The same question goes for the movie Garden State.
I have struggled for a solid ten years trying to figure out what makes things funny. Universally, seeing someone fall down (who doesn’t get hurt) is always funny, but I don’t know why. Defining what humor is, is almost impossible to simply and briefly put into words. What I can do is make a judgment call on whether something as a whole is a comedy or a drama.
One of my college professors taught me there is a clear way to distinguish between the two: Comedy involves a protagonist who in the beginning of the story is standing outside the borders of his society and by the end of the story is accepted into it. Therefore a tragedy is when the protagonist in the beginning is accepted as part of the society but by the end is expelled from it.
To test this theory on comedies, I will take Adam Sandler for example: Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, The Water Boy, The Wedding Singer, and Big Daddy all involve a character who starts out as one or more of the following: incompetent, poor, lonely, selfish. By the end of the movie, Adam Sandler’s character is accepted into the fold as these previous attributes are resolved. So I can see how the definition of a comedy works here.
For tragedies, I will take some horror movies for example: The Blair Witch Project, Skeleton Key, The Strangers, Quarantine, and Carrie. The protagonists end up either dead or in a really bad situation by the time the credits roll. So I can see how the definition of a tragedy works here, as death or loss of freedom is a way of being ousted from a society that the protagonists were once a part of.
The end of a movie ultimately defines it as a comedy or tragedy. Garden State, which is more a drama than anything, ends with Zach Braff’s character being able to overcome his dependence on his doctor’s/father’s misdiagnosed prescription of anti-depressants and feel alive for the first time as he moves back home to New Jersey, making new friends and finding love: That’s a comedy.
Using this theory, these other genre-vague movies would also be considered comedy: Fight Club, Forrest Gump, and Elizabethtown. And these would be tragedy: Into the Wild, Vanilla Sky, and One Hour Photo.
Life is comprised of rotating moments of comedy and tragedy. Times where I’m on the outside looking in and I get in (comedy) and times where I’m inside but am pushed out (tragedy). In ways big and small. But a person’s general perspective will cause him or her to see it ultimately as one or the other:
If life is comedy-in-progress, then life is me trying to figure out how to be normal enough to succeed in being accepted by my immediate society, eventually dying satisfied, knowing I’m surrounded by those who love me.
If life is tragedy-in-progress, then life is me already having everything I need and want in life but having it all taken away from me in the end, eventually dying sad and alone.
Big decisions, big decisions. I’ll go with comedy-in-progress.