Rushfield: Who's Killing R-Rated Comedies?
A cinematic investigation into how summer went off the rails
When summer began, I made the fearless prediction that, with audiences returning to theaters, Summer 2023 would be the Summer of the R-Rated comedy.
After all, grown-up bawdy comedies have been a fairly steady and usually fairly lucrative corner of the film ecosystem since the demise of the Hays Code in 1968. (Before that, the greatest minds of entertainment spent the best of their brain cells figuring out how to sneak ribaldry onto the screen.)
Comedy in general, and R-rated comedy in particular, is a basic part of the cultural spectrum at its core. The fact that that corner sits now largely empty minus the very rare surprise, like Blockers, or the odd freakish stunt hit (Cocaine Bear, Jackass Forever).
This summer however, it felt like post-Streaming Wars common sense was snapping back. And as part of that, there was more than just one studio sticking a toe in the pond: there were no fewer than four bawdy R-rated films on deck — more than we've seen at once in years.
As far as the trailers went, back at CinemaCon, they all looked pretty funny and largely made with real stars. Joy Ride, No Hard Feelings, Strays and Bottoms: any one of those could have blasted off into the stratosphere. After Covid and the stress of the last years, the moment to not just laugh, but laugh inappropriately, was back. Also note, in contrast to Hangover days, three of four of these films star women — who certainly are driving the biggest entertainment dollars these days (Barbie, Taylor Swift, etc…).
So where did the dream go wrong? To be clear, the summer isn't over yet. The tale of a cultish film comedy is as long as anything in entertainment; Strays has made many cult fans — others may follow. And Bottoms still awaits its day.