I am often tempted by what I’ll call “Sudden Magic Premise Comedies” (in particular those starring adults) in which our (almost always) male protagonist is successful and charming, but possesses a seemingly tragic flaw (an overabundance of ego, shallowness, or shyness) and so is suddenly given (or cursed by) a magic power (perhaps being able hear women’s thoughts), limitation (he can no longer tell a lie), or situation (he has to relive the same day repeatedly). In almost every case, when our hero meets his magic circumstance, we begin with his slapstick comedic reaction to his plight (this is a good reason to hire Jim Carrey or Bill Murray for your lead as they can handle the humour gracefully), but the situation will eventually turn dire to the point that he will lose almost everything in his life, including, apparently, the affection of the female lead. Her role is key as she is almost unanimously unencumbered by personality or humour, but possesses an understanding of the true meaning of life and family; it is precisely that outlook that the protagonist must adopt if he’s going to escape his magic premise.
I am often seduced by these magic premises, as I am curious as to how the hero will handle what seems to me to be an intriguing situation. For instance, before viewing Bruce Almighty, in which the great Jim Carrey’s character temporarily acquires the powers of God, I was intrigued to see how he would deal out his deity magic to those around him. Unfortunately, I need to be reminded before I purchase my ticket that these movies are not meant to be philosophical or ethical commentaries: JC’s character did not, as we might hope, spend his powers on curing major illnesses in third world countries; instead, he focussed on the petty preferences of his own life. And so I was disappointed by what seemed to be empathetically-challenged behaviour from our hero, but that was my own fault for mixing up the genre for something that it’s not.
Sudden Magic Premise Comedies can—in SethBlogs’ opinion—be very good movies, but it’s important to remember their function before going in. I forgot this rule once again last night when I was drawn in by the Magic Comedy Premise of A Thousand Words, in which the protagonist, played by Eddie Murphy, is given only a thousand words to live. Intrigue me! How exactly would he ration them? What clever strategies for handling the problem would he invent? But, once again, I should have realized that this wasn’t meant to be a thought-provoking movie in the way that I’d hoped. I was therefore displeased by the results. My bad once again.
As with all genres, there are both good and bad Sudden Magic Premise Comedies (so long as we are willing to remember the limitations of the genre). If you are considering trying one out, I am at your service. Below are my rankings of the non-kid-led Sudden Magic Premise Comedies that I can remember at this time.
1. Groundhog Day (1993)
- Directed by: Harold Ramis
- Screenplay by: Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis
- Starring: Bill Murray
- Bland Lady Love Interest: Andie McDowell
Magic Premise: I don’t want to give this one away as this movie is best witnessed without awareness of what is about to befall our hero.
SethBlogs Analysis: This movie is already highly ranked in several prestigious SethBlogs categories, such as “Best Comedy Film,” “Best Bill Murray Movie,” (tied with Quick Change), and “Best Overall Movie.” The dialogue is overflowing with wit, the comedy has impeccable timing (leaving every joke before it becomes tedious), and the existentially superior love interest possesses a rare hint of a personality beyond the requirements of the genre.
2. What Women Want (2000)
- Directed by: Nancy Meyers
- Screenplay by: Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa
- Starring: Mel Gibson (while he was still one of the world’s most charming people)
- Not-So-Bland Lady Love Interest: Helen Hunt
Magic Premise: Our charming, but somewhat chauvinistic hero is given the ability to hear the thoughts of all women.
SethBlogs Analysis: While there is some silly gender humour in this film, SethBlogs found the characters to be much more nuanced and human than we normally encounter in Sudden Magic Premise Comedies. As a result, the world in which these characters interact seems more believable and three-dimensional. Even the morally superior female lead possesses rare personality and even unprecedented self-doubt. Consequently, the plot is not as gimmicky as the genre would normally forgive.
3. Liar Liar (1997)
- Directed by: Tom Shadyac
- Screenplay by: Paul Guay & Stephen Mazur
- Starring: Jim Carrey
- Bland Lady Love Interest: Maura Tierney (of the champion sitcom News Radio: this role is a tragic waste of her considerable comedic skills)
Magic Premise: A double-talking lawyer’s neglected son successfully wishes that his dad lose the ability to tell lies.
SethBlogs Analysis: This one’s all in the Carrey. Without Jim, its silliness would be too slapstick for viewing, but in the face and charm of the master, I pronounce it worth seeing.
