Coneheads is a comedy about two aliens who are stranded on Earth and eventually come to call it home. There is a lot about it that defies belief. For starters, Beldar and Prymatt Conehead somehow manage to integrate themselves into human society even though their gigantic foreheads make it clear that they are not normal humans. Their daughter - who was born and raised on Earth - is somehow a happy and well adjusted teen that managed to make friends in high school despite the fact that she looks like a bald weirdo. The movie's main plotline concerns an immigration official who spends years trying to track them down so he can deport them - and somehow they keep escaping his grasp despite the fact that they do not spend any effort on trying to disguise their distinctive alien features.
However, the part of this movie that stupefies me the most happened off screen. I am simply bewildered that someone typed this script up, handed it to another adult, and then convinced that adult to give them money to make this.
Generally a statement like that is meant cruelly, as an insult on a movie's right to exist. That's not what I mean here. This movie is actually enjoyable, and I would gladly rewatch it over a lot of other films that have inexplicable scripts. No, I'm only harping on this film's script because I can't imagine how any of this comedy's jokes would read as funny on the page. There is some verbal humor in the movie - in particular Prymatt and Beldar's idiosyncratic lingo seems like it is meant to be funny - but referring to eating as "consuming mass quantities" is more weird than it is rib tickling. The Coneheads' collection of weird phrases helps firm up the film's sci-fi aspects since it underlines their alienness, but it does very little to improve the film's laughs-per-minute ratio.
No, the only gags that consistently work in this movie are visual gags that don't seem like they would make sense written out on the page. I really liked Dan Akroyd's performance as Beldar, because his default facial expression is a deadpan mouth with crazy eyes, and something about that look in combination with his obscenely large forehead made me laugh. (I don't want to overlook Jane Curtin, who is also funny as Prymatt, but she has fewer opportunities to mug, and as such she makes a smaller impression.) But did they note in their script "Akroyd makes a face that turns this weird scene into a joke"? Or did they just turn in a rambling half-scrawled document into the studio and told them "trust us"?
Honestly, I can see that happening. The Coneheads was a long running skit during the early days of Saturday Night Live, so studio heads would have been familiar with these characters and what made them funny. If the writers had gone in and pitched a wholly new concept, I can imagine that the suits would have said "this is just a really strange shaggy dog story and I don't get it." But the fact that the writers could go in with a pre-taped short form version of this story that established the tone they wanted, the cadence of the characters, the limits of their world - that must have made the whole thing seem much more coherent.
Because honestly if you didn't have faith that the actors could breathe life into this script there is no reason to believe this was a saleable movie. Coneheads is an ungainly series of vignettes of these aliens landing on Earth, starting a family, raising that family, and then struggling with their teenage daughter as she gets more independent. It seems like it's aiming to be a satire of classic Jack-and-Diane style Americana, but it doesn't really have any real point of view on the suburbs or on the headaches of child-rearing, so it seems more like a stereotypical family drama that somehow got melted down like one of Dali's dripping clocks than like a real satire. The film's theoretical throughline about the immigration agent is an after thought that seems to have been thrown in just so they could set up an ending - the agent disappears for huge stretches of the movie and when he does appear he never creates any sense of urgency.
That said, the fact that this film gives off a "how did they get away with this?" feeling is ultimately what redeems it. A more straightforward version of this story would be charming but slight, but because Coneheads doubles down on oddness it stands out as unique. I honestly can't think of any other movies that have this movie's sort-of-sci-fi-sort-of-suburban-sort-of-funny tone, and I can't imagine that it will be duplicated anytime soon. But who knows? Seth Rogen just managed to sell a comedy script about talking sausages, so maybe he could walk into a studio with a piece of paper that says "Rogen makes a weird face that turns this scene into a joke?" and someone would buy it. Until that happens, though, Coneheads will stand by itself- which is kind of fitting for a movie about aliens whose attempts at fitting in were always kind of half-assed.