An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

                 “The Aristocrats” is a terrific idea, so let’s talk about that before I finish figuring out why I didn’t like it.  If I’m lucky, maybe I can at least give you a framework for your decision:  to go or not to go.   

                What could be better than this:  a group of the entertainment world’s favorite comedians addresses one of the world’s oldest jokes, each in his own style.  The good part of this is that the joke requires only an opening line and a punch line.  Everything in between is up to the comedian, and the goal is to fill it with as much filthy material as possible to convey such a panorama of scatological imagery that the listener is convulsed in laughter.  Creativity unleashed. 

 But something odd happens:  it is the comedians who convulse on screen – in appreciation of themselves and their peers while the audience – made up at this showing largely of twenty-something men - sinks slowly into boredom after some raucous laughter near the beginning.  Once the edge of acceptability has been crossed, one performer says, comedians become hysterical with the pleasure of creating the journey through the joke from a sweet beginning to a hilarious punch line.  Yes.

This movie is all about words – four letter ones, and the images they create in your mind.  There is just so much the imagination can do with excrement and excretions of all kinds, and once it’s all said and done in the imagination, what’s left?  The funniest telling of the joke, one that brings a prolonged laugh, comes when a female comedian tells the whole long joke as a fantasy of the perfect family.  As you sit there wondering where she can be going with it, she changes the punch line in such a way that it brings an involuntary howl.  She has made an unfunny joke funny with a surprise.

So what was my problem?  Building a full-length movie on variations of an unfunny joke is risky business.  Scatology has a short life; where is the wit and humor that sends you out of the theater smiling?  Every variation on body orifices and the fluids and solids that make their way through them is examined, but after a while it is like being hit on the head with a hammer. 

Do you want to see it?  If you are someone who sits in the locker room and roars with laughter about bodily functions, then by all means, go.  If you love waiting for a twist in the punch line or a mystery or a surprise, if you like satire or irony, “The Aristocrats” may put you to sleep.  The one hundred or so comedians (Gilbert Godfrey, Jason Alexander, Drew Carey, Robin Williams, George Carlin, Whoopi Goldberg, and the Smothers Brothers, among others) riffing on this old vaudeville joke would disagree with me entirely.  They have the time of their lives trying to make the old vaudeville joke their own.  Your call. 


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