Film Comedy: The Best Medicine – 12 Films That Are Guaranteed to Make You Feel Better!
Have you ever been feeling sick or overcome with the blues and you needed something to shake you out of the funk that you are in? Of course, you have. One of the best ways to reassemble your deteriorating world is to curl up on the couch, wrapped in a blanket, and go on a movie comedy binge. They say that “laughter is the best medicine”, and “they” (whoever “they” are) are absolutely correct! For my money, here are a dozen film comedies that are guaranteed to make you feel better, no matter what is ailing you!
1. My Man Godfrey
This screwball comedy of 1936 starring William Powell and Carole Lombard is the perfect movie to commence this list. Don’t fear the lack of color (this is how they used to make them). Just because it is in black & white (old) doesn’t mean it isn’t funny. In fact, I challenge you to try not to break-out in torrents of laughter when a crazy society girl hires a forgotten man living at a NYC landfill to come be the new butler for her insane, over-privileged family. Powell and Lombard shine and the supporting cast is nothing short of brilliant.
2. Throw Momma from the Train
The one-liners in the 1987 film Throw Momma from the Train never get old, and the hilarity of Billy Crystal, Dany DeVito, and especially the Oscar-nominated Anne Ramsey is relentless. A college writing professor and author named Larry (Crystal), whose ex-wife has stolen his book and becomes a best-selling author with the tome, is overcome with a need for revenge (“I hate her. I wish she was dead”). In his writing class, the quirky Owen (DeVito), an aspiring mystery writer with zero talent and a psychotic mother (Ramsey) who degrades and abuses him, looks to Larry as a mentor. Owen gets an idea from a Hitchcock film that he and Larry should trade murders: Owen kills Larry’s wife. Larry kills Owen’s mother. A comedy of errors ensues when Larry’s ex-wife disappears, supposedly killed by Owen. Owen blackmails Larry into fulfilling his half of the arrangement, an agreement he never made but is forced to carry out. He must kill the grizzly, indestructible “Momma”.
3. In & Out
In 1997, Kevin Kline appeared in a deliciously daffy comedy called In & Out, about a man named Howard who lives in small town America, who is about to be married (to a woman), is a beloved schoolteacher and community member, and who is outed as a homosexual on network television. A former student wins an Oscar for playing a gay character in a motion picture, and thanks Howard in his acceptance speech, but tags onto his tribute “and he’s gay”. The whole town erupts with curiosity, questions, and rumor. The trouble is, Howard doesn’t think he’s gay and tries to dispel the rumors. It is only one he reaches the alter on his wedding day that he realizes it’s the truth. Props to the Oscar-nominated Joan Cusack who plays his neurotic bride-to-be Emily, “I need a heterosexual code red!” In fact, a top-tier ensemble including Wilfred Brimley, Debbie Reynolds, Matt Dillon, Gregory Jbara, and Bob Newhart make this comedy a must-see.
4. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) is just one of the many films by the famous comedy duo that pin them against classic horror characters. This one is arguably the best. Lou Costello made being afraid an art, and his saucer-eyed reaction to Frankenstein’s monster (and several other horror icons such as Dracula and The Wolf Man), not to mention his mouth agape cries of fear, are simply what he excelled at. The movie is hardly scary (maybe for young ones) but it will keep the laughs coming and make you go in search of Abbot and Costello’s other adventures with the creatures of the night.
5. Some Like it Hot
This classic Billy Wilder film often tops the lists of “All-Time Great Comedies”, and deservedly so. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon play musicians hiding from the mob, and to do so they join and all women’s band by dressing up as ladies. In the band is the sexy and loveable Sugar, played by Marilyn Monroe, a lady with whom they both become smitten. In order to keep their disguises (and lives) intact, they jump though myriad hoops, including one of them consenting to a date with a middle-aged millionaire who, as time passes, reveals he is indiscriminate about the lovely “lady” who will be his bride. Astonishing in its day (1959), Some Like it Hot is a raucous, riotous comedy, one of the first to blur gender lines and to use comedy to make a point about gender norms.
