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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Movie Review Essay (Movie Review)


Introduction

The writers of ancient Greece formed many comedy genres that are popular to this day. The main genres can be divided into Old Comedy, Middle Comedy, and New Comedy. In contrast to dark and sarcastic Old Comedy, New Comedy separates itself from the current events, focusing on making the public laugh, not think. A light comedy that is not weighed down by political themes is always taken well by the audience regardless of the time period.

The movie A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, directed by Richard Lester in 1966, is a classic example of New Comedy. The film tells a story of a cunning slave, Pseudolus, who tries to win his freedom by uniting his young master with a girl of his dreams. After every attempt of Pseudolus trying to fix the situation goes awry, the plot becomes more and more complicated and whimsical. By integrating the tropes of New Comedy with the atmosphere of ancient Rome and American contemporary culture, the film A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum appealed to the American audience of the 1960s.

Tropes of New Comedy in the Film

New Comedy can be characterized by the use of stereotypic characters and slapstick comedy. The situations that occur between these distinct characters become the primary source of humor. The comedy of such films and plays is often physical and filled with stunts and fast-paced action.

Character Types

The movie A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum has a multitude of characters that adhere to certain stereotypes. First of all, Pseudolus is the protagonist of the story. Pseudolus represents the trope of a clever slave, who has to untangle a complicated situation, which was created by him in the first place. He constantly lies and cheats in hopes to win his freedom. As a protagonist, Pseudolus has to be the primary source of humor. Therefore, he has personality traits that ensure his presence in every situation. He is talkative, cunning, and meddlesome. This character type is one of the popular tropes from New Comedy because of the social strata that were present in the ancient world. Although Pseudolus has many negative traits, he is considered a good character by the audience because of his intelligence and wit.

The other popular trope is a boy in love, who is presented in the movie Hero, Pseudolus’ young master. These two characters contrast each other well as the boy is quite naïve, while the slave is shrewd. The hero is a character that was taken from a romantic genre and interpreted for a comedy. For example, Hero’s reaction to the news about his love interest being unavailable is a parody of a tragic hero’s actions, because he instantly tries to kill himself with a knife. His love interest, Philia, goes through the same process of becoming a caricature. Philia is a classic damsel in distress interpreted for a comedy. The film highlights Philia’s lack of personality, a problem that many romantic stories have. Their relationship evolves as a general romantic story as well.

Hero’s parents also make up a pair of very recognizable character types – a controlling wife, Domina, and a milquetoast husband, Senex. These two types are often used in situational comedy, a genre that that was very popular in the 1960s. The husband jokes about his feelings towards his wife without trying to sever the relationship. The wife is despotic and aggressive but quite patient with her husband. The other heroes of the story: Captain Miles Gloriosus, Hysterium, and Marcus Lycus have very distinct personality traits as well.

Gloriosus is a parody of the exaggerated masculinity in male characters. His arrogance and narcissism are dramatized for a comedic effect. As a contrast to Pseudolus, Hysterium represents a different type of servant. He is cowardly, coaxing, and easily impressionable. The relationship between the two servants allows for many comedic situations. For example, Pseudolus manipulates and blackmails Hysterium multiple times throughout the movie, forcing Hysterium to lie, pretend to be a eunuch, and dress up as a woman.

Comedic Devices and Physical Humor

The plot of the story is also complicated by such comedic devices as confusion, erroneous information, and time constraint. These tropes are explored and utilized in the movie in full. First of all, the basis of many humorous situations of New Comedy is presented by some characters confusing other characters with each other. For example, Philia thinks that Hero’s father, Senex, is Captain Miles Glorious, to whom she is promised. The audience was introduced to Senex earlier in the movie. The viewers know the characters well enough to understand this confusion.

There are many confusions of this type in the film. It is interesting to note, that this device can be presented as unintentional or deliberate. For instance, Pseudolus pretending to be Marcus Lycus is a purposeful confusion that furthers the plot. The characters that participate in this ruse are aware of the confusion. However, the heroes do not give each other full information and do not anticipate the consequences of their actions. In this situation, the consequences become the primary source of the comedy.

Secondly, the heroes in New Comedy often lie or conceal some information to rectify the situation. However, this only leads to the problem becoming more complicated than before. For example, Pseudolus lies about Philia having a plague, while he tries to free her from the house, confusing many characters and affecting the plot. Moreover, Marcus Lycus lies and tries to change places with Pseudolus hoping to escape his problems. However, he suffers from this decision even more than he probably would otherwise. The time limit is another device utilized by New Comedy. In the film, for example, Pseudolus has only one day to fulfill his promise to Hero, which motivates him to make rash and sometimes irrational decisions. Gloriosus also gives Pseudolus a limited amount of time, which results in Pseudolus making arguably the boldest decision to have a pretend funeral.

Physical humor plays a significant role in the comedic value of the movie. Many of the jokes involve Pseudolus and other characters getting hurt. For example, the scene of Gloriosus arriving at the city with his army trying to go through the streets is filled with slapstick action. Moreover, dropping the potted plant on somebody’s head appears multiple times in the film. This action serves two different purposes: to make one fall unconscious or to attract one’s attention. The second example is especially interesting because it is done with an unexpected reason in mind.

Contemporary America of the 1960s

Many of the plot points rely on the time period of the film. The concepts of slaves, courtesans, and women sellers were accepted as sources of light humor for the time period of ancient Rome. The scenery and characters’ social positions allow the audience to identify the culture, while the dialogue in the film is not burdened by historical facts or complex language. Moreover, the movie includes the usage of contemporary language to sound modern. For example, Pseudolus tells Hero that it is not nice to walk out of a place without buying something.

The personalities of the heroes and their motives are universally recognizable. Therefore, the audience can view this comedy and understand the plot without any complications. The television channels of the 1960s broadcasted many films and series revolving around situational comedy. The counterculture movement allowed the directors to make movies with more controversial and sexual jokes. Some scenes of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum represent that shift in culture.

Conclusion

The film A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum can serve as an example of traditional New Comedy rendered through contemporary culture. The movie’s characters have vibrant personalities that can be attributed to particular types, while the plot of the film is simple and universally recognizable. The abundance of physical comedy and slapstick also shows the New Comedy roots of the movie. The contemporary American audience was exposed to a variety of situational comedy shows that utilized similar types of characters and plot lines. The director incorporated modern language and tropes into the film, allowing the viewers to relate to some situations. Therefore, it was easy for them to understand and identify with the movie regardless of its time period and setting.

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IvyPanda. (2020, September 7). A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Movie Review. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/a-funny-thing-happened-on-the-way-to-the-forum-movie-review/

Work Cited

"A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Movie Review." IvyPanda, 7 Sept. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/a-funny-thing-happened-on-the-way-to-the-forum-movie-review/.

1. IvyPanda. "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Movie Review." September 7, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/a-funny-thing-happened-on-the-way-to-the-forum-movie-review/.


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IvyPanda. "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Movie Review." September 7, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/a-funny-thing-happened-on-the-way-to-the-forum-movie-review/.

References

IvyPanda. 2020. "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Movie Review." September 7, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/a-funny-thing-happened-on-the-way-to-the-forum-movie-review/.

References

IvyPanda. (2020) 'A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Movie Review'. 7 September.

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