8) Lampooning The Audience: Hot Tub Time Machine (2010), Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001) and The Simpsons Movie (2007)
Here we have one of the classic fourth-wall-breaking techniques, and one of the most common, in which a movie uses the audience themselves to comic effect. This is of course a part of the meta-humour discussed in the introduction (in which the humour is external to the movie).
There are several good examples of this. A very brief one occurs in Steve Pink’s 2010 movie Hot Tub Time Machine, a movie with a storyline so ludicrous that the best thing for the movie to do was to get in there first and acknowledge this themselves. When the characters discover that the hot tub at their log cabin has the power to turn back time, Nick says incredulously, “you mean to say that this is a hot….tub….time machine?” He then slowly turns to look directly into the camera, his face absolutely deadpan.
With a title like Hot Tub Time Machine (seriously….who? How??) it’s safe to assume from the outset that this is not meant to be a movie that is taken very seriously – but Nick’s express challenge to the audience actually makes it genuinely impossible to criticize the movie’s most outstandingly nonsensical feature. Well played, Steve.
The audience are also teased in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, when Ben Affleck jokes about a movie that would star just Jay and Silent Bob. “Who would want to see a movie like that?” he asks, before all three characters turn to look at the audience, with Silent Bob suppressing a giggle.
But although these are perfect examples of this sort of meta-humour, the gold in this category has to go to The Simpsons Movie. This is because it took the extra step of referencing comments that were being made about the movie before it was even released – before, in fact, it was even made.
The idea of a Simpsons movie had been floating around for a long time before any production began. The main objection however, from both the movie world and the general public, was that they couldn’t see how a feature length movie was not simply going to be just one long episode of the regular TV show. What was more, the TV show was free. We would have to pay for a movie.
A movie version was inevitable, however, and in 2007 it finally arrived. But it was not unaware of its drawbacks. So, as was the case with Hot Tub Time Machine, the movie was going to have to head the criticism off itself, before anyone else could voice it. It takes approximately four minutes of running time before Homer stands up in the cinema and sounds off about not wanting to pay to watch something that we could see for free. “It makes suckers of all of us!” he yells. “You,” he declares, pointing at someone, “and you,” pointing at someone else, and then finally, while pointing straight into the camera at the audience “and especially you.”
Homer can have the last word here. Nothing else could describe this particular brand of meta-humour better.