I went to see the movie “Waitress” on Monday night. It’s about a woman named Jenna who feels trapped in her marriage and in her life. She married the wrong guy, she’s pregnant by him, and she desperately wants out. He abuses her—sometimes right in front of us and she ends up having an affair. The topic is heavy and one that could have been handled so much better. But for some reason, the writer and producer made the movie into a comedy that for brief moments turns into a drama (instead of the other way around as it should have been).
A few strategically placed jokes would have worked wonderfully. But instead, the movie includes three characters who could best be described as spoofs. They are quirky beyond reality, with phony sounding southern accents, and they seem more like caricatures than they do real people. I kept wanting the inappropriate humor to end so I could care about Jenna, but I never got to that point. And that’s too bad.
A couple of days ago I read an article about a woman named Robin who was attending her mother’s funeral. A man walked into the funeral late and sat down next to Robin. She didn’t recognize him. Eventually he asked her why they kept referring to the deceased as Margaret instead of Mary. Robin was confused and said, “Because that was her name.”
They went back and forth before realizing that the man was supposed to be at the funeral across the street. Here’s how Robin described their realization: “The solemnness of the occasion mixed with the realization of the man's mistake bubbled up inside me and came out as laughter. I cupped my hands over my face, hoping it would be interpreted as sobs.
“The creaking pew gave me away. Sharp looks from other mourners only made the situation seem more hilarious. I peeked at the bewildered, misguided man seated beside me. He was laughing, too, as he glanced around, deciding it was too late for an uneventful exit. I imagined Mother laughing.”
This momentarily relief in an otherwise somber situation gave Robin a chance to breathe and it gave her a small reprieve from her pain.
The line between appropriate and inappropriate humor is small and hard to find sometimes. And sometimes the use of humor in difficult circumstances might be different things to different people. That’s why I respect people who know how to use it.