Last week my Australian roommate told me that Americans don't understand dry comedy, and though what I really wanted to do was make a fart joke or go star in a movie about an athlete triumphing in an inherently hilarious sport, instead I went to see The Ten to prove her wrong. Turns out it's full of lessons for American citizens who want to overcome our inherent unfunniness and our love of mediocre framing devices to turn out a ninety minute sketch comedy show movie. Who's with me, people, seriously.
Honestly it probably sucks some to be David Wain or Ken Marino or any of those The State alums, constantly getting called impish or puckish or weirdish or just hard to understand. Though many of the vignettes in The Ten have clear story arcs or familiar sketch comedy tropes, the jokes don't always get born straight of the premises. Just a for instance would be the super-funny Y tu mamá también parody that sees Gretchen Mol losing her virginity to none other than Jesus Christ (Justin Theroux) himself — Jesus, of course, taking a break before he gets around to the rapture. It's a great sketch, but it begins with a fantastic and completely unrelated joke in which Mol is introduced to a new co-worker (Jason Sudeikis) who, for no clear reason, is walking around on his knees. He stands to shake her hand, apologizing. A cut later he's in the background, on his knees again.
That's really as scary as Wain comedy gets. Over the years, he and his collaborators have done a lot of work to create a whole vocabulary of absurdist funny crap: gross mispronunciations of certain words, cruel shoves leading to disproportionate pratfalls, large groups of screaming people running around in chaos, quotidian dialogue spoken fast enough to be ridiculous, women who make out with visible tongue, and the occasional direct address. All are present in The Ten, some more successful than others, some more aware than others: When Liev Schreiber flatly mispronounces the names of several popular fast food restaurants, his neighbor (& State alum) Joe Lo Truglio nods knowingly at his diction, saying, "I like what you did there." The joke has been through enough iterations that it might as well reach for the meta-meta skies, but hell, it's still funny to listen to someone deadpan "MacDarnolds."
The very best part about the non sequitur jokes is that none of the movie's vignettes are ever a total wash. This sketch about prison rape not doing it for you? Hang on, it's saved at the end with Michael Ian Black first reciting a Shakespeareanish soliloquy and then twisting away from the camera in a sickly, sultry way. Paul Rudd's dialogue a total drag? Wait for the very end, when he bites off the final word of a speech with a whine and a hilarious sort of sneer. That's goddamned right, people: The Ten sometimes balances exclusively on the very funny choices of its grossly talented cast. The movie is packed with the Wain Repertory Players (Paul Rudd, A.D. Miles, H. Jon Benjamin) and filled out with a generous high-caliber motion picture actors like Schreiber, Mol, Theroux, Oliver Platt, Adam Brody, Jessica Alba, Famke Janssen, and Winona Ryder. Everyone from Serioustown is super-game, making out with puppets (Ryder) donning funny mustaches (Schreiber), doing horrible Eddie Murphy impressions (Platt) and squealing about ponies (Alba) whenever necessary.
It's true: in the America we like our storylines, we like our truth in comedies, we like our Knocked Ups, but certainly there is a place in our hearts for a gaggle of comics who tirelessly search for the funniest things that could never happen, the driest possible deliveries and the most profane and juvenile of words. If you're scared don't be and if you're not you should be and if you're Australian it'll probably be the best thing you've seen in your entire life.