In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “There’s something so intricately planned and meticulously honed underneath that joke delivery surface, that those gags actually have something to say.”
“Gretchen… Hey, I was in the neighborhood. I thought I’d come by and take a shit.”
Recently, in my neighbourhood, I saw something that’s all too common these days. A video shop that was closing down. They had a big sign out the front, “4 movies for $10”. I looked in my wallet, saw $30 and decided I wasn’t leaving that shop until I found 12 movies I thought were worth having on my DVD shelf. Some were movies I’d seen before. Some were movies I had a vague idea about and thought would be worth the $2.50 gamble. Some were oddities I’d never even heard of, but they looked interesting enough. So, thank you, Network Video Brunswick West. I never rented anything from you or even had a membership, but I did find some cool, interesting and mysterious things on your almost empty shelves.
Making smart, dumb comedies is an underappreciated art form. For every awesomely clever, but silly movie, like Airplane or Blazing Saddles, you get dozens of just plain dumb, dumb comedies, like anything with “Movie” in its title. On TV, Tina Fey is a master of smart dumbness. And in movies, I think the best director out there right now might be David Wain. He had a surprise hit with Role Models, then an unfair flop with Wanderlust. And in 2014, he made one of the best spoof movies since the afore mentioned Airplane, with They Came Together. But before all that, he was still figuring out how to best present his version of smart, dumbness, with The Ten.
The title comes from the commandments, you know, the ones from the Bible? With Paul Rudd as Jeff addressing the camera, we learn that we’re about to see 10 short films, each based on one of the commandments. But this is David Wain, so where he takes the themes and morals of these commandments is pretty weird and generally hilarious.
“You shall have no other gods before Me” is the story of a skydiver (Adam Brodie) who jumps form a plane without his parachute. Instead of dying on impact, he ends up embedded in the ground, with just his head and one arm exposed, where he becomes the world’s biggest celebrity. “You shall not covet” somehow leads to two neighbours (Liev Schreiber and Joe Lo Truglio) buying dozens of C.A.T scan machines each, trying to one up each other. These are the kinds goofy, weird places Wain takes these seemingly obvious and narrow commandments. And generally, the goofier and weirder the premise, the funnier these ten short films become.
Sketch based movies don’t have the best track record. Anthology movies are just as hit and miss. And while I’d say The Ten is far from perfect, it does work better than most movies of its ilk. And I think that’s because writers Wain and Ken Marino didn’t just settle for funny sketches. They took the extra step to weave recurring characters and story arcs throughout the ten shorts. Someone with one line in an early sketch, might be the main focus of a later one. And events in the opening stories have consequences felt all the way to the end. By building this world and having all of these seemingly disparate people and stories exist within it, all of a sudden, these silly little sketches have a lot more heft.
And that’s the difference between smart dumb comedy, and dumb dumb comedy. The Ten might seem like it’s doing anything for a laugh on the surface, and is there just as a joke delivery machine. But there’s something so intricately planned and meticulously honed underneath that joke delivery surface, that those gags actually have something to say.