6. It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
Absurd to the point of ridiculous, and yet still madly wacky and enjoyable, is It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, a film comedy of epic proportions. “Why?” you say? Well, the film manages to cram-in cameo after cameo of some of the greatest comedic performers of all time. Under the auspices of a treasure hunt, several people get wind of a large sum of cash buried in Santa Rosita State Park. It’s a madcap race to the finish to see who will get to the money first. With the likes of Mickey Rooney, Ethel Merman, Edie Adams, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Jonathan Winters, Milton Berle, and Phi Silvers leading the pack, Jim Backus, Jimmy Durante, Peter Falk, and William Demarest in support, and not to mention cameos by The Three Stooges, Don Knotts, Selma Diamond, Norman Fell, ZaSu Pitts, Carl Reiner, and Buster Keaton, how could this movie be anything but a laugh riot?
7. Mrs. Doubtfire
Robin Williams was a talented and versatile actor, but when he played comedy, he was in his element. Of all his wonderful performances, his portrayal of the title character in Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) remains his most unforgettable. A divorced father misses his kids and his ex-wife, worried by his lack of maturity and responsibility, limits the time he gets to spend with his kids. They are the love of his life, so when he hears that she is hiring a nanny for the three moppets, he dresses up as the perfect, grandmotherly Euphegenia Doubtfire who proves to be just the domestic the family needs. Humor and heart go hand in hand, even as Mrs. D. battles with her complicated disguise and to maintain her double life.
8. Young Frankenstein
Mel Brooks has made a lot of funny films, but none of them are as maniacally madcap as Young Frankenstein (1974). Equal parts parody and pastiche of the classic horror films of Old Hollywood, the story follows Viktor Frankenstein, the descendent of his namesake who created the famous Frankenstein’s monster. At first, embarrassed by his great grandfather’s legacy for attempting to reanimate corpses, he soon finds himself doing the same thing. He and his wacky assistants are able to stitch together a corpse with a new brain, bring it to life, and turn him into a singing-dancing curiosity who eventually attacks the town. With a cast like Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, Terri Garr, and Kenneth Mars, you know you are in for a treat. And Brooks’ one-liners never fail to have you in… stitches.
9. The Birdcage
The comedic pairing of Nathan Lane and Robin Williams in a remake of the French comedy farce La Cage aux Folles proved to be a box office smash. Rightfully so. The Birdcage (1996), set in South Beach Florida, features a gay couple, one a drag queen, one an owner of the drag club, who live in domestic bliss. When their son announces he’s bringing home his fiancée, the daughter of a conservative politician, their world is thrown into chaos as they try to tone-down their flamboyant lifestyle. All efforts to hide their marriage go horribly wrong, but the drag queen saves the day when she dons a wig and dress and presents herself as the mother she has always been, albeit a Barbara Bush knock-off. Hank Azaria has some terrific supporting moments as their houseboy.
10. Best in Show
Christopher Guest has made a handful of mock documentaries that hilariously spoof their subjects: Waiting for Guffman (community theatre), The Mighty Winds (60s music acts), but his funniest endeavor was the skewering of the dog show set in Best in Show (2000). Jane Lynch, Catherine O'Hara, Eugene Levy, Parker Posey, Jennifer Coolidge, Michael McKean and Guest himself play dog owners who obsess over their canines. Fred Willard steals the show as the announcer with no sense of propriety or filter. The fact that many of the scenes were mere outlines that were improvised by the performers is a testament to their comedic talents.
A movie based on a board game doesn't sound like much of a foundation for a great comedy film, but if you assemble the right cast and have a script that sparkles with wit and double entendre, and it can work. Martin Mull, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Eileen Brennan, Madeline Kahn, and Lesley Ann Warren play the unsuspecting guests lured to a country manse to a dinner party overseen by the butler played by Tim Curry. Each guest is blackmailed for their indiscriminate and shady pasts. When a surprise guest is murdered, this houseful of crazies begins to investigate and comedic moment after comedic moment plays out. Clue (1985) keeps you guessing and laughing through its variety of alternate endings.
12. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
The Chevy Chase "Vacation" movies all have things to recommend, but if we are all really honest with ourselves, it is National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989) that maximizes the laugh opportunities. Perhaps it's because we idealize the holidays and are, ourselves, let down by our own high expectations, that we relate to Clark Griswold and his attempt to achieve the perfect family Christmas. Whatever the reason, we will always laugh from the bottom of our viscera as he breaks down and gives his "jolliest bunch of assholes" monologue and applaud when his Christmas lights extravaganza finally blinds the neighborhood.