Comedies often don't come to mind when it comes to recommending the most gripping and layered piece of entertainment which you can beam into your eyeballs at the end of the day. More's the pity because right now we could all do with a laugh, and humour is a way which films can Trojan horse in more complicated ideas while we're having a chuckle
Netflix is packed with films are comedic but also surreal; amusing but also moving; hilarious but also heartbreaking. Whether that is humorous indie dramas, witty coming-of-age feminist films or so-awkward-it's-funny family portraits.
You might be in need of something a little lighter, but these thirteen picks mean you needn't compromise on quality.
Groundhog Day (1993)
There aren't many comedies which get claimed by pretty much every religious and philosophical tradition as an illustration of the knottier aspects of their approach to life, death and the meaning of it all, but Groundhog Day is not many comedies. Christians, Buddhists, Nietzscheans, classics scholars, Baudrillard ultras: all of them have found something profound in the story of TV weatherman Phil Connors, stuck forever in the same day in Punxsutawney, trying to work out exactly what's going on. Is he insane? Immortal? A god? Personally, we like the bit where Bill Murray steps in the big puddle. Hur hur.
The Death of Stalin (2017)
It's Moscow in 1953, and Josef Stalin is dead. Hang on, is he? Yep, now he's definitely dead, and suddenly there's a scramble to be the next premier of the Soviet Union. Armando Iannucci directs and co-writes with I'm Alan Partridge alumnus David Schneider and The Thick of It's Ian Martin, and it's got the patented Iannucci mixture of absurdity, petty rivalry, selfish manoeuvring and acid backbiting. The cast is frankly ridiculously stacked too: Steve Buscemi, Michael Palin, Andrea Riseborough, Simon Russell Beale and Jason Isaacs are all brilliant.
Coming to America (1988)
Eddie Murphy is Akeem Joffer, crown prince of the fictional (but still proud) African nation of Zamunda. Joffer's bored of kicking around the palace all day, so ups sticks and heads to New York to find himself a partner. Where else is a prince going to look for a princess than Queens? Despite their success with Trading Places five years earlier, director John Landis and Murphy didn't get on while they were making the film (Landis: "He was the pig of the world"; Murphy: "I was going out of my way to help this guy, and he fucked me over") but there's very little of that aggro on screen.
This Alejandro G. Iñárritu-directed film swooped to pick up the Best Picture at the 2015 Academy Awards, showing again just how much Hollywood loves a film about Hollywood, even if this one is gently ribbing them. Shot to look like it's a documentary recording rehearsals for a broadway play, Birdman focuses on the story of out of work actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) and his return to the stage while he is haunted by the superhero he used to play.
Birdman delivers a surreal and dark kind of comedy, with zany performances from the likes of Emma Stone and Edward Norton whose characters are caricatures of this weird world yet still compelling to watch.
I, Tonya (2018)
The true story of how American figure skater Tonya Harding was linked to a brutal attack on her competitor could be told entirely with a straight face, such are the instances of abuse and manipulation that Harding suffered.
What makes this 2017 retelling of the story more powerful is that it revels in the dark humour of her story, from the repartee with her spiteful mother (a peerless performance which won Allison Janney an Oscar) to the destructive and awful relationship with her braindead boyfriend. I, Tonya skates onward through fistfights and crashing music until it pulls back to remind us that what we've been laughing at perhaps isn't such a joke.
Gloria Bell (2018)
From hit-machine indie studio A24, Gloria Bell is a near shot-by-shot remake of 2013 Spanish film Gloria, made by the same director, Sebastian Lelio. The titular character, played superbly by Julianne Moore, is a middle-aged divorcée partying her way around Los Angeles until she meets a kindred spirit who she starts a precarious relationship with.
There's a carefree abandon to the film, flipping the typically dour topic of single older women into something that feels more like a bro comedy in parts, and we mean that in the best way possible.
