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  • Film, Environment, Comedy: Eco-Comedies on the Big Screen by Robin L. Murray and Joseph K. Heumann
  • Punyashree Panda (bio)
Film, Environment, Comedy: Eco-Comedies on the Big Screen. By Robin L. Murray and Joseph K. Heumann. New York: Routledge, 2022. 196 pp.

Robin Murray and Joseph K. Heumann’s book Film, Environment, Comedy: Eco-Comedies on the Big Screen seeks to map the history of ecocomedies over a period of about eighty years of film produced and presented in English. The book is broad in scope and is billed as a companion to Nicole Seymour’s Bad Environmentalism: Irony and Irreverence in the Ecological Age (2018). The authors thus focus on the comic in ecocinema as a special means of amplifying environmental issues. The authors maintain that the “nature attacks human” conceit has been replaced by a “human attacks nature” orientation, which is illustrated throughout the book.

Film, Environment, Comedy is divided into three parts. The first chapter of part 1, “Comic Genres and the Green World: Pastoral, Anti-Pastoral, and Post-Pastoral Visions,” discusses the origin of the screwball plot in the 1930s from a baseball pitch with the same name. This chapter focuses on nature and natural beings as tropes for a derisive take on exploitative human [End Page 304] practices that impact nature. It identifies the toxic consequences of colonialism and misapplied science in movies like Libeled Lady, Bringing up Baby, My Favorite Wife, and The Lady Eve, offering interpretations of each that are clear, accessible, and well documented.

The second chapter considers the pastoral in a postcolonial, postmodern setting. The authors draw on Shakespeare and Jane Austen as exemplars for delineating how the postpastoral negotiates resolutions between the traditional pastoral and its antipastoral opposite. Murray and Heumann review three movies here: Love Serenade, Attenberg, and The Sapphires. They draw attention to many fishing images in Love Serenade and how these images establish connections between nature and human beings as well as how they capture nature’s “creative-destructive processes” (33). The authors compare Attenberg to a Carl Hiassen novel owing to its plot twists and a comical view of the postpastoral world. The Sapphires, they observe, underlines the exploitative strategies of a colonial Australia against Indigenous peoples in the 1960s.

In chapter 3, the authors analyze The Shape of Water (2017) as an ecohorror film that blends fairy tale with romantic comedy. Referencing what Jack D. Forbes dubs Wetiko/Wendigo, the disease of exploitation, the authors argue that The Shape of Water offers a dark postpastoral vision that showcases the various interconnections between human and nonhuman nature by drawing from genres of film noir, horror, fairy tale, creature feature, spy drama, and musical. The underlining of such connections, the authors maintain, allows the film to move from ecohorror to environmental activism. They argue that similar genre-bending means are employed in movies like Splash (1984) and Mermaid (2016), both of which use comedy to drive econarratives.

Four chapters comprise part 2 of the book, titled “Laughter, Eco-Heroes, and Evolutionary Narratives of Consumption.” The first chapter imagines responses to the question of what would happen if a zombie virus infected everyone but Native American people. Murray and Heumann argue that The Dead Can’t Dance (2010) offers a comic view of human beings’ two primal instincts, survival and reproduction (64), with the evolution of an ecohero and show how hallucinatory flashbacks and storytelling, tools of American Indian humor, can serve as textual strategies for environmental activism. They then discuss Blood Quantum (2019), which they present as a bit of satirical environmentalism, not unlike Children of Men (2016) in the sense that an econarrative has the potential to deliver ambiguous messages that might hamper the comic possibilities otherwise displayed. [End Page 305]

The next chapter draws the reader’s attention to the possibility of turning climate crises into climate solutions. The authors maintain that both Downsizing (2017) and Women at War (2018) offer a comic view of climate fiction that moves away from apocalypse to activism. Downsizing centers on “cellular miniaturization” (83), which the authors suggest could ultimately lead to environmental justice by minimizing resource usage and waste production. Women at War, they argue...