Even for someone who has seen movies most of my friends have never even heard of, there are gaps in my movie education.
According to my two best friends, the biggest gap is that I had never seen Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to see it – I enjoy Mr. Murphy’s earlier work enough to mourn the actor/comedian he has become. And I’d heard bits of the movie over the years so that I had a pretty good idea of what it was. But it just never happened.
Ok, I’m lying a bit. I know why I never saw it. BECAUSE my two best friends wouldn’t shut up about it. There comes a point where you become willful and defiant in the face of so much pressure. Heck, it took me several months to watch Some Like It Hot just because my mother kept telling me that I just HAD to see it. Granted she was right, and that movie has become one of my all time favorite comedies.
You have to see it.
So there was a bit of not seeing it because they told me to, and before the internet, you really had to go out of your way to see a movie. Sure you could watch it but highly expurgated and as we know the funniest parts of anything with Eddie Murphy wouldn’t make it through any sort of censor. And because I didn’t really have any burning desire to see it, I wasn’t about to rent it from Blockbuster.
Yet for some reason, last night I was sitting at home, trying to find something to watch on Amazon Prime and happened upon – Coming to America.
And, because there was nothing else to watch and because I was tired of being lectured every few months… I clicked “watch”.
I think I laughed out loud three times and maybe chuckled to myself a handful of times during the course of the film.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like the movie – it was fine, enjoyable, very 80’s but not in a terrible way. Miss Black Awareness was entertaining. The love story was sweet. The barbershop arguments had their moments. The Soul Glo commercial made me laugh. But apart from that, not much else made me sit up and take notice. Nothing that I will be thinking about for the next week, laughing to myself, telling others about. Nothing that will make me run to YouTube to find clips to watch and rewatch and rerewatch.
(Like this gif from last week’s Futurama.
I cannot explain it, but I have no laughed this hard at something in a long long time. Combine that with this
and my god, it’s a Jurassic Park Christmas morning…to give you an idea of what IS funny)
Part of why I wasn’t dying with laughter is the fact that I’d already heard so many of the punchlines before I ever saw the film. “What is that velvet?” is a particular favorite of my friends – and yes, it IS funny, but I think after I’ve already heard it fifty times, it loses its punch. This is no one’s fault mind you, but it just diminishes the comedy when you finally see/hear it. Meanwhile, much of the comedy is visual – the crazy costumes, the wacky makeup – and years of commercials and clips have dulled me to the funny. Though some of those dresses were more horrifying than funny, or just plain bizarre.
Another reason I think that perhaps Coming to America wasn’t as funny for me as it was for others is that so many of the comedic tropes in the film have been done to death at this point. If Eddie Murphy hadn’t already done a series of films where he was dressed as other people, maybe I’d find it funny that he was dressed up as a number of people in this film. Yes, he wasn’t just putting on a fat suit like with The Nutty Professor, and yes, he was doing a nice jewish version of white-face, but it’s been done so often since 1988 when CtA came out, it has lost its novelty.
There is another reason I think it wasn’t as funny. Watching a movie as a kid, things are really really funny. Laugh out loud, snort milk out your nose, pee yourself a little funny. You want to see those things that made you laugh that hard and that loud over and over again. And then as you get older and you do watch those things again, you’re not just laughing at what is on screen. You’re laughing along with everything you remember those scenes being. You are laughing along with your childhood self. What is funny to you is an entire lifetime of associations. I know that when my friends are thinking about Coming to America, they are remembering every time they’ve watched it and all the other times they’ve laughed.
I didn’t have that history of laughter to fall back on.
It reminded me of the time a few years ago when some of my friends decided that we had to watch The Goonies. This is a film beloved in my childhood, that I still adore now. It’s funny, it’s sweet, and it’s got great bad guys. One in our group had not yet seen it and we knew, we knew that he would jut love it. So we rented it late one night and settled in for him to be amazed. While we all laughed at Chunk and Mouth, the Fratellis and Sloth, he just sat there fairly stone-faced. When it was over, he just looked at us as if we had been watching different films; the one he watched was some silly 80’s movie while the one we watched was a hilarious 80’s movie. We were laughing along with our childhood selves, while he was stuck watching some movie that perhaps didn’t stand the test of time as well as we might have imagined.
I told my friends last night that I didn’t love the movie. They were both slightly offended I think. One told me that it’s just not my type of humor. Another just couldn’t believe I didn’t laugh myself silly. I told them both my theories about how a movie you see as a kid have a hold over you that wouldn’t be the same if you had seen them as an adult. They agreed that it was a possibility, but I think deep down I’ve disappointed them somehow.
Our friendships will survive of course, and now I’ll share another common reference point with them.
But that doesn’t change things. Just wasn’t that funny.