The Help (2011) -vs- Driving Miss Daisy (1989)

August 21, 2011 Rebecca Coffindaffer

Social upheaval. Economic strife. A wildly unpopular war. And racial bigotry that will forever tarnish a great country’s history. If it all sounds familiar, it’s because the problems of the 1960s are still pretty much with us… which is why movies about that era will probably always be popular. It’s so nice to look back in time at the battles for social justice that we’ve fought and won. It helps us forget for a few hours how much work is still left to do.

One of Hollywood’s favorite ways of remembering this period is through the partnerships and friendships that formed between ordinary blacks and whites and the ways they sometimes worked together to make things better for all of us. Civil rights stories have been prominent in cinema since D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance in 1916, but in 1989, Driving Miss Daisy pretty much set the template for telling a certain kind of ‘60s story, winning four Academy Awards in the process.

Now we have another soft-focus take on the era with The Help, based on Kathryn Stockett’s novel, which was as much of a phenomenon as Alfred Uhry’s 1987 play, Driving Miss Daisy, was a game-changer off- and later on Broadway.
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Horrible Bosses (2011) -vs- Office Space (1999)

July 11, 2011 Rebecca Coffindaffer

We love to watch glamorous Hollywood people be glamorous. More than that, we love to watch glamorous Hollywood people pretend to be Just Like Us and satirize the humdrum jobs the majority of Americans — at least, those of us lucky enough to be employed — are stuck with.

That’s the reason workplace comedies go over so well: They’re accessible and relatable, and God, don’t we all need a good laugh to get through the work week now and again. It’s a time-honored tradition from The Apartment to 9 to 5, and it even includes Dilbert and The Office, for those whose tastes run toward comic strips and TV.

When these satirized workers, over-burdened with indignities, finally snap, we get an offshoot of the office comedy — the Everyman-gets-his-revenge line, which serves up a satisfying order of comeuppance along with the laughs. Mike Judge’s Office Space typifies this subgenre, looking to prove there are still plenty of laughs to be milked from the rebellion of the American cubicle jockey. Now Horrible Bosses takes the ring against it with an impressive opening weekend at the box office. […]

Bad Teacher (2011) -vs- Bad Santa (2003)

June 21, 2011 Rebecca Coffindaffer

Good role models are hard to come by — especially once Hollywood gets its hands on them. In the year that Bush gave us Iraq, Hollywood gave us Bad Santa. Now it’s Bad Teacher. What’s next, Naughty Nuns?

Of course, the film industry has been tweaking iconic targets since the Marx Brothers brought their particular brand of chaos to A Night at the Opera. In recent years, they’ve upped the ante. Now, filmmakers are encouraged to slap on an R rating, make sure the kids have to sneak in to watch, and let everyone else enjoy what Tony Cox’s Marcus character in Bad Santa calls, “An adult joke. For us, adults.”

With Santa Claus already trashed by Billy Bob Thornton and company, it was inevitable that someone would find another cherished cultural ideal, the teacher — beacon of knowledge and caring, glamorized in Stand and Deliver, Dead Poets Society and so forth — and put a caustic, foul-mouthed spin on it.

An irreverent, bad Santa vs. an irreverent, bad teacher. Only one can be the worst. […]