With movies, there are Genres. Cross Genres. Sub-Genres. Also Story Types. One of them: Frustration Comedy.
There are all sorts of comedy story types. One of them is the Frustration Comedy. There are variations, but the basic dynamic is that the Protagonist or Co-Protagonists are frustrated over and over and over again in their attempts to achieve their goal. Oftentimes the goal is actually pretty simple, which makes the level of frustration that much more… well… frustrating.
In It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), a dying man provides a clue to a disparate group of strangers that promises to lead them to — literally — buried treasure ($350K). The all-star cast of characters has everything go wrong that can go wrong in their race to get to the money first.
In My Favorite Year (1982), young TV staffer Benjy Stone (Mark-Linn Baker) is given the responsibility of taking care of alcoholic movie star Alan Swann (Peter O’Toole) in the week leading up to Swann’s appearance on a hit 50s TV variety show. Swann repeatedly drives Stone crazy through his drunken antics.
In Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987), Neal Page (Steve Martin) gets stuck with fellow Thanksgiving weekend traveler Del Griffith (John Candy) and the pair endure one humiliating travel experience after another.
But probably the best example of this type of story is After Hours (1986).
In this dark comedy, directed by Martin Scorcese, Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne), a meek word processor unexpectedly meets Marcy Franklin (Rosanna Arquette), a beautiful but emotionally disturbed woman. He impulsively travels to Manhattan’s SoHo district in a quixotic attempt to go on a date with the fetching Marcy, but finds himself trapped in a nightmarish web of unlikely and bizarre characters and events. The frustration is amplified by the fact that underlying his journey is his romantic desire re Marcy, a tantalizing fantasy turned into a nightmare.
The compressed time frame, clean set-up, clear goal, and increasing insanity of obstacles, complications, and reversals, all of that can make for a winning formula for a script.
I love these type of stories, so it’s no surprise that Burg & Myers wrote several scripts with this plot conceit including Trojan War.
Can you think of other examples of a frustration comedy?
For movie story types posts, go here.