Five films you never would have thought were so political

Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl propagandizing for the primacy of the nuclear family in Knocked Up.
Scene from Duck Soup.
Nicholas Cage in Raising Arizona.
Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront.

Movies like Semi-Pro and Knocked Up may seem like innocent comedies, but there’s more going on than you’d expect.

5. Duck Soup (1933)

If the decided political ideology of the Marx Brothers is anarchy, then Duck Soup is their manifesto.

This film is a direct result of the times during which it was made. America was in the throes of the Depression, and belief in leadership was at an all-time low. The brothers provide a pertinent satire by having Groucho appointed the ruler over a country, which he sends to war.

The battle provides the funniest and most biting commentary as well as an ethos that perfectly captures the relationship between nation and soldier when Groucho tells his troops: “While you’re out there risking your life and limb through shot and shell, we’ll be in here thinking what a sucker you are.”

4. Semi-Pro (2008)

Will Ferrell struck comic gold when he was cast as the go-to George Bush imitator during his tenure on Saturday Night Live. Since then his entire persona has been built around the arrogant buffoon who is far too self-involved to see how detrimental his actions are.

Semi-Pro is far from Ferrell’s best movie, but one sequence is so reminiscent of the befuddled Bush administration it almost becomes hard to laugh at. Ferrell’s failing basketball team needs to fill seats. Though practice would ultimately improve the team and bring in patrons, the headstrong Ferrell sticks with his original disastrous plan and wrestles a bear.

You can practically hear “Stay the course!” echoing through the cavernous, collapsing arena.

3. Raising Arizona (1987)

The middle-class of America was realizing the short falls of Reaganomics by the late ‘80s when Joel and Ethan Coen powerfully and hilariously commented on the distance between the haves and the have-nots in this film.

H.I. and Ed, a lower class couple who cannot have children, industriously decide to take one from a privileged family who has more babies than it needs. However, once they act on their plan, they unleash the darkest parts of themselves and we watch as their misguided form of capitalism comes close to destroying their world.

2. On the Waterfront (1954)

The ‘50s were difficult for left-leaning liberals in Hollywood. The House on Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and Senator Joseph McCarthy were hunting commies in the entertainment industry with a brand of bullying rarely seen outside of a schoolyard.

In the midst of this, Elia Kazan, who named names for HUAC, decided to fight back against his detractors by making this movie about a heroic mob informer to prove that sometimes you do have to rat on your friends.

Marlon Brando’s performance saves this film from being stodgy right-wing propaganda, but even he couldn’t save both Kazan and McCarthy from history’s condemnation.

1. Knocked Up (2007)

Speaking of right-wing propaganda, Judd Apatow and his cronies have become quite popular with their crass and juvenile humour based mostly around shocking jokes. What’s so interesting, however, is that these seemingly liberal films are driven forward by an unabashedly conservative message.

In Knocked Up, for example, everything is being done to uphold the ideal of the nuclear family, no matter how dysfunctional that unit may be.

Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl? Really?

I’d like to see a sequel to this movie in about five years called Weekend Daddy, because that’s exactly where that “family” is headed.

Timothy Penner is a graduate student in English and film at the University of Manitoba.

Published in Volume 63, Number 19 of The Uniter (February 5, 2009)

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