermath, and all of the awkwardness that comes with adolescence. Appealing especially to the target audience of those experiencing or nostalgic for their aimless years, the films show adventures such as working at your first mediocre job, sitting through pointless parties, handling rejection, and navigating difficult romantic interactions. Notably, “Scott Pilgrim” manages to show the experience of an awkward first date in a way that makes it both relatable and surreal, tying it together with quotable dialogue in a way that simultaneously shows the personalities of the characters while making the entire experience relatable and personal to the audience.

“Honestly, I feel like [these] movies helped shape my personality today, whether it was the nerdy behaviors or how the main characters went with the flow of things. I love rewatching them every once in a while with friends to have a good laugh,” senior Ellie Boyle said.

These relatable and grounded moments manage to hook the viewer and keep them watching throughout the more fantastical moments of the films. “Scott Pilgrim VS the World” utilizes an endearing romance story with plenty of moments the audience can connect to in order to set the foundation for anime-inspired fight scenes with the evil exes. “Napoleon Dynamite” connects the awkward struggles of the average teen to its almost dreamlike midwestern setting. Without these simple yet engaging concepts to build off of, the movies would simply become fantastical husks with nothing but weird characters and odd landscapes for the viewer to look at.

Tying a high concept story to something more slice of life may not have originated from these two films. One could even argue that the average comedy movie follows this formula, but the unique ways these movies subvert tropes from all of the genres they borrow from makes for a unique and memorable movie experience. “Napoleon Dynamite” may appear as a coming-of-age teen movie from the outside, but by subverting the expectation of these films it manages to tell its own unique story. Instead of having all of the teen’s problems solved by the typical high school dance, it highlights how these dances typically feel more awkward and uncomfortable than life-changing. Instead of making Ramona Flowers the typically manic pixie dream girl archetype, her arrival in Scott’s life creates far more problems than it solves. 

The immense difference between these two movies and the standard comedy film, however, lies in its character writing. While the average Adam Sandler flick or Hollywood gutbuster normally features characters turned up to the eleventh degree with near psychopathic tendencies for the sake of telling outlandish scenarios, these movies elect to utilize a more subtle approach. Not to say that these films showcase completely realistic and depth-filled character writing, but these characters more closely resemble the oddballs you might run into on the street or in school than the bombastic assault-your-senses Adam Sandler character.