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Why It Works: Shaun Of The Dead

06.23.2017

Why It Works is an ongoing column which breaks down some of the most acclaimed films in history and explores what makes them so iconic, groundbreaking, and memorable.

****SPOILERS AHEAD****

BABY DRIVER hits theaters next week, giving us the long anticipated fifth film from writer/director Edgar Wright. While Brits will know Wright as the director of the Channel 4 sitcom Spaced, the name didn't mean much to international audiences until Wright, Spaced star/co-creator Simon Pegg, and co-star Nick Frost would reunite for their first feature film. At a glimpse, SHAUN OF THE DEAD is a fun zombie parody flick, but between its razor sharp wit, focus on character, and surprisingly sobering moments, the first film in the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy has become one of the most beloved and praised comedies of the 21st century. Here's why it works:

WHY WE LIKE THE CHARACTERS:

We all know Shaun. Most of us are Shaun to varying degrees. Our eventual hero begins as the furthest thing from- a layabout with no ambition who's happy to play video games all day and go to the same pub every night. While we may find him amusing right off the bat, what really endears us to the character is how quick he is to spring into action when things get serious. It also helps that early on we see Shaun speak up in defense of his friend Ed (who makes Shaun look like nobility by comparison), as it lets us quickly see the real sense of brotherhood between the two. In addition to Shaun and the lovably boorish Ed, we have their straight-laced roommate Pete, Shaun's girlfriend Liz, who's had about enough of his laziness, Liz's dramatic friend Dianne and her cowardly boyfriend David, Shaun's mother Barbara, who wouldn't mind a call from her pickle once in a while, and her husband Philip, who Shaun has been at odds with for years.

If you haven't seen Spaced, you're missing out on about 6 hours of Pegg/Frost/Wright goodness.

WHY WE CARE:

While the gags alone make SHAUN OF THE DEAD very easy to sit through, perhaps the film's strongest asset is in its focus on character development and interaction. The zombie apocalypse is almost a backdrop to Shaun's mission to get Liz back and figure his life out. As he strives to keep Liz, his mother, and his friends safe, Shaun is also forced to face elements of his relationship with each of them he was able to avoid until now. Meanwhile, there is still a zombie outbreak happening all around them, and so we get a fun, fast paced array of action, tension, and comedy along the way from Shaun and Ed figuring out how to deal with the unwelcome guests in their backyard to a bar beatdown set to Queen's "Don't Stop Me Know" to a less-than-convincing amble through zombie territory. Finally, SHAUN offers a few somber moments as well, the most gripping of which being Shaun having to come to terms with his mother's impending death. Moments like this draw us fiercely back into the story rather than just letting us kick back and passively watch funny things happen.

Tell me you don't occasionally look around the room and look for household zombie bashing weaponry.

WHY WE'RE SATISFIED:

From a zombie movie perspective, we're treated to an action-packed finale in which all but Shaun and Liz meet a bitey end. After escaping to the besieged cellar, the couple discusses suicide before finding a way out, bidding an emotional farewell to the doomed Ed, and reaching the street just in time to be rescued by the military. All goes more or less back to normal, and Shaun and Liz live happily ever after (with a pet zombie Ed in the shed). That's all well and good, but the important thing here is where Shaun ends up as a person. We don't really see much of Shaun and Liz's post-Z-day life, but we've seen his transformation from deadbeat to champion throughout the course of the film. In fact, rather than seeing the undead outbreak as just the setting of the film, we can easily see it as a metaphor for the urgency and obstacles our hero must overcome in order to regain control of his life (and what better obstacle to better represent Shaun's issues than brainless, shambling, aimless roamers).

Here's hoping these three team up again for something one day.

WHY WE REMEMBER:

“We’ll have a Bloody Mary first thing, have a bite at the King’s Head, couple at the Little Princess, stagger back here. Bang! Back at the bar for shots.” Easily the most notable trait of an Edgar Wright film is the initial setup and later payoff of countless callbacks. From "you've got red on you" to "top left / reload" to "surviving" to "I'm not laughing" (maybe the most emotional fart joke in history), many of these callbacks are obvious the first time around, but some make repeat viewings all the more enjoyable. Just playing "spot the differences" between Shaun's pre and post-apocalypse walk to the store and noticing some of the more subtle references to other movies throughout the film is enough to make a second watch worthwhile.

"Shaun! How are you doing?" "Surviving..."

Between Edgar Wright's directing, Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright's script, and the talented cast, SHAUN OF THE DEAD offers some insanely fun, hilarious, and memorable moments. Wright uses Guy Ritchie-esque, quick cut transitions to show mundane activities and shoots many of the action scenes like music videos. There's enough silliness to have a great time here, but it's tempered enough that the film never crosses into pure parody. Even the use of household objects as weapons (cricket bat, shovel, pool cues, records, darts, putter, tetherball pole, leg, etc.) gives the film a certain charm, and a few cameos sprinkled in never hurts.

If you're a British comedy fan, you'll notice faces from Spaced, The Office, Black Books, and Little Britain in Yvonne's gang.

On the other side of the spectrum, the laughter and fun is peppered with some genuine moments of solemnity. After 17 years of not getting along, Shaun and his stepfather Philip have a touching moment of reconciliation before Philip goes the way of the walker. Shaun and Ed's bromance comes to an end when Ed is bitten, and their farewell is at once amusing and heartbreaking. Finally, Shaun dealing with the fact his mother has been bit and may turn at any moment is more stirring than most scenes in "regular" zombie movies. When done right, blending comedy with dramatic moments can make both more impactful, as any moment can catch you off guard. Of course, we've seen plenty of movies try to blend genres without being a very good version of either (I'm looking at you, action comedies), but zomromcom SHAUN OF THE DEAD manages to get the blend just right, making it a great comedy, a worthy zombie flick, and a hell of a good time all around.

Thoughts? What else worked for you? What didn't? Strike back below!

If you have any movies you'd like to see put under the microscope, let us know below or send me an email at brianbitner@joblo.com.

Source: JoBlo.com

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