Fighting With My Family (2019)
Stephen Merchant directs this true story of a foul-mouthed family of wrestlers from Norwich who are thrown into the big leagues when their daughter is selected for the WWE roster in America. It's a story not often seen on screen - that of a working class girl making it across the pond - as Paige becomes the youngest ever holder of the Divas Champion title.
With a cast that includes Lena Headey, Nick Frost, Jack Lowden and Vince Vaughn, and containing some superb one-liners ("I’ve never had rectal bleeding before, but I’m pretty sure I’m not a fan of that") the family in the ring will leave you surprisingly misty-eyed by the end.
Lady Bird (2017)
Greta Gerwig's breakout coming-of-age drama is about a pretentious but endearing teenage girl who demands her family call her 'Ladybird' as she navigates the awkward tail end of adolescence. What Gerwig's directorial debut so perfectly captures is the war of attrition between parents and children in these awkward years between childhood and being an adult.
Saorise Ronan is brilliant in the titular role, but the sparring matches between her and her mother (played faultlessly by Laurie Metcalf) are where the real comedy gold – including a scene where Ladybird rolls out of a moving car – come from. There's also great performances from Timothée Chalamet, Lucas Hedges and Beanie Feldstein.
The Big Short (2015)
Based on a book of the same name by Michael Lewis (Liar's Poker, Moneyball), the 2008 financial crisis and subprime mortgage scam in America gets a slick and amusing adaptation courtesy of Vice and Anchorman director Adam McKay.
Christian Bale is on his typically chameleonic form as Michael Burry, an eccentric ex-physician and one of the group of investors who bet against the mortgage market and walked away with millions. There's plenty of zingers in the sharp script and any fears of boring financial jargon are seen to by having Margot Robbie in the bath explaining what is going on.
Wedding Crashers (2005)
"It's wedding season baby!", and by that we mean it is time to watch or rewatch this funny foray into the cringe-ness of modern weddings. In it Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson play a pair of best friends who spend their summers crashing weddings until they end up at one where they are tangled up with the family hosting.
It's soppy at times, and there's a few storylines that haven't aged brilliantly, but it still delivers the laughs whether it's the first or fourteenth time you're watching it.
Marriage Story (2019)
OK, we concede that Noah Baumbach's 2019 portrait of a marriage breaking down from the inside is a tearjerker, but its brilliance lies in the fact it's also very, very funny. Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver) play a pair of artists navigating the end of their relationship and custody battle of their son which, despite their good intentions, turns very nasty.
The biggest target is the American legal system and subsequently the most hilarious performances come from the pair's lawyers, played by Laura Dern, who won an Oscar for her acidic turn as Nora Fanshaw, and her opponent played by Ray Liotta.
The turn-of-the-millennium film starring Jason Statham as a boxing matcher and Brad Pitt as a rugged traveller is a classic Guy Ritchie crime caper stuffed with scornful one-liners. "Should I call you bullet tooth..?" Avi asks Vinnie Jones character at one point. "You can call me Susan if it makes you happy," he replies sardonically.
True, it's largely retreading a lot of the same ground as Ritchie's prior film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, but he still manages to capture a very British, and very funny, kind of sarcasm.
Velvet Buzzsaw (2019)
A satirical thriller set in the art scene of Los Angeles, Velvet Buzzsaw satisfyingly skewers the critics and collectors of this underworld and sees Jake Gyllenhaal reunited with Nightcrawler director Dan Gilroy.
Here pretentious installations and vapid art enthusiasts are the primary target, think "Kindergarten go-pro" exhibitions and people asking "are those the new Persols?" in response to somebody wearing optician-issue light sensitivity glasses. The supporting cast of Toni Collette, Zawe Ashton, Tom Sturridge make an excellent pack of wheelers and dealers trying to cash in on the work of a unknown dead artist. Thankfully, justice is served in gruesome fashion when the work comes to life and goes after this pack of reprobates.
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