Monday, May 7, 2012

Comedies that Inspire

These are not movies that inspire in the traditional sense. You won't find Remember the Titans (although I love that movie). These six reflect my theme this month (family on the fly) and/or push me toward better craftsmanship as a writer. They also reflect what I enjoy most in a movie: humor. 

Please note that this in not an endorsement of these movies as “family-friendly.” All contain adult content.

Families on the Fly


One scene stands out: Gil Buckman (Steve Martin) projecting the future of his son during a ball game. Buckman imagines his boy Kevin overcoming his emotional issues on this very day through wise parenting and baseball. Kevin will become college valedictorian and publicly honor his dad, validating his decisions. When Kevin drops a pop-up, Buckman imagines his son on the college campus bell tower, raining gunfire, all because "you made me play second base." As a parent, how easy it is to imagine every decision we make is life-altering. This movie brings levity and good humor to our reality: yes, parenting matters, but parenting is not the only factor in, nor the end of, our children’s stories (or our own). 

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Steve Martin again (yes, he is one of my favorites), this time with the late John Candy. Neal Page (Martin) just wants to get home for Thanksgiving, but as modes of transportation continually fail, his fate becomes tied to Candy’s overbearing salesman, Del Griffith. Like Parenthood there’s a bit of schmaltz, but I’m willing to overlook it. We are more than just individuals racing to our own goals, and more than just families. Wherever we find ourselves, those around us matter.

Great storytelling with travel and/or family themes

These movies stir me to write funny, write better, push myself and, frankly, write fiction or a screenplay. 

Grosse Pointe Blank

John Cusack's Martin Blank can’t go home again, but he can still shop there. I don’t have words for how much I enjoy this movie. Alan Arkin? Joan Cusack? ’80’s soundtrack? Dan Ackroyd singing “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain” during a shootout? I love everything about it. In fact, I’m demonstrating self control by continuing to type. I love the blend of the ordinary (class reunion) and the extraordinary (mercenary assassin for hire), the tone, everything.

Addams Family Values

This time Joan Cusack takes the star turn as gold-digger nanny serial killer Debbie Jellinsky. This does not have an ’80’s soundtrack or Alan Arkin, but it does have Camp Chippewa and Gary’s vision and a slideshow monologue and Raul Julia singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”

(Moment of self-discovery: I love it when characters sing traditional music in a movie. Did I mention Martin and Candy sing “Blue Moon of Kentucky” in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles?)

All-time favorites

A tie. My two all-time most inspirational movies - The Jerk (I told you he’s one of my favorites) and Network.

The Jerk 

Martin's Navin Johnson never fails to make me laugh. Right now, I can crack myself up by thinking any of the following: He hates these cans. Fresh wine, the freshest you can find. Cat juggling. The second day felt like three days. And this thermos … that’s all I need.


While not exactly a comedy, it is funny, glorious, profound, prophetic. Here’s an excerpt of an essay I wrote for Curator Magazine:
…I thought I might find it easy to focus on the character of Howard Beale. Beale is an anchorman on a fictional fourth network, competing against ABC, CBS, and NBC. His life is falling apart at the outset of the movie, but in his shattered state, he becomes a voice for the frustration of his audience. He is deemed ‘the mad prophet of the airwaves’ and instead of delivering the news, he spews his delusions on an adoring group of followers who respond to his tirades with applause and occasional action. His show becomes the news, and at its peak includes segments like a supposed psychic predicting the future, a fabulously dressed woman revealing people’s dirty secrets, and Vox Populi, an opinion poll.
‘It is,’ Roger Ebert said in his 2000 review, ‘like prophecy. When Chayefsky created Howard Beale, could he have imagined Jerry Springer, Howard Stern, and the World Wrestling Federation?’
Ten years after Mr. Ebert’s review, I stand more amazed as I think of the news personalities branding themselves on every 24-hour news channel.

You can read the complete essay (free, no subscription required) here. What movies inspire you? Feel free to share your thoughts or links as a comment.

This post is a part of a theme day in the 2012 Blogathon. For more about the Blogathon, visit freelance writer/community builder Michelle Rafter’s site. If you enjoy lists, try “The Top Five Most Self-Centered Songs of All Time.” Mac Davis gets a very special honorable mention.


  1. I love Steve Martin as well. My favorite is "Roxane". 21 insults is a classic scene!

  2. A great scene, yes! Thanks so much for stopping by.

  3. Replies
    1. Tony! I enjoyed your perspective on family post yesterday ( Always great to hear from you.

  4. Network is an incredible movie, definitely one of my top three. It's right up there with Shawshank Redemption and Amistad.

    Other movies that inspire me are Quiz Show, Ulee's Gold, and Can't Buy Me Love.

    1. That's an interesting list, JF. I'm familiar with most of them, except Ulee's Gold. I'll have to check it out. Thanks for sharing your picks.