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State of the Summer 2011

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There are those who define the end of summer as Labor Day weekend but we in the movie biz define the end of the summer as the middle of August.  By then all the big “event” movies have come and gone and all that’s left are the movies that didn’t have the confidence to come out in the summer, but aren’t good enough to be released during awards season.  So I’m officially proclaiming the summer of 2011 closed!  In the three months we’ve spent at the movies there’s been great, okay, bad, and downright ugly.  This article will highlight the five things that were seen in the summer films of 2011 and how they contributed to an eclectic summer of films.  **Keep in mind the movies here are ones I saw personally over the summer, and in the interest of limiting page space, and not killing myself, not every movie made the cut.

Rise of…the R-Rated Comedies!

The theme of this summer was R-rated humor with six heavily hyped comedies boasting an R-rating.  Throughout film history the R-rated comedy has had peaks and valleys but this year, in a post Hangover world, it was the go-to genre of the summer.  The runaway Paul Feig directed Bridesmaids and the Seth Gordon film Horrible Bosses were able to make audiences laugh and embrace their R-rating without resorting to juvenile gimmicks like “Hey we used the F-word.”  Bridesmaids, in itself, created a monster with numerous female centric movies now being labeled “the new Bridesmaids.”  It’s ironic considering Bridesmaids was originally labeled “the male Hangover,” a film which also had its sequel debut this summer to nothing but vitriol; we’ll get to that later.

While Bridesmaids received acclaim the majority of the R-rated comedies failed to achieve the goals they set up.  Most of these movies suffered from several things: lack of laughs, misleading trailers, cursing substituted for humor, and a fear of going too mean. Bad Teacher was the first to suffer from these faults in June.  The R-rating was simply used to allow its stars, including lead Cameron Diaz, to curse with no punch lines and tacked on a too-sweet ending to make Diaz more likeable.

The Ryan Reynolds/Jason Bateman body switching comedy The Change-Up suffered from these exact same issues.  Even the better movie in the genre, the aforementioned Horrible Bosses, spends a majority of the screen time having characters train to kill their bosses only to have a deus ex machina get them out of it. 
The world of romantic comedies entered into the R-rated game this summer; mind you it was already slammed for being a cheap copy of another film.  The Mila Kunis/Justin Timberlake rom-com Friends with Benefits were touted as an R-rated “anti” romantic comedy that tried hard to distance itself from the Ashton Kutcher/Natalie Portman movie of similar name and premise.  FWB failed from slipping right into rom-com territory and heavy handed romance, using the R-rating purely to show hot people having sex for 30 minutes.

The biggest movie failure in the world of R-rated cinema was the one that inspired it in the first place.  This summer saw the highly anticipated sequel to The Hangover, the film that inspired the resurgence of the R-rated comedy.  While the movie has made a lot of money, it was an awful return to the well with director Tod Phillips blatantly recycling the plot of the first movie and turning the somewhat loveable group of friends into total jerks.  While The Hangover 2 can be applauded for not making their characters nice in the end, the characters became so awful there was questions of why we loved them in the first place.

False Advertising (For Better or Worse)

The R-rated comedies all shared in another theme seen this summer: the trailer turning into a highlight reel.  I know movie trailers can either give too little or too much information, but this summer taught us to simply enjoy red-band trailers and avoid the film.  Bad Teacher and Friends with Benefits had hilarious red-band trailers that showed off the best jokes.  The fact that the trailers could indulge in cursing made them more hilarious to the audience if you watched them with friends, negating seeing the actual movie which was spoiled with the trailers.

If the trailer didn’t give away the goods, they sold us a false bill seen in the trailer for the Ryan Gosling/Steve Carrell film Crazy, Stupid, Love.  The film billed itself as a romantic comedy starring Carrell and Gosling equally.  In reality the movie was a bland drama/comedy with Carrell as the star and Gosling as the shining scene stealer.  This was also a problem with PIXAR’s Cars 2, billing itself as a Cars movie when it was Mater: Secret Agent.

Going Back to the Well Backfires

Cars 2 brings us to the next point, going back to well being a major mistake! PIXAR has never put out a bad movie, but when it was revealed that they were making a sequel to Cars; fans were left scratching their head.  The movie didn’t do great, but it sure sold a lot of toys!  The movie was a gaudy, boring affair with the world’s most annoying character taking center stage.  The movie didn’t do terrible at the box office but not nearly the blockbuster PIXAR was hoping for.

Disney did not seem to do well this summer, from Cars 2 to Winnie the Pooh, it just didn’t seem like Disney had a huge presence this summer.  Their fourth entry into the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has done decent but continues to show fans that all hope of quality is lost.  Sure it was nice to see Johnny Depp play Jack for the fourth time, but telling fans they’ve eliminated the sappy love story only to have the exact same sappy love story only with a mermaid is not enough.

A sequel that failed with fans but is still making money is Hangover: Part 2.  I’ve detailed it to death above but this summer was all about the profitable franchise falling flat, and this movie beat it to death!  I wanted a sequel as much as the next person, but what director Tod Phillips did was cross out “Vegas” and add “Thailand” to the script of the first Hangover leaving little for audiences to be surprised about.

Comic Films Assemble!

The comic film genres saw the biggest battles play out at the box office with the final films in the Avengers series released and DC having another big bomb on their hands.  Marvel did fantastic this summer coming out with the final two movies in the Avengers canon, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger.  Both got mixed reviews, and personally I found both to be good but not great, but did well to set up the final pieces in the ginormous Avengers puzzle we’ll see completed next summer.

DC Comics continued to show they have a spotty reputation with films, coming out with the biggest bomb for them in Green Lantern.  It didn’t have the best word of mouth coming out of the gate, with terrible comments spewed since Comic Con and the first trailer.  In the end the movie was a mess of CGI, Ryan Reynolds posturing, and Blake Lively….breathing.  DC has not found their niche and instead of making better movies on the first try they’ve decided to just do Green Lantern 2, surely that will make things better!

The anomaly out of the group seems to be X-Men: First Class.  The movie got great reviews but the fans just didn’t turn up.  Maybe it was the failure of Wolverine in 2009 but fans were not feeling the new X-Men to the point that rumors were swirling the cast would never make a sequel, which might be true.  Regardless I’d go so far as to proclaim it my favorite comic film of the summer with its love for the 60s, fantastic cast and stellar direction from Matthew Vaughn.

The End of an Era

One can’t close out the summer without talking about the biggest movie event that happened during it: the final Harry Potter!  I might be saying these exact same words next summer with the Dark Knight Rises but this summer truly led up to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.  We’ll forget about that atrocious epilogue and instead reminisce about ten years of Potter.  Sitting in that theater with a multitude of fans, some who have grown up with the franchise since children and others discovering it on DVD, one can’t deny the cultural impact of the Potter franchise on the world and its youth.  Ten years is a long time to devote to anything but to a series of movies that got bigger box office after every film, the proof is in the pudding that Potter and his friends were a solid investment.

Time can only tell what next summer brings but from the line-up including Avengers and the Dark Knight Rises…I don’t know if I’ll survive!

Author: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief

Kristen Lopez is the editor-in-chief of CC2K and a freelance pop culture essayist. Her work has appeared on Roger Ebert, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Daily Beast. When she’s not burning down Film Twitter she runs two podcasts, the female-centric film show Citizen Dame, and the classic film-themed Ticklish Business.

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