If you are looking for some clever but easy and upbeat viewing, here’s a list of five great comedies from throughout the ages–from the 1930s to the last couple of years–on Netflix that should be moved up to the top of your queue.
Bill Forsyth’s 1981 film “Gregory’s Girl” still holds its own in the canon of great teen comedies, and it predates all the John Hughes classics. It takes place in a small Scottish town where gangly, gawky 16-year-old Gregory (John Gordon Sinclair) thinks he has fallen in love with the latest addition to his previously all-boys school soccer team, Dorothy (Dee Hepburn). While he suffers through love, we meet delightful characters: Steve, his enterprising friend who cooks delicious treats for the school principal and sells them to the students; his driving instructor father who offers Gregory lessons “after he masters the walking bit”; his wise-beyond-her-years younger sister who explains to him the importance of color; the lecherous teachers; and Susan, the brunette that all the boys like but who is smitten with Gregory’s awkward charm. When Gregory finally lands a date with Dorothy, it goes and ends in a very unexpected way, leading his sister to pronounce, “It’s hard work being in love, especially when you don’t know which girl it is.”
“Kissing Jessica Stein”
“Kissing Jessica Stein” is somewhat of a cross between “When Harry Met Sally” and “Annie Hall”–if both of the romantic leads were women. Neurotic, high-strung Jessica (Jennifer Westfeldt) has been having a rough time on the dating scene, and we see her go through a series of unworthy suitors. One calls himself a “pretty self-defecating guy”; another divides up their bill by cost of salad ingredients and amount of cheese eaten and then requests to be her boyfriend and accountant. When Helen’s (Heather Juergensen) woman-seeking-woman ad uses Jessica’s favorite quote, Jessica finds herself answering it and awkwardly pursuing a same-sex relationship. They are clearly kindred spirits from the start, but the fact that Jessica is very, very straight gets in the way: there’s a hilarious scene on one of their first dates where Jessica pulls out a stack of pamphlets on same-sex sex, declaring “I didn’t know lesbians accessorized!” When the film came out in 2001, it was seen as racy subject matter, but the movie handles it all with class and wit and can safely hold its own among the best romantic comedies.
“In the Loop”
The uproariously funny 2009 political satire “In the Loop” passed largely under the radar, but this British black comedy is a must-see. When Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), the British minister for international development makes the incendiary statement that war in the Middle East is “unforeseeable,” followed by a slip that “we have to climb the mountain of conflict,” the prime minister’s foul-mouthed enforcer Malcolm (Peter Capaldi) is called in to defuse the situation. Meanwhile, members of the U.S. State Department are visiting the U.K., and Simon’s comments cause U.S. Assistant Secretary of Diplomacy Karen Clark (Mimi Kennedy) to send her aid (Anna Chlumsky) to discover the secret war committee: “Just find the one with the most boring name.” In the end, everyone starts using Simon’s misbegotten words for their own agenda, and absurdist comedy–so long as you don’t think too much about how very real it is–ensues with high-speed dialogue.
“His Girl Friday”
Howard Hawks’ screwball comedy “His Girl Friday” may have been made in the 1930s, but it features some of the quickest and best banter ever put on screen and has stood the test of time. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell star as a pair of divorced lovers and newspapermen who can’t help loving each other despite their animosity. When Russell shows up at Grant’s office to let him know she is getting remarried and leaving New York, he hatches a plan to remind her that she can’t live without the newspaper business and, by extension, him. It’s clear from the beginning that Russell’s fiancé is no intellectual match for her, nor is he capable of handling her spirit–she is modern by today’s standards–so even though we know where this is going, it’s a brilliant and hilarious ride to get there.
“Much Ado About Nothing”
Kenneth Branagh’s rendition of the Bard’s light comedy “Much Ado About Nothing” comes close to perfection. Branagh stars as Benedick alongside Emma Thompson’s Beatrice, as the warring duo falls out of hate and into love. Along with the flawless banter between Branagh and Thompson, the film is perfectly cast with now-famous actors like Denzel Washington, who exudes charm and class, the perfect combination for Don Pedro; Kate Beckinsale as the bashful Hero; Robert Sean Leonard as her doting suitor Claudio; Imelda Staunton as the wanton maid Margaret; and Michael Keaton as the rascal Dogberry.