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What movie started the ''quirky'' genre?

Question: The word quirky is often used, not necessarily in a positive way, to describe a movie full of offbeat characters — e.g., Little Miss Sunshine and this year's quirkfest Juno. What movie do you think started the whole ''quirky'' genre? — Pamela

Answer:
You can trace the roots of quirky comedy all the way back to a Hollywood classic like, say, Frank Capra's You Can't Take It With You (1938), with its adorable family of deep-dish crackpots. But there's a reason the dreaded Q-word, while applicable to some very good films (like Juno), has now become a code term for precious, cutesy, and annoying. It's that a quintessential quirky movie isn't just offbeat. It's a trifle too pleased with its oddball spirit; it takes the underlying quality of eccentricity — innocence — and packages it in an overly knowing way. In that light, I'd say that the formative quirky movie of our time is the Coen brothers' Raising Arizona. The kitschy-sincere Dixie accents, the mixture of homespun baby love and roller-coaster plotting, all done with a postmodern wink — this, more than any other, was the movie that made loopy behavior into coy Americana, helping to spawn a thousand comedies of quirk.

Originally posted Mar 07, 2008 Published in issue #982 Mar 14, 2008 Order article reprints