A million ways to laugh

One of the most visibly uncomfortable actresses named during Seth MacFarlane’s “We saw your boobs” song at the 2013 Oscars, that was actually Charlize Theron’s prerecorded response. She says she loved the skit. Photo courtesy Universal Pictures

A Million Ways to Die in the West is a vanity piece, and that’s being counted against it and I don’t know why. Pretty much everything Quentin Tarantino has ever made could be considered a vanity piece to some degree. Alfred Hitchchock was such a perfectionist he used to not let people into his movies if they were late. There’s nothing wrong with vanity pieces if the driving mind is good at movies, and with two entries, Seth MacFarlane seems to be.

His new movie is set in the old west. His character, Albert Stark, is dumped early in the film by Louise (Amanda Seyfried) for the town mustache groomsman, Foy (Neil Patrick Harris). Dejected, Stark is pushed into a duel by Anna Barnes (Charlize Theron), who also teaches him to shoot. Stark and Barnes begin to fall in love, but Barnes is already married to vicious killer Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson).

The thing about Seth MacFarlane’s work — even the shit on TV like Family Guy — is, the first time, it’s genuinely very funny. The constant repetition is what pushes it down. Keeping with Family Guy, the show has 231 episodes but TBS only airs, like, 15. So the seemingly prevalent idea that this movie wouldn’t be funny because Stewie and Brian’s dance routine wasn’t funny the 18th time is pretty disingenuous.

A Million Ways to Die in the West is very funny. It’s got a ton of modernism humor, and it’s got that rare ability to make toilet jokes actually funny.

The film’s solid fundamentals make it watchable. Stark has a well-done, relatable hero’s journey and the audience ends up caring about what happens to him and the other characters. The film’s structure, returning to a duel in the same setting at the beginning, middle and end to take stock in the character’s development, gives the audience a nice, heavy anchor.

This is a solid, funny movie that adheres MacFarlane’s typical conventions and remains accessible to general audiences. The rest of the comedies coming out this summer aren’t going to be this clever.

Joshua Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, journalism and film student at the University of North Texas and a senior staff writer for the NT Daily. Happy birthday to me.  For questions, rebuttals and further guidance about cinema, you can reach him at reelentropy@gmail.com. At this point, I’d like to remind you that you shouldn’t actually go to movies and form your own opinions. That’s what I’m here for.

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