As previously stated, movies have a difficult time being current, even when referencing fellow movies. So unless you are one of those Friedberg/Seltzer type parody things, you probably are not going to try and capitalize on any sort of passing fancy. Even though it seems unceasingly universal in the moment, that peak will fall and something else will take its place and by then it will be too late. But simply ignoring that movies exist is just as difficult a proposition.
And so the pool becomes pretty much everything that’s ever existed before now, whenever that now happens to be. Considering the size and depth of such a pool, for two movies released one month apart to reference the same one is a fairly unlikely event. When both movies are ostensibly for adults and reference the same animated kids’ movie, it gets even more remarkable.
In Funny People, George Simmons (Adam Sandler) goes to a doctor that looks alarmingly like Alexander Godunov of Die Hard (and I’d like to believe The Money Pit) fame. To not mention it would be strange, even if George Simmons weren’t a comedian who theoretically has been noticing and commenting on such things all his life. It is meant to seem like the kind of thing George Simmons runs into all the time, just another opportunity to turn the ordinary into comedy, in this case even, to turn the tragic into comedy. But someone had to cast that man in that part. It is the visual equivalent of James Bond making a joke out of one of the ridiculously named women that populate that franchise. You named her Christmas Jones so he could say “Christmas came early.” You cast that guy so someone could reference Die Hard.
In The Heat, when Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) calls Director Hale (Demian Bechir) “Puss In Boots” because of his accent, it runs the risk of falling on that side of things. But in context, it does give the impression of something unplanned. It’s not as if it ever becomes terribly important that Hale have such a thick accent, nor that he even be Mexican. But when she does it again later on, it feels like a child repeating a joke because it got a reaction the first time and he doesn’t know yet that there are greatly diminishing returns on such behavior. It doesn’t quite run into the Bond Girl area, but it ruins the illusion of improvisation it got away with the first time.
When Hot Chocolate’s “Every1’s A Winner” pauses briefly during Frances Ha’s phenomenal montage of a Paris excursion Frances (Greta Gerwig) bumbles her way through and she stands in front of a movie theater and asks for “one for Puss In Boots” it isn’t really even a joke. Not in the traditional sense. But then Frances Ha isn’t a comedy in the traditional sense. It doesn’t truly matter what movie she asks to see. She’s in Paris for 48 hours (or so.) The joke is (mostly) that she is going to the movies at all. An American one at that. But would asking for a ticket to The Descendants be as funny? Of course not. But wouldn’t that be just as much of a waste of time? It isn’t because Puss In Boots is somehow inferior (because it isn’t), it just works. The same way Mullins’ Puss In Boots joke wouldn’t have worked had she referenced Zorro or Desperado or any other Antonio Banderas role.
Even without delving deeper…
Better Puss In Boots joke of 2013: Frances Ha
But maybe that Frances Ha Puss In Boots reference isn’t so flippant. Puss In Boots, the fairy tale, originated in France. And the character is almost as famous for appearing alongside a host of other well known fictional and fantastical characters in the climactic wedding of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty ballet. Frances might know that, being a dancer herself, not to mention sleeping through most of the day is precisely what puts her in the position of running out of things to do her one night in Paris. Kind of the opposite of a supposedly improvisational reference to somebody’s accent.