Saturday, July 19, 2008

This is a weird moment

Let’s talk about Ernest Goes to Camp.

Now, in no way am I claiming that the second in the Ernest series (after Dr. Otto and the Riddle of the Gloom Beam, of course) is a good movie. It’s not. It features a grown man covering himself in poison ivy on the recommendation of a cabin full of convicted juvenile delinquents. It also features a toilet bomb.

But that’s exactly what makes this moment so strange. About an hour into the picture, Ernest (the aforementioned grown man, played by Jim Varney) sings a mournful song about how disappointed he is in his campers and himself. No songs are sung before or after that point. Once again, this is a ridiculous comedy full of crotch jokes. And yet it asks us to accept a straight-forward ballad sung by the butt of those very jokes. It’s not an ironic scene. We aren’t intended to laugh.

The movie is only twenty-one years old, and yet it seems like a relic of a different civilization. There’s absolutely no way this would happen today. This kind of scene might be used as a wink-wink “musicals are dumb” joke, but no silly kids’ comedy would shoe-horn a song in where it doesn’t belong. Even at the time, it must have seemed strange. Sure, other 80s movies like Revenge of the Nerds and Better Off Dead had only one song number each. The difference is that those songs are explained, however flimsily, by the plot – a student talent show in the former, a dream sequence in the latter. Here we have, for no reason at all, an idiot man-child singing to himself about his insecurities.

That has to be one of the strangest moments in movie history.

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