In every society, there is hypocrisy. No matter the political party or ideology that currently holds power, there will always be an underlying sheath of hypocrisy. Where there is socialism, the socialists act like capitalists. Where there is capitalism, there will be businessmen acting like socialists. Where there is democracy, leaders will act like tyrants. These paradoxes represent a natural dichotomy that directly reflects our own human nature. In many of these movies, the underlying theme generally aims to point out some of the hypocritical traits we hold as a society. We profess to support one value system on one hand, while denouncing it with certain actions on the other.
Art and culture are the only utilities to communicate these natural anomalies. It may be obvious to many that the best form of art to communicate this message is comedy and satire. There is something funny about being hypocritical. And there is something human about it as well. Humans are funny. Jerry Seinfeld made a living on highlighting this truth. There are some movies that do a fantastic job at pointing these elements of human nature out to us, so we can poke fun at ourselves, and maybe even learn something about each other along the way. Here are 5 movies that do a great job at making us laugh (and sometimes cry) at ourselves:
5. Wag the Dog
Wag the Dog stars Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman plays an energetic Hollywood producer who has been contracted by the CIA to “create a war.” They literally stage everything, from footage of injured civilians, to fake military strikes. The movie essentially focuses on the naivety of the average American with how trusting of the mainstream media we are. Considering the cast of this movie, it has aged especially well. Did the dog wag his tail? Or did we wag the dog?
4. Office Space
Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill creator Mike Judge nailed it out of the park with his first movie, Office Space. The film pokes fun at everything we hate about work. Whether it be the ridiculous drive to the office, or the boss who has annoying anecdotes, the movie touches on every emotion one feels while living in cubicle hell.
The movie is especially relevant for those who work in I.T. (The main character Peter’s job is to convert any date with double digits for a date to the necessary 4 digits in order to prepare for the year 2000.) It even touches on the fact that if your company is “hiring a consultant” it is likely everyone is being reconsidered for their job. This is especially relevant in today’s “H1B Visa” environment.
Without a doubt, the most important aspect of the film is that it attempts to create a defined path towards individual happiness in the modern world. Peter hates working in an office, just like most people do. He sees the cubicle as a jail cell. It is only at the end of the movie that he discovers he likes to work with his hands, and work outside–perfect traits for the construction industry. The movie is uplifting in so far as it does show there is always a way to “beat the man.”
Also directed and written by fellow conservatarian patriot Mike Judge, Idiocracy is based on the perception that Americans seem to get dumber every year as our addiction to technology increases. Released in 2006, this movie almost serves as a prophecy for what is to come ahead. The plot surrounds the protagonist Joe Bauer’s decision to volunteer for a secret government project with the military. He wakes up to America 500 years later, only to find himself in a dystopian society where everyone is addicted to entertainment, specifically reality TV. The movie is hilarious with a talented cast: Luke Wilson, Maya Rudolph, Dax Shepard, Terry Crews, and David Herman. The message throughout the movie is clear: we hold high regard for valueless entertainment and those who insult others who are intelligent or different. In other words, we became a nation run by the dumb bully in the classroom.
2. God Bless America
Frank (Joel Murray) has had enough. He is sick of the hypocrisy in America. The conversations between people that are just regurgitations of what they see on TV or social media. The hypocritical opinions contained within said conversations. The cell phones that distract people during conversations. Quite simply, as he states early on in the movie, “we no longer have any shame. Kids will post YouTube videos of themselves beating the shit out of each other. What’s the point of having a civilization if we are no longer interested in being civilized?” You will find yourself agreeing with Frank throughout most of the film. Well—up until the point he buys a 9 mm and starts blasting away anyone who projects this type of hypocrisy and “lack of shame.”
After Frank begins his rampage (starting with a reality TV star that makes fun of MTV’s “Sweet Sixteen”) a young girl (Tara Lynne Barr) that witnessed his first kill is absolutely in love with what he is doing. She agrees with everything he is mad about, and also offers her own opinions about the disgusting nature of fellow Americans. So, Roxy joins along.
They travel America and basically engage in a serial-killeresque shooting spree going after some of the most hypocritical elements and characters in America. Well, at least in their minds. The end of the movie ends with them shooting up a reality TV show, based off of “American Idol.” They specifically attack the fact that they are uplifting a special needs person to the forefront of the show, only to make him a viral hit, so we can all make fun of him. The final rant from Frank attacks this scripted narrative, only to find out that the retard boy knew that he couldn’t sing, and he really just “wanted to be on TV.” They even subtly hint that he’s not really retarded. (Think of “She Bangs,” which is obviously what the movie is referring to.)
Overall, the irony and satire displayed throughout the movie is awesome, and most of the points made throughout are spot-on. Even the act the two protagonists take throughout the movie, shooting all of their victims in a mass killing spree, is in itself ironic and idiotic on their part as mass shooting have become a part of American culture–even pop culture. So they too, “just want to be on TV” to make their point. Even the assholes that point out our hypocrisy are part of the ironic and paradoxical cesspool called America. If you don’t miss the punchline, this movie is hilarious and is a must-watch if you enjoy dark comedy.
