Over the past few years, the awkward male side character has made a comeback in the movies. What started as an obscure indie thing, most prominently in Juno, has since infiltrated mainstream cinema and in fact become mainstream cinema.
It was a hopeless novelty, off-beat and charming at first, now bothersome and annoying. It seems as though every movie needs to have that character that walks into the room and makes an awkward grunt or a side-splitting out of place comment that’s supposed to be hilarious. The trouble is, it isn’t.
What seems to be happening is that writers now think just because a character is awkward and says random things, this makes them funny. Lines like “Hold on a second, I’m on my hamburger phone,” have replaced actual punch-lines. The very notion that the phone is a hamburger is supposed to be funny, so it’s not necessary to include a joke about it.
While you could do much worse than Diablo Cody’s Juno script, it holds a lot of credibility and influence over this idea. Along with a few other comedies of the new millennium, this film has helped the awkward character infiltrate every genre from the drama (see the pathetic, annoying Graham from An Education) to the action film (see Sam Rockwell’s character in Iron Man 2 for the most recent example).
The idea of this character derived from the idea that filthy comedies of the American Pie were, well, filthy and unfunny. This is true, and thankfully that trend has been virtually quelled. It seems to have been replaced by the endlessly repeated awkward catchphrases and mannerisms of the current Michael Cera-esque trend, which was inspired by Anthony Michael Hall characters from John Hughes classics like The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles. Both of these elements, the vulgar and the awkward, culminated to excellent effect in 2007’s Superbad. Sadly, it has yet to be repeated successfully since, and likely won’t before the next trend arrives.
There will always be room for filth in the movies, and when it’s funny I don’t mind. The same goes for the awkward character, but when Hollywood gets a whiff of a trend, they tend to overuse it to squeeze every last cent out of what is initially a novelty. The next trend won’t be known until the teen target audience gets a whiff of it in the next hip Hollywood hit. Whatever it is, hopefully it sends Cera and his clan packing with an awkward goodbye and his briefcase full of pull-over jackets and knee-high socks.