Everybody has their own line with respect to what they consider funny versus what is taboo. For some people there is no topic or thing that is off limits while others believe that some subjects – irrespective of the quality of the joke –are in poor taste. The Last Laugh is a documentary that examines all of the different sides to this argument while framing things through the prism that is the Holocaust. This film is ultimately an important conversation and dialogue that poses more questions than it offers answers.
Filmmaker and writer, Ferne Pearlstein has made an ambitious documentary that segues off into other topics like aids, molestation and 9/11 but predominantly focuses on the relationship between the Holocaust and comedy. She frames part of the tale through a warm and vibrant survivor named Renee Firestone, a lady who lost her sister at the camps and who subsequently went on to work as an educator and activist. She is a woman that takes a positive approach to life and feels she can laugh and enjoy things. But there are some scenes where she is shown some rather subversive material by contemporary comics like Sarah Silverman and Ricky Gervais where she fails to find their jokes funny.
Firestone proves a very interesting interview subject, especially when her outlook to life proves to be such a stark contrast to another Auschwitz survivor who feels she can no longer laugh and enjoy things because she’s plagued by the shadows of the millions of Jewish people who were killed. This documentary also includes another fascinating and surprising discussion about the cabarets and revues that took place at the concentration camps. It’s intriguing to see that some people were able to react to these horrifying circumstances by trying to make other people smile and laugh.
This film includes interviews with lots of comedians and comedy writers including Sarah Silverman, Mel Brooks (The Producers’ creator who poked fun at Hitler and the Nazis for years but who draws the line at joking about the Holocaust) as well as Seinfeld writer, Larry Charles. The film includes scenes from the famous sitcom about nothing including the jokes about the Soup Nazi and when Seinfeld was caught making out with his girlfriend during Schindler’s List as well as scenes from Curb Your Enthusiasm and Hogan’s Heroes and stand-up slots from Silverman, Gervais and Chris Rock, to name a few.
The Last Laugh covers a lot of ground in its 90 minutes. It includes the sombre tales of some Auschwitz survivors while asking whether it is okay to make jokes about tragedies like these. This documentary is a balanced one and the opinions are quite varied with some sitting in the pro free speech camp while others believe there is a line that should not be crossed. This film is provocative and outrageous at times and at other moments is quite intelligent and thought-provoking. This film proves that there is no resounding case for the affirmative or the negative, but instead that the discussion and debate needs to continue.
Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Last Laugh plays nationally as part of the Jewish International Film Festival. For more information and tickets please visit: http://jiff.com.au/