4. Yes Man (2008)
- Directed by: Peyton Reed
- Screenplay by: Nicholas Stoller and Jarrad Paul & Andrew Mogel
- Starring: Jim Carrey
- Not-So-Bland Lady Love Interest: Zoey Deschanel (SethBlogs categorizes her as not-so-bland because she is a free spirit with some evident charm, but given the movie’s role is to teach Jim Carrey’s character to lead a more spontaneous life, she still fulfills her genre duty to take the moral high ground and to inspire him to do better)
Magic Premise: In this case, the lead’s tragic flaw is not that he is over-confident, but that he is under-existing. He is thus sentenced to say “Yes” to everything anyone ever asks of him (if he doesn’t, bad things happen) so that he will learn to take on life more assertively.
SethBlogs Analysis: There are some painfully silly moments in this movie, but Carrey’s standard brilliance, along with a likeable collection of co-stars, provokes approval from the SethBlogs staff.
5. Bedazzled (2000)
- Directed by: Harold Ramis
- Written by: Peter Cook
- Starring: Brendan Fraser
- Bland Lady Love Interest: Frances O’Connor
Magic Premise: This time our hero’s tragic flaw comes from his dorky demeanor, which is stalling his efforts to attain his dream girl. Thus he sells his soul to the devil in exchange for seven wishes with which he hopes to improve his manliness so that he can impress his love.
SethBlogs Analysis: There is some confusion about human tendencies here (for instance, when Brendan’s character wishes for the ability to be the sweetest man on earth, our hero becomes annoyingly sickly sweet, but of course a truly sensitive person would be aware of how to avoid being annoying.) However, some genuinely funny moments combined with Brendan Fraser’s incomparable pathos make this a worthwhile viewing, in SethBlogs’ humble opinion.
6. Bruce Almighty (2003)
- Directed by: Tom Shadyac
- Screenplay by: Steve Koren & Mark O’Keefe and Steve Oedekerk
- Starring: Jim Carrey
- Bland Lady Love Interest: Jennifer Aniston (another colossal misuse of a comedic talent here as Anniston’s character lacks even of a hint of the personality that the actress is capable of portraying)
Magic Premise: Bruce gets to borrow God’s powers for a while.
SethBlogs Analysis: This is one of the most silly in the genre that’s still worth seeing. While it is philosophically agonizing to watch, the cast—led by our Jim—is charming and funny enough to keep the SethBlogs’s eyes on screen.
7. Shallow Hall (2001)
- Directed by: Bobby Farrelly & Peter Farrelly
- Written by: Sean Moynhan & Peter & Bobby Farrelly
- Starring: Jack Black
- Bland Lady Love Interest Portrayed by: Gwyneth Paltrow
Magic Premise: The lead’s tragic flaw in this case is right there in the title: he’s so shallow that he only sees women for their looks, and so he is given the power/curse to see women only for their inner beauty.
SethBlogs Analysis: As always, the writer-director combo of the Farrelly brothers mix some offensive humour into a comedy with heart. Shallow Hall is both mildly insulting and compassionate to the less fortunate in appearance, and so has just barely earned SethBlogs’ approval.
8. The Invention of Lying (2009)
- Directed by: Ricky Gervais and Mathew Robinson
- Written by: Ricky Gervais and Mathew Robinson
- Starring: Ricky Gervais/David Brent
- Bland Lady Love Interest: Jennifer Garner
Magic Premise: Gervais’s character lives in a world where no one has ever thought to lie; everything changes when he suddenly one day realizes the power of deception.
SethBlogs Analysis: This movie is all premise and no pay off. The writers confuse the inability to tell lies with an insistence on oversharing. Gervais spends time being funny, but as with all of his roles, he eventually returns to his most famous persona, David Brent from The Office (which is always enjoyable, but distracting when he’s supposed to be playing a different character). SethBlogs does not think this movie is worth seeing, and yet the premise is so interesting, that even now we want to go back to that world to give it another chance.
9. A Thousand Words (2012)
- Directed by: Brian Robbins
- Written by: Steve Koren
- Starring: Eddie Murphy
- Bland Lady Love Interest: Kerry Washington
Magic Premise: Murphy’s charming, but double-talking literary agent persona is taught a lesson by a magic tree who limits him to approximately a thousand words for the rest of his life.