1. Little Miss Sunshine
Little Miss Sunshine is a dark comedy starring Abigail Breslin, Greg Kinnear, Paul Dano, Alan Arkin, Toni Collette, and Steve Carrell. The film begins when Greg Kinnear’s character Richard Hoover, the father figure, discusses his goal to publish his first book, a self-help guide with “9 steps.” Richard’s dilemma to get the book published sets the tone for the entire narrative. Each character is struggling to find their own definition of personal happiness or enlightenment, and ironically, Richard’s book outlines the path to this discovery. Throughout the story Richard struggles with the exact ideas that inspired the book in the first place. Olive (Abigail Breslin) is the young daughter who is simply creating her own version of happiness and only wants to dance in a pageant in California. Paul Dano plays Dwayne, the older brother of Olive. He is clearly struggling to find his identity as a young man, and rebels at the overall structure of life in general. He has a goal to fly in the Air Force and in doing so has vowed to remain silent until he reaches his goal—the performance is hilariously satisfying. Alan Arkin is the only character in the movie that sees the irony of everyone’s situation with 20-20 vision. Grandpa Edwin is a jaded old man that has a sadistic yet intelligent view of the world. One could argue that he plays the role of the subtle narrator throughout the movie. Offering hilarious commentary and backstory (kicked out of the nursing home for snorting heroine) he is definitely the highlight of the movie. Frank, played by Steve Carrell, plays the suicidal brother of Sheryl (Toni Collette). Frank offers an interesting perspective on life, from the ground looking up. He is actually very funny throughout the movie and seems to immediately gravitate towards Grandpa. They ironically both share the same perspective, however Grandpa was able to apply value to life and his own life throughout his experiences. He could see the joke, and the punchline. Frank definitely works to this end. Sheryl simply wants to see everyone happy, in typical motherly fashion.
Once we get to know the characters, they immediately begin on a road trip to see Olive’s performance at the “Little Miss Sunshine” pageant, which is a well-deserved title for the film. The majority of the road trip revolves around each character’s dissection of Richard’s book of success “the 9 steps,” a collection of pithy cliches that, as the characters point out, only represent half of the story. Ultimately, the overall message I gathered from these hilarious jabs towards Richard is the fact that sometimes in life, things simply do not go your way. There is nothing that you necessarily did wrong to deserve the outcome, its simply the hand you were dealt. For those that do reach their version of ultimate success, there are some that do not understand how they got there in the first place. This is represented with characters like Richard’s publisher Stan Grossman (cameo performance from Bryan Cranston) who is arrogant and dismissive at Richard’s failure to attract an audience with his book. After Richard becomes aware of his own personal failure to publish, his outlook on life changes. He is more open-minded, (and sometimes crazy (spoiler alert), with his decision to steal his dad’s dead body out of the hospital in order to make it to the pageant on time.)
Without a doubt, the ultimate irony and satire of the message from Little Miss Sunshine is represented in the film’s final scenes as they reach the pageant. We learn that Dwayne is color blind, and will not be able to fly in the Air Force. He has a great conversation with Frank about the purpose of life, with the one liner “you do what you love, and fuck the rest.” As the pageant begins, we see the line-up of mini- Jon Benet Ramsey’s parading themselves across the stage. The arrogant and dismissive parents are already judging Olive, who is undeniably cute, but no beauty queen. The atmosphere is set. The costumes are glaringly pornographic, with one attendee clearly there without a child (Richard has a discussion with this man in a hilarious scene where he becomes aware of the man’s reasons for being there.) In the end, Grandpa Edwin gets the last laugh. The entire performance he helped Olive with was choreographed to Rick James’ “Super Freak,” with dance moves stolen out of the local strip club. The scene hilariously escalates as the pageant staff freak out and try to stop the girl from dancing. Richard jumps on stage, and right when you think he is going to grab Olive to leave, he dances as well, and the rest of the family joins. Some of the pageant staff love the antics, as they see the hypocrisy firsthand and love that someone was there to point it out, willingly or not. In one scene, the film’s message becomes clear:
- what we deem as pornography one hand is not necessarily pornography in another. We glorify sexuality with our children, willingly or not with these types of pageants. We glorify what is fake, or a false representation, of what is good and true. In other words, American culture seemingly presents a false reality of what defines the “American Dream” or “success” for many. In doing so, we have created “type A” psychopathic and sociopathic monsters that thrive on this dichotomy like the control freak pageant director or the pedophile in the audience.
- There aren’t “9 steps” to reach happiness or personal enlightenment–the path is different and distorted for everyone. In American culture, we constantly bombard our children and each other with ridiculous proverbs and “systems” to help reach what we define as “success.” Whether it be self-help books, public education, going to college, finding a 9-5 job, etc. Basically every cliche you heard from your little league coach is poked fun at in this movie.
- Those that preach there are “9 steps” to happiness are the same ones attending and glorifying beauty pageants. If you were born beautiful, your path might have been easier to get there. Yet, you do not understand the true definition of happiness and what is important without personal sacrifice or pain. Frank was seemingly trying to hit this point home with his quote from writer Proust about how “the best times of his life were the worst times, only the worst times represent opportunities to learn.” The pageant represented an affront to this observation.
- Grandpa Edwin’s message about “trying to do something on your own” was about being an individual, and how that is the most important thing to reaching happiness. It is okay to go against the grain, as most conform and are dependent on another for their livelihood. Trying something on your own, is the important act of self-discovery and to find your self-worth.
- Also from Grandpa Edwin: sometimes it is okay to break the rules.
The reason we put this movie as our number one choice is due to the fact that the movie both pokes fun at America and glorifies it within the same breath. The true American ideals represented in Grandpa Edwin’s assertions throughout the movie idolize the concept of being an individual and not worrying about what the next guy thinks. Although it assaults some of the disgusting and abhorrent traits about American society and culture, it also highlights some of the best things about being an American and a human. It presents the American dichotomy from both ends of the spectrum.