Editing Dramedies: Restraint is Vital

‘Dallas Buyers Club’ and ‘American Hustle’ keep it real while mixing humor and heartache

"American Hustle" and "Dallas Buyers Club":

Dallas Buyers Club” and “American Hustle” feature distinct stories, but share approaches to the use of both drama and comedy to tell them. The trick, their editors say, is rooting them in reality, while exercising restraint.

“We knew that the subject matter was serious, and wanted a little humor to feel like it’s not so heavy,” says Jean-Marc Vallee, who directed “Dallas Buyers Club” and co-edited under the pseudonym John Mac McMurphy.

Similarly, the comedy in “American Hustle” stems from “telling a serious story about serious characters, and letting the comedy grow out of the conflicts and ironies,” says co-editor Jay Cassidy.

One tragi-comic scene features Jennifer Lawrence’s character flirting with mobsters in front of her husband. The tones can shift because of “the groundwork you do setting up the stakes, so there are many undercurrents happening,” says co-editor Crispin Struthers. Plus, says co-editor Alan Baumgarten, “it’s grounded in a real moment, letting Lawrence play it out in longer beats.”

In “Dallas Buyers Club,” says co-editor Martin Pensa, one sequence features the protagonists hugging for the first time, punctuated by a joke. “We cut to where it was just enough,” Pensa says.