SethBlogs Analysis: Perhaps the promise of the premise has led me to unfairly dislike this film for dealing with its intriguing thought example in such a silly way. For instance, to facilitate the comedy of a particular moment, Murphy’s character repeatedly wastes many precious words to complete the scene’s comedy, but for the drama of another situation, he refuses say a word to stop his simple, but pure wife from misinterpreting him to catastrophic results. Nevertheless, Murphy plays the part well and there is one scene that got the whole SethBlogs team laughing.
10. Evan Almighty (2007)
- Directed by: Tom Shadyac
- Written by: Steve Oderkerk
- Starring: Steve Carrel
- Bland Lady Love Interest: Lauren Graham (once again, this is a mighty waste of talent as the ultra-funny Graham stays on formula and never utters a breath that isn’t morally superior and devoid of personality)
Magic Premise: In this rare Magic Premise sequel, Bruce Almighty’s rival, Evan, gets to play a Bible character as God sentences him to be a modern-day Noah.
SethBlogs Analysis: This is one of the top ten worst movies that SethBlogs has had the displeasure of witnessing. It is relentlessly silly and contrived without a hint of funny.
4 thoughts on “THE BEST AND WORST OF SUDDEN MAGIC PREMISE COMEDIES”
Shame on you, Sethblogs! Invention of Lying is far too low and Bedazzled is getting more credit than it deserves!
In any case, I would appreciate a follow-up article of my favourite type of Sudden Magic Premise Comedy: those sentimental, and sometimes even tear-jerking delights involving children transforming into adults (or vice versa) who learn valuable life lessons by coming of age (or re-seeing the world through the innocent eyes of a child). Fool-proof formula! Kindly review Big, 13 Going on 30, The Kid, and Freaky Friday by the time I check back in. Much obliged.
I’m willing to reconsider The Invention of Lying, since it is such a delightful premise, and I may have been suffering from high-expectation-syndrome when I watched it, but nevertheless at the time it seemed to me to be one of the most humour-free comedies I’d ever witnessed.
Your request for an evaluation of the sub-genre within Sudden Magic Premise comedies wherein children get to spend time in adults’ bodies is well-made. For now, since you’ve given me a limited timeframe (I’m glad I’ve made it in time!) I will rate the movies you have listed based on what I have seen of them.
(1) Big: I saw it when I was kid, and so I’m not sure I can trust my favourable memory towards it, but it has Tom Hanks, so, enough said for now.
(2) Thirteen going on Thirty: I saw most of it when it was on TV a while ago. Since I witnessed what I did over the course of two separate viewings, it seemed a wee bit incoherent, but I enjoyed Garner’s performance (as the young one caught in an adult) very much. In fact, the childlike performance seemed to come almost too easily to her.
(3) Freaky Friday: Amazingly, according the internet, this one’s been re-made twice (the 1976 original provoked 1995 and 2003 offspring). I have only seen the third in the collection, and embarrassingly, I don’t remember much of it, so the only comment I can make is that it wasn’t a memorable offering.
(4) The Kid: I have also not seen this one yet, but I see it’s led by Bruce Willis, so I will give it a shot, and so The Kid‘s rankings may improve.
I agree with Nat’s comment that some in your list do not warrant being on the list, receive far too much credit, etc. Really, I think you give the JC movies too much credit, simply because they have JC in them, your ‘man-crush’…
As well, Shallow Hall was a crappy movie as it horrible to everyone: ugly women are all nice and pretty women are all awful… just seems to insult and/or patronize too many.
Also, right on Nats, what about Big and 13 going on 30?! Those were both really good… Big should be right under Groundhog Day!
I really like your term for these movies and may stealo (with a TDSM copyright mark attached) the term for my idea for a Sudden Magic Premise movie (gifts and bribes forthcoming).
Tamsen, Tamsen, Tamsen: I could accept your complaint that my list is out of order if you didn’t base it on an appeal to my Jim Carrey approving bias. My Jim Carrey addiction recovery group was very complimentary of my willingness not to put him in all the top spots! Meanwhile, I agree that Shallow Hal was over-simplistic in its suggestion that most officially attractive people aren’t as nice as most officially unattractive people, but it wasn’t as universal as you suggest: I recall that he had a conventionally beautiful friend whose appearance did not change when he was able to see her for her inner beauty. Meanwhile, feel free to utilize my “sudden magic premise” term, but I look forward to seeing the “TDSM” with Sethblogs link attached to each use.