Following on from part 1 of the underappreciated/ underrated comedies here are another five movies I think deserve to be seen more. As always, no claim that these are the best of all time, but films I went into knowing little about or having limited expectations and being very pleasantly surprised by. Most of these are available via streaming services.
Co-written by Jon Ronson and based very loosely on his time in the band of, and exposure to, Chris Sievey’s iconic ‘80’s comedy character Frank Sidebottom, Frank stars Michael Fassbender in the titular role, and Domhnall Gleeson as Jon – a would-be musician who finds himself unexpectedly and unprepared, signed as a replacement in the rag-tag band.
For the uninitiated, Frank Sidebottom was the persona (or perhaps alter-ego) of Sievey; a would-be entertainer dressed in an old styled suit, and wearing a giant head, with an indefatigable good nature, which far outstripped his talent. Think a more off beat version of Pee Wee Herman and you’re starting to get there…and there’s arguably touches of Tim Burton’s Pee Wee’s Big Adventure in this film; not just in the happy-go-lucky man-child but in their subversion of audience expectations, and of the man behind the mask being usurped beyond his own self by the character he created.
The film works whether you know the Frank Sidebottom character or not – although clearly not well enough for American audiences where the movie made less than $700,000. A bit like Frank Sidebottom himself, the movie is a very alternative mix of music, comedy, and more than a little drama, with a strong cast, headed up by Fassbender choosing to take the bold move of playing pretty much the whole movie behind the mask: Karl Urban in Judge Dredd and Hugo Weaving in V for Vendetta spring to mind, and although Fassbender does eventually unmask, it is certainly not for vanity reasons but rather for an emotional punch in a film which takes the viewer on an emotional ride from a very funny first half through a really touching drama in the second – it’s not a film that makes things ‘easy’ for the viewer, but it is one very much worth seeing, whether you’re a frankophile or not.
7. After Hours
One of Martin Scorsese’s lesser known movies, (17th out of 27 in terms of Box Office returns with just over $10 million), and one of the director’s rare outings into comedy, After Hours is a 1985 Kafkaesque tale of an average Joe office worker going into SoHo for a date with a woman he’s only just met in a coffee shop, only to get caught up in a ‘chinese puzzle’ of events throughout the course of one night where everything that can go wrong does.
Scorsese is up front in his decision to shoot this as Hitchcockian style and makes the very most of shooting on location in SoHo; utilising it’s scenery and feel to the maximum.
Griffin Dunne, at this point best known as Jack ‘have you ever talked to corpse? It’s boring’ Goodman from American Werewolf in London, plays the nerdy Paul Hackett, and Roseanna Arquette is the slightly kooky, soon to be outright weird, Marcy, the woman he hopes will be the ‘girl of his dreams’ and both are great, but the cast throughout is peppered with cameos from the good and the great – Cheech and Chong, John Heard, Catherine O’Hara, Terri Garr, and for the 80’s horror geeks among us even the late, great Dick Miller.
Shot throughout with the technical brilliance one would expect from Scorsese, the film is peppered with great lines (as the traumatic night goes on…and on, Dunne’s Paul witnesses a murder taking place in an apartment, worn to the bone by everything he’s gone through he sighs, with a “I’ll probably get blamed for that” with a weary sigh.
It’s a dark comedy – and while there aren’t a huge number of belly laughs, it’s a hard heart that wouldn’t laugh at the ‘Surrender Dorothy’ scene – or indeed, watch Wizard of Oz in quite the same way again…
Richard Ayoade’s first feature film as director, he also co-wrote Submarine with Joe Dunthorne, author of the novel of the same name. The movie follows Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), a 15 year old boy who could very well be good friends with Harold from Hal Ashby’s classic Harold and Maude: they even look similar. Oliver is only really interested in two things in his quiet Welsh town – to have sex before he turns sixteen, and to keep his mother (Sally Hawkins) from taking up again with her ex-lover (the always brilliant Paddy Considine).
The opening dialogue lets those of us who love Richard Ayoade as a comic actor (does he act? Impossible to tell…) that this is very much a film of his making; you could almost hear him speaking the words:
My Dear Americans, The film you are about to see is a biopic of my life. The events take place, not so long ago, in a proud land called Wales. Wales is next to England, a country you pretend to treat as an equal. My homeland has produced Catherine Zeta-Jones, Tom Jones and some other people. You have not yet invaded my country and for this I thank you. Submarine is an important film. Watch it with respect. Fond regards from your protagonist, Oliver Tate.
What follows is a sweet, if strange, coming of age story, peppered throughout with just the right amount of weirdness: I haven’t read the novel so can’t say how much of the script takes from it, and how much from Ayoade’s contribution: if it isn’t him, then he’s found a perfect partner in Dunthorne.
Spike Jonez’s first full length feature since 2009’s Where the Wild Things Are (which had one of my favourite trailers of all time). She is a near-future set story of a burgeoning love affair between a man and his Operating System. Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is going through the final stages of a divorce who spends his non-work time playing video games. When he purchases the brand new OS1 (the first operating system with a consciousness according to the adverts), he starts to become closer with Samantha – the OS1’s voice (originally Samantha Morton, but replaced by Scarlett Johansson post filming). As they fall in love, Jonez plays with the classic rom-com/ break up movie tropes brilliantly, making us initially laugh at the idea of falling in love with a computer, and slowly pulling us in so that we care as much about the would-be lovers as we would with any Meg Ryan/ Tom Hanks combo (or more, depending on how you feel about Sleepless in Seattle, or You’ve Got Mail…)
Her is a movie without any preciousness – from Morton giving her full blessing to the replacement of her role (despite her being on set every day to provide the V/O) to Jonz calling in Steven Soderberg to help him when he couldn’t figure out how to cut down the movie’s original 150 min running time, to Charlie Kauffman’s uncredited screenplay polishes, it feels that this project really was a labour of love for all concerned, and the result is clear to see.
Whether an Oscar nominated film can really be considered ‘underrated’ (as opposed to how many Oscar noms are completely overrated…) Her is Sci-Fi for people who don’t necessarily like Sci-Fi, Jonez’ most accessible, and ironically most human film to date, and Samantha’s It’s like I’m reading a book… and it’s a book I deeply love. speech could be the best ‘robot’ monologue since Roy Batty’s.
The Fundamentals of Caring
Emmy winning writer and director Rob Burnett’s second feature movie, filmed for Netflix in 2016 over a mere 26 days
, TFoC features Paul Rudd as a writer recovering (or not) from a personal tragedy, and agreeing to become a young disabled teen Trevor (Submarine’s Craig Roberts)’s caregiver. A road trip movie which embraces and runs with the ‘odd couple’ premise, TFoC is a genuinely warm, feel good movie, which also happens to be very, very funny and with a whole bunch of great performances- not just from the two leads, but also the entire supporting cast including Selema Gomez and an uncredited Bobby Cannavale.
Rudd and Roberts are a great double act – Rudd as personable as he always is, but toned down in the Apatow stakes, and Roberts, midway through making the highly underrated Amazon series Red Oaks.
If you’re looking for a good, simple (in the best sort of way), film which looks at disability in a realistic, but non-mawkish manner, you could do a whole lot worse than TFoC.
Well, that’s it for now. As always I am (self) contractually obliged to mention that there are a few funny moments in Basement Tales, available now at quite frankly astonishingly good value for money…