Far too often you hear a movie described as ‘painfully funny’. Does this mean that you laugh so much that you hurt or does it mean that the film is so awful it makes you laugh, out of compassion or embarrassment? Whichever it means, it’s rare that this description fits for me. However, today I saw Due Date starring Robert Downey Jr and Zach Galifianakis and I can think of no better term to use to describe it. It was indeed painfully funny. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.
Due Date tells the story of highly strung business man Peter Highman (RDJ) who is trying to get home from Atlanta to LA for the birth of his first child. His journey does not go according to plan because of a) Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis) and b) his temper. After being put on the ‘No fly’ sheet, Peter’s only option is to hitch a ride with Ethan across the states and endure misbehaving dogs, misbehaving Ethan, driving fatigue, broken bones, niggling jealousies for friends one’s known for twenty years, locked windows at times of heavy glaucoma treatment and theft.
As I was watching Due Date I realised that this was a film of two parts – one of which made me laugh and cry at the same time while the other made me laugh and cringe. Combined, this did indeed make it painfully funny.Without doubt what made Due Date enjoyable for me was the emotional and funny story of two completely different characters, both with much to learn and both isolated, who finally reach the stage at which they can finally say ‘I love you’ to the other. This is despite the lies, the misunderstandings, the rage.
How the two come to reach their reconciliation is emotional to watch and, while it cannot fail to remind some of us of ‘Plains Trains and Automobiles’, it is more painful than that and it is far more moving. The irritating Ethan – and he is most definitely irritating – is carrying the remains of his cremated father in a coffee container. How can you pick bones with that? Peter is longing to see his wife before her scheduled c-section despite his doubts for her fidelity. The deep feelings are never far below the surface and sometimes it feels that the scenarios, as hilarious as they are, are unnecessary or too much.
Yet the film’s tableaux are not mean to tax us. There is nothing more serious below the surface and once you realise that then Due Date becomes far more enjoyable. There are moments here when you will laugh so loud and I know that as I can still hear the laughter ringing in my ears from the theatre today. Robert Downey Jr is a master of the comic moment and for emotion – I don’t know how he combines the two but he does. The irony of the scenes when he’s a reluctant but wholly compliant participant in drug-induced stupors will most certainly make you laugh although how this plays out plot-wise may make you cringe.
There are moments that I did not like at all, some involving Jamie Foxx, others to do with Mexican borders, nevertheless I had the feeling that these elements of the story, although irritating, still contributed to the journey of Peter and Ethan.
Whatever the flaws of the story, this film is a success because of two immensely likeable and very funny leads who will constantly surprise you. Road movies may not be your thing but this film is not primarily a road movie, it’s about how one man learns to take a deep breath before he reacts.