Humor

No slapstick, just humor and pathos in ‘Men in Black’ – Black Girl Nerds

Say what you will about Will Smith, but you can’t deny that the man is really damn charming.

I mean, I mean charming “leader”. “I can never play the bad guy” charming. “Engage the drums and still be seen as the charming” hero.

Don’t worry, this will be the first and last reference to all of this in this article (maybe). We have great commentary here if you want to go back to what happened, what was it? Two years ago? It’s been two years.

Anyway. you should watch men in black. Now. If you’ve been struggling to love Will Smith lately, this movie will remind you why we’ve loved him for over three decades, minus a week or two.

If you need proof of Smith’s endless charisma and magnetic personality, imagine the world where David Schwimmer played Agent Jay. Of course the movie would have been fine, and legions of Friends fans would have likely made it a box office hit. But I don’t know if we would want to see it again even five years after its release. With all due respect to Schwimmer, but, in this alternate timeline, men in black would have had the endurance of our universe Men in Black II.

Luckily, we get this movie instead, where Smith and co-star Tommy Lee Jones have great duo chemistry, quiet star power, and comedic timing so perfect I often laughed out loud.

On its surface, men in black is a sci-fi/comedy about a tense government agency tasked with keeping the existence of aliens among us a secret. Beneath, however, lies a story of regret and the changing faces of government and law enforcement.

When it comes to acting and ambiance, director Barry Sonnenfeld and screenwriter Ed Solomon know every moment doesn’t need a laugh. They know that to nurture these characters, we actually need to know who they are. For example, take the scene where Agent Kay shoots Jeebs (Tony Shalhoub).

“Damn” in a humorous, Smithian way. Or he jokes that Jeebs should have listened to him when he said Kay was crazy. Or he does any of the other myriad tired tropes we’ve seen in a billion scripts before.

It might be funny, but it would make our co-lead and audience surrogate sound like sociopaths. Kay knows Jeebs’ head will reform in a moment, but Jay doesn’t. Instead of easy jokes, we get Jay’s characterization as a cop committed to justice, even when those who break the law are apparently on his side of the so-called thin blue line.

Later, when the scene ends with Jay powerlessly threatening to come back and tell Jeebs about Jeebs’ collection of stolen property, the laughter is deserved because we know he’s not an idiot or some oblivious jerk; he’s an average person trying to maintain a sense of normalcy in the face of the extraordinary.

Speaking of Jones’ portrayal of Kay, I know no actor ever wants to be pigeonholed, but please Hollywood, never let Jones play anything other than the straight man in any comedy duo . I know he has a blast once in a while, but he knows exactly how to handle being a laid-back foil to his more rambunctious co-stars.

Above all, he never plays these characters as humorless or heartless, but as people with dry wits and a vulnerability that blinks and you will miss them. As for humor, watch the scene where Jay says “I don’t want anyone to call me ‘son’ or ‘kid’ or ‘sport’.” Kay retorts, “Cool. Whatever you say, clever,” then continues her spiel. How do you describe this scene as anything other than perfect comedic timing of the two leads? You can’t. Only a liar or someone in the midst of an illusion could.

Elsewhere, Jones evokes all our pity for him in a sequence where he uses satellite imagery to look at a former lover and ponder what could have been. When Smith’s Jay catches him in the act and jokes that it’s better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all, an exasperated Kay rubs his forehead, holds his tongue, then simply says, “Try it. the” before walking away. When Jones’ character later reunites with this woman, it doesn’t feel like an overly sentimental ending, but more like a well-deserved character arc.

Of course, the film has its problems and its lack of logic.

We probably already laughed at it, but seriously, should we accept that there can only be 26 agents in the English divisions of Men in Black? Because they apparently only use single letter designators with no numeric qualifiers.

Then there’s the idea that the MiB must be secret at all times, but they’ll do things like shoot down a UFO over Shea Stadium or drive through the Midtown Tunnel in a rocket car. There’s the question of whether the Bug (Vincent D’Onofrio) also took Edgar’s vocal cords with his skin because he could only speak inside the suit. And, even then, his actual head was hidden somewhere deep within Edgar’s torso, so how did he see or hear all that was going on?

Tommy Lee Jones reportedly told writer Ed Solomon that the script had to be either comedy or science fiction. He clearly didn’t know that the spirit behind Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure can make sci-fi/comedy hybrids so spectacular and funny that we largely avoid those nagging questions.

At the end, the film quietly talks about the evolution of government and law enforcement. Yes, we can have a conversation about abolishing the police and the effectiveness of putting marginalized people in charge of institutions based on white supremacy.

But, as an allegory, this 1997 film argues that times are changing and soon men of color and (white) women would take the places previously occupied by old white men. And he does it without ever mentioning a word of it. While that’s probably not the intended or main message (I’m not sure Schwimmer’s cast would have quite picked it up), it’s still an interesting theme to pick up in the film.

men in black is just damn fun. The casting is spot on, Rick Baker’s alien effects are the chef’s kiss, and the film’s runtime ensures the film doesn’t overstay its welcome.

If you’re still feeling in the mood about Will Smith and his infamous slap in the face, investigate why that incident had you in so much of a rush, boil some tea, and then put on that movie.

If his performance in this area still doesn’t win you back, you’re either dumb, dead inside, or Chris Rock.