The loner-in-a-strange-situation film

There is a certain type of movie, typically made by Hollywood, about a lone man, living a mundane life. He would be either the bastard sort, loser sort or simply an ‘everyday-guy’ variety. One day, his life would change, when a strange, inexplainable occurrence enters his life and takes it over. He would at first attempt to find any possible explanations for his situation, and when he realises that his actions are futile, he lives with it – and through it all, in the end, he learns a moral lesson, changes his ways, and wins the love of his life.

These films don’t come often, but when they do, they almost always feature a comedian as the lead, and it would be the actors’ venture into ‘serious’ filmmaking. When done right, these kind of films can be extremely inspiring, entertaining and creative. When they are not, they can be a pain to sit through, as you think to yourself all the potential that is left to waste.

What runs these films and makes them work are their ideas. The whole movie is just one idea, and everything runs circles around it. So, the idea has to be great, and the circles have to be intricate. Meaning the idea must be explored to its fullest extent, often taking risks and challenging the audience. There is a thin line between a great idea and a gimmick, and an even thinner one between the former and a far-fetched joke. The movie must know where it lies.

There have been a few films that fall in this category which were brilliantly executed:

Groundhog Day (1993) – A man wakes up one day to find that he is living the same day, over and over again.

The Truman Show (1998) – An innocent guy, living in a peaceful, quiet town, realises one day that the world he is inhabiting, and all people in it, are a part of a television show, and he has unknowingly been the star of this show for the past 30 years.

Stranger than Fiction (2006) – A boring man obsessed with numbers hears a voice one day. It is narrating his life, as if someone were writing a story about him. Eventually, it hints at his death, which is about to happen.

Pleasantville (1998) – Two teenagers are somehow transported to a 50’s television sitcom.

Adaptation (2002) – A writer, suffering from writer’s block, writes himself into his story, becoming stuck between reality and his own book.

There is something common among these films, and that is how the one great idea that drives the story is explored completely and in most ways imaginable. The film does not take the audience as idiots, leaving many possibilities for you to consider, while bravely tackling ones that you might not. They are what creativity is about.

However, there are a few that fail.

Click (2006) – A guy finds a remote control that can control time.

Bruce Almighty (2003) – A news anchor receives God’s powers, and uses them for his mischievous deeds.

These are cheesy, uninspired, unbelievable, manipulative and very, very calculated formulas aimed to tug at your heartstrings. Both of their premises were ridiculous from the very beginning and the way they were handled just made it that much more apparent. Bruce Almighty was silly but at least Steve Carell’s scenes were funny. Click was just laughably bad.

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