10 underappreciated comedies of the 21st century
Since 2000, it has seemed that all cinematic comedy is somewhat homogenous. Comedies are almost all one or a combination of Judd Apatow, Paul Feig, Tyler Perry, or Farrelly Brothers alumni. Gone are the low budget, high concept comedies of the 80s and 90s like Weekend at Bernie’s, The ‘Burbs, or Funny Farm. Sure, they were ridiculous but they had a simplistic charm that makes them infinitely enjoyable and rewatchable. These days, you need have one of those previously mentioned giants behind your film. Or, you need Melissa McCarthy or Paul Rudd to headline the comedy. Otherwise, the film is relegated to one of the streaming services or a small limited theatrical release.
However, if you know where to look, you can find some absolutely fantastic comedies out there. Some of these films are so funny that they totally shift the bell curve for laughs in mainstream media. It is a shame. A lot of these laugh-a-minute films get lost to the cinematic ether.
Death to Smoochy (2002)
This is one of the best and underappreciated black comedies of all time. This movie is incredibly depraved, with harsh profanity, sex, murder, bribery, assassination, corporate backstabbing, and jokes at the expense of dumb people. Its brilliance is that it juxtaposes it all in the word of children’s programming. It is one of the very best Robin Williams performances because he is so dangerously psychotic and pathetic. His slide toward rock bottom is hilarious. Comedy is rarely blacker than this and it is gut-bustingly funny. However, Edward Norton as the straight man is the key. He is the milquetoast innocent who can’t believe how corrupt and horrible his world has become.
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Kung Fury (2015)
Among underappreciated comedies, this 30 minute short is the height of absurd, ridiculous brilliance. Kung Fury doesn’t make any narrative sense. However, it is so funny and so silly, that it really doesn’t matter. The film involves time travel, Hitler, Thor, Amazonians, a T-Rex, and a character named “Triceracop”. What is funny is that the horrible CGI adventure is treated as if all that is totally normal. It is nearly impossible to explain the joy you will have watching this thing.
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Anything Else (2003)
The 21st century has not been kind to Woody Allen’s straight comedies. In the past, he knocked it out of the park with Annie Hall, Bananas, Sleeper, and Love & Death. However, more recent films such as The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Whatever Works, and Hollywood Ending just didn’t work. However, he has had 2 comedies since 2000 that are just delightful: Anything Else and Small Time Crooks.
Anything Else is a big success because Jason Biggs is absolutely perfect at channeling the old “Woody Allen” character of old. His neuroses, his sarcasm, his exasperation all play so well. Christina Ricci is also wonderful as the bonkers-yet-beautiful love interest. Anything Else doesn’t have too much depth but it is light as a feather and entirely pleasant.
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Small Time Crooks (2000)
Woody Allen’s 2000 farce is a really fun bait and switch. The original trailer promised a goofy comedy about a ragtag group of idiot criminals trying to tunnel into a bank vault. Well, that is only one-third of the movie. A wonderful Tracey Ullman is the front, baking cookies upstairs while the boys dig downstairs. No one expected her cookies to explode in popularity and make them all fantastically rich.
Woody Allen hates his opulent lifestyle. Ullman wants to become more cultured and hired Hugh Grant to be the Henry Higgins to her Eliza Dolittle. Small Time Crooks has a wonderful cast and is one of the last times that Allen was great as his own lead. The silliness of the early heist stuff perfectly segues to a great skewering of the ultra-rich lifestyle.
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Someone Marry Barry (2014)
If you are a fan of Tyler Labine, who is not often in big movies but pops up all the time in small, independent comedies, then this movie is definitely for you. Three friends have grown up and moved on with their lives. The fourth friend, Labine’s Barry, is still a man-child who screws up almost every social situation he is a part of. The other three decide he needs a woman in his life to tame him and have him grow up, However, their plan backfires when Barry falls for Lucy Punch’s Melanie, a woman even more crass and horrible than he is. It is hysterical at parts and oddly touching in others. Labine and Punch are so perfect riffing off each other.
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7 Days in Hell (2015)
This made for HBO film is brilliant. It is among these underappreciated comedies because barely anyone knows it exists. This send-up of sports specials that you might find on ESPN or HBO is perfectly satirical and goofball. Andy Samberg plays a bad boy tennis star related through adoption to the Williams sisters. 7 Days in Hell follows his rise, fall, and rise again during a Wimbledon match that lasted 7 days. Kit Harrington of Game of Thrones fame is Samberg’s perfect opposite as the rival player. The interviews, the on-court antics….it all just works. It is just a shame it is only 45 minutes long. If this was a 6-hour mini-series, it would have become a comedy classic.
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Sometimes absurdist British humor just takes a little faith until it all clicks into place and becomes hysterical. Mindhorn follows an aging television star, who was in a horrible spy show back in the day, who is requested by a crazy serial killer. This killer will only talk to “Mindhorn”, so the actor decides to comply as a way back into the public consciousness. This is an underappreciated comedy because it has the courage to be so outrageous. The film takes a bit to get going, but it builds and builds toward an insane finale. With a glorious sense of “How the hell did we wind up here”, you will laugh harder than you have in a LONG time. It is enough to make the whole thing worthwhile. Just look at that movie still. You can feel its ridiculousness.
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What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
Very few moviegoers knew who Taika Waititi was. That is until he injected new life into the MCU by directing the phenomenal Thor: Ragnarok. Well, if you enjoyed his brand of zany humor, you owe it to yourself to see What We Do in the Shadows. Waititi is so talented, he made a faux documentary about several generations of vampires living together one of the funniest movies in years. Waititi plays Viago, an effeminate vampire that is just trying to keep his group together. Jemaine Clement is a much older but maybe, not so powerful vampire. There is also a recent modern vampire and a Nosferatu version. To watch these creatures bicker about the dishes and try and avoid eating their human friend Stu, is an absolute hoot. When the film is over, you will really be hungry for the werewolf sequel.
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It is pretty hard to deny that Goon might be the best sports comedy about teamwork ever. Most sports films focus on one player’s success and/or failure. Sure, this movie focuses on Seann William Scott’s Doug Glatt (his best performance ever), but it is all about how his only concern is how he can help his team. He knows his role of the hockey goon perfectly and doesn’t begrudge it, especially if it helps his team win. Every thrown punch is hilariously visceral. Also, every dullard approach to social situations is charming and silly. Most importantly, the “big game” stuff is inspired. The film was made with a lot of enthusiasm. It is certainly one of the most underappreciated comedies in a long time.
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Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil (2010)
There are hundreds of comedies that involve some sort of mistaken identity. Rarely have they ever been as effective and riotous as Tucker and Dale Vs Evil. The hillbilly horror film and the cabin in the woods scare-fest are classic tropes. In this film, a bunch of college kids misunderstands the gentle souls, Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine, again), as monstrous killers. As the titular pair try to explain themselves and help the kids, things just go from bad to worse. The chainsaw sequence is absolutely the highlight, but all the hijinks are hysterical. However, beyond the great comedy, the film embraces the horror as well, which further enhances the laughs. Copious amounts of gore can be very funny if done right.
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