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(Credit: 20th Century Fox)

Film

'Dude, Where's My Car?' and the ingenious stupidity of late 1990s comedy

@Russellisation

Awakening from their night of unknown debauchery, best friends Jesse and Chester embark on a mission to trace back their steps and answer the titular question that sits at the heart of the film, Dude, Where’s My Car?. Blending the sheer ingenious stupidity of 1990s comedy with a surreal sense of humour that would soon be popularised in the 21st century, the iconic stoner comedy provided the perfect vehicle for American comedy to transition into the new millennium. 

Twisting stoner comedy with a fantastical plot that involved alien lifeforms, magical artifacts and a French ostrich farmer, Dude, Where’s My Car? from director Danny Leiner was released in December 2000 as a direct response to the fantastical technological revolution that was occurring at the very same time. Whacky, eclectic and lovingly nonsensical, the film displayed only slight differences from its previous ‘90s counterparts. 

Where ‘80s comedy felt grounded in some sort of adult humour, with the likes of Beverly Hills Cop, Trading Places and Planes, Trains and Automobiles, the zeitgeist of the 1990s invited a far more rebellious take on the genre. Reacting to the previous decade as if a teenager purposefully going against the taste of their parents, the likes of Wayne’s World, American Pie and Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery came to define the decade, leading the pack with outlandish characters in extraordinary situations. 

Rooting comedy in a reflection of hyperreality, the aforementioned films along with Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Dumb and Dumber and Coneheads featured crass, puerile comedy that often utilised meta-commentary and to highlight the sheer stupidity of their existence. Whilst this is often sneered at from the socially conscious views of modern society, such comedies reflected a more progressive attitude than we give them credit for. 

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As new technologies facilitated an eclectic range of experimental devices and cultures around the world became ever-more connected during the advent of the internet, the zeitgeist of the 1990s was forced to react to more information than ever before. In reaction to such a seismic shift, cinema appropriately began experimenting, with shows such as South Park from Trey Parker and Matt Stone perfectly demonstrating the physical innovation present in new media, with the content also illustrating a new taste for the wild and wonderful. 

Along with the zany jagged lines, baggy jeans and vibrant colours of ‘90s fashion, comedy was trying to find an identity through any avenue they could, often resulting in strange pieces of Hollywood humour that pushed social tastes. This, unfortunately, also resulted in rather outdated representations of gender and racial stereotypes, with the pre-millennial world not yet subject to the same criticisms of modern media. 

It’s easy to throw all these films into one ‘intolerant’ basket, though to do that would be to ignore all the good such films also achieved, heightening the quality of modern comedy as typified by the experimentation of the likes of Jim Carrey and Mike Myers. Danny Leiner’s classic comedy Dude, Where’s My Car? represents this sheer climax of ‘90s attitudes, reflecting a world that was experimenting whilst becoming accustomed to a new ever-connected reality. 

Comedy would turn a corner in the new millennium to become tamer and more akin to the comedy of the 1980s, though Danny Leiner’s film would always stand as a time warp back into the frenetic, bombastic excitement of the pre-Millenium whirlwind.

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