Film Forum

Comedic thrillers feed sense of fun, paranoia

For its July 11 movie, Fresno Filmworks takes a dive into a mysterious tale of identity.

“The Double,” based on a Fyodor Dostoyevsky novella, stars Jesse Eisenberg as Simon, a mild-manner government clerk who one day finds that his doppelganger has been hired by the same agency. James is Simon’s exact double in every way except that while Simon is timid and shy, James is confident and outgoing. While Simon tries to unravel the mystery of who James is and why no one seems to notice the remarkable resemblance, James starts to slowly take over Simon’s life. “The Double” takes a darkly comedic look at identity and what we do when it seems the entire world has gone mad around us.

We all know that feeling. We wake up one day and everything is just a little off. We don’t feel like ourselves. We’re out of step with everyone else and it feels like we’ve been left out of the joke. It can be easy to imagine that the world is conspiring against us. Of course that’s just paranoia. No one is out to get us. There aren’t really forces at work conspiring to turn our lives into a thriller, right? It’s all you in your head. Unless, of course, it’s not . . .

Just in case you’re having one of those days, here are a few more comedic thrillers to help feed into your paranoia.

“Charade”
This 1963 classic takes a standard spy thriller and turns it on its head. Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn star as Regina and Pete, who meet and fall in love on the streets of Paris. What could go wrong? Well, Regina is married, and her husband may be dead, and whoever may have killed him may be after Regina and her inheritance, and Peter may be helping them, maybe not. And some of it — or all of it, or none of it — may be true.

And then it gets complicated!

Movie buffs love this romantic comedy/thriller. The razor-sharp script was compared to Alfred Hitchcock’s work so often that many people came to believe that “Charade” was a Hitchcock film. This misconception has persisted throughout the years and has earned this film the reputation as the best film Hitchcock never made.

(Available from Netflix, Hulu Plus, iTunes, and the Fresno County Public Library.)

“Manhattan Murder Mystery”
If anyone knows what it’s like to feel like the world is out to get him, it’s Woody Allen. In “Manhattan Murder Mystery,” Allen takes his normal level of free-floating paranoia and focuses it on an actual mystery.

Larry and Carol Lipton have a great life. They are a successful Manhattan couple with good kids and a great apartment. Everything is perfect until they meet their neighbors in the elevator and agree to come over for a friendly dinner. The next day their neighbor Lillian turns up dead and Carol starts to get suspicious. Initially Larry writes off Carol’s sleuthing as boredom and paranoia, creating a mystery out of a sad but normal tragedy. Then the clues and coincidences start to pile up and Larry begins to wonder if maybe his wife is right and they do have a real life murder mystery to solve.

“Manhattan Murder Mystery” is reportedly one of Allen’s favorites of his own films. Although originally written for Mia Farrow, Allen rewrote the script after Farrow was replaced with Diane Keaton, in order to play up Keaton’s comedic abilities. The result is a quirky mix of “Annie Hall” and “Rear Window.” Even if you’ve never been a fan, you might want to check this one out and see what Woody Allen is like when he really does have a reason to think they’re out to get him.

(Available from iTunes and the Fresno County Public Library.)

“Adaptation”
The story behind “Adaptation” is only slightly less bizarre than the film itself. Charles Kaufman was hired to adapt Susan Orlean’s book “The Orchid Thief” into a movie. Had that actually happened, a movie about the story of a rare plant dealer who was arrested in 1994 for stealing orchards from a state preserve might have made its way on to a list of movies about paranoia and obsession in its own right. That didn’t happen, though. What did happen was that Charles Kaufman came down with a wicked case of writer’s block. This was no ordinary case: This was a Godzilla-sized, Defcon 5, taking it to the mattresses case of writer’s block. A case of writer’s block so severe it took over the script and demanded the starring role.

And that’s how “Adaptation” came to be. Director Spike Jonze brought his own particular ideas about narrative, character, and reality to this story of being unable to make your mind perform on cue and a modern classic was born. As Kaufman’s own frustration grows, the mind-bending paranoia of the film takes over. Kaufman and his inability to finish the script become the main characters, starring in a face-off for the ages. The creative process is a favorite subject of films, but “Adaptation” is one of the few movies that looks at the painful process of not being creative and how it can feel like a pawn in a giant conspiracy to make you crazy.

(Available from iTunes and the Fresno County Public Library.)

“Clue”
Lastly, an honorable mention: “Clue.” Add this crazy slapstick adaption of the board game to your Family Movie Night rotation. The script plays off the classic trope of a group of people locked in a country house and forced to solve a mystery. Murder was never so funny.

(Available from Netflix, Amazon Prime, iTunes and the Fresno County Public Library.)

Fae Giffen studies at San Jose State in the School of Library and Information Science graduate program. She volunteers as a marketing assistant for Filmworks.

Every second Friday of the month, Fresno Filmworks screens first-run independent and international movies at the historic Tower Theatre.