I recently realized my friend Barbara has been watching too much Serious Cinema. To remedy this, I’ve compiled a short list of comedies for her, each one a script for the best medicine: laughter.
- Raising Arizona, Joel and Ethan Coen (1987)
This blue-collar love story is a family fable, complete with a menacing, mystical character: the Lone Biker of the Apocalypse. The rambunctious score by Carter Burwell uses Beethoven and banjos to give the story an epic, yet homey American feel. The premise is this: ex-con H.I. McDonough (Nick Cage) and his cop-wife Edwina (Holly Hunter) want kids but can’t adopt — on account of HI’s record of robbing convenience stores. So when they see the Arizona quints on TV, HI and Ed decide to liberate a baby and raise him as their own. (Ed: “Go back and get me a toddler!“) We get madcap scrapes (“Son, you have a panty on your head.“) and bizarre characters like jailbirds Gale and Evelle Snoats, who, in one epic scene, rise from the mud like a pair of devils. In a voiceover, HI explains his predicament: “I tried to stand up and fly straight, but it wasn’t easy with that sumbitch Reagan in the White House. I dunno. They say he’s a decent man, so maybe his advisors are confused.”
–> Raising Arizona, original trailer
- The King of Comedy, Martin Scorsese (1982)
In this deadpan tale of star-struck obsession, the creepy Rupert Pupkin (Robert DeNiro) and his neurotic nemesis Masha (Sandra Bernhardt) conspire to kidnap their idol Jerry Langford, a crabby comedian exquisitely played by Jerry Lewis. Rupert and Masha are nuts, each in their own special way. Rupert, who still lives in his mother’s basement, is conspicuously devoid of talent, charm, and wit. But he’s persistent all the same. Rupert: “I’m gonna work 50 times harder, and I’m gonna be 50 times more famous than you.” Jerry: “Then you’re gonna have idiots like you plaguing your life!” The unexpected ending gives the film an unsettling twist.
–> King of Comedy trailer
- The Producers, Mel Brooks (1968)
Sleezy Broadway producer Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) convinces his nervous accountant Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) that they can get rich by purposely producing a theatrical flop. Set-piece gags ensue as Max and Leo assemble the goofy personalities needed for their play, “Springtime for Hitler.” (The theme song is fab!) We meet Dick Shawn as the hippie Hitler and Christopher Hewitt as a their flamboyantly gay director Roger DeBris. Initially, Max has to bully Leo into the shady deal. So the corpulent Max jumps up and down over the prostrate, squirming Leo, shouting, “I won’t jump on you! I won’t jump on you! Not like Nero did to Popeia!” God it’s ridiculous!
–> The Producers (1968) trailer
- Groundhog Day, Harold Ramis (1993)
Bill Murray is genius at playing a meanie, and he’s at his snotty best in this morality tale with an unusual premise: Phil Connor (Murray) is an arrogant weatherman who finds himself in a hellish time-loop. He is doomed to repeat a tedious Groundhog Day remote — over and over and over again. (Wonders Phil: “Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.”) Attempting to break the spell, Phil does increasingly obnoxious and crazy things. Of course, in order to succeed and get the girl (Andie McDowell) Phil must adapt his mind to his weird new reality – and and learn to be a Nice Guy. Murray’s snarky and wacky antics – and the movie’s interesting take on philosophical determinism – make Groundhog Day worth watching again. And again.
–> Groundhog Day trailer
- Office Space, Mike Judge (1999)
Set in a Silicon Valley office park, Office Space lambastes the modern-day workplace. Disgruntled programmers Peter, Michael, and Sameer hate their dead-end jobs at Initech. (Get it?) They devise a plan wreak revenge; unfortunately, their code doesn’t quite run as planned. And a visit to a hypnotherapist renders Peter a little, well, strange. The film earns cult status with its incisive takes on office mainstays: the chipper receptionist, the mandatory office birthday party, the slimy boss, the unreliable network printer, the hatchet-men consultants, and the slovenly guy who talks to himself. Jennifer Aniston plays the glum waitress at a trendy restaurant that requires staff to wear plenty of flair. (I don’t really like talking about my flair, she winces.) Lots of cursing, but all ends well. If you missed the email on the TPS cover sheet, this flick is a must-see.
–> Office Space trailer
- Dr. Strangelove, Kubrick (1964)
In this Cold War classic, we get the story of FUBAR at Burpleson Air Force Base and an impending nuclear apocalypse. Insane General Jack D. Ripper (Stewart Hayden), convinced the Soviets are contaminating America’s “precious bodily fluids” with fluoride in the water supply, orders out the B-52s. In the Pentagon War Room U.S. President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers) and his staff attempt to reverse the orders. (“Gentlemen. You can’t fight in here. This is the War Room.“) General Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott) and science advisor (and former Nazi) Dr. Strangelove (again, Peter Sellers) do their best to avert impending disaster. Slim Pickens plays it straight as bomber pilot Major T.J. “King” Kong on the mission of his life: “Well, boys, I reckon this is it – nuclear combat toe to toe with the Roosskies.” It’s an hysterical take on Cold War hysteria.
–> Dr. Strangelove trailer