Quirky Comedies for Your Consideration

A look at comedy movies available on DVDComedy is subjective. What’s funny to you may not be funny to me, and vice versa. People recommend comedies to you all the time; you watch them and you don’t get it. You tell other movie fans about how much you laughed at a farce and they sit through the movie and have nothing but horrible things to say afterwards—about the movie and you.

So we’re going out on a limb here, and recommending six quirky comedies from the last 30 years you may have missed. Please don’t hold it against us if you don’t laugh hysterically at these. But they made us laugh and appreciate their wit and offbeat nature, even though none of them really clicked at the box-office.

Held Up (2000)

Premise: Jamie Foxx spends a load of money on a cool retro car. Angry fiancee Nia Long storms outs, leaving him with the car—that is then stolen. He’s stuck at a desert convenience store that is about to be robbed by a Latino gang. Bumbling crooks, goofy cops and dim-witted townsfolk populate the proceedings as Foxx tries to stop Long before she gets on a plane home in Las Vegas.

Why it’s Funny: Foxx’s charisma goes a long way here, but he’s helped by a group of off-the-wall supporting characters brought to life by a game supporting cast that includes John Cullum, Barry Corbin, Jake Busey, Sarah Poulson and Sam Gifaldi as a video game addict who thinks Foxx’s character is really “Puff Daddy.”

Sample Review We Totally Disagree With: “What follows is a hostage comedy that resembles faxes of ‘Dog Day Afternoon,’ ‘Quick Change’ and ‘Clerks’ on a day when the toner was low. The caricatures swerve all over the map, and the movie is passable entertainment only when Foxx, who at various turns is mistaken for Puffy Combs and Mike Tyson, launches into his routine.”– Wesley Morris, San Francisco Chronicle

Quick Change (1990)

Premise: Aggravated NYC city planner Grimm (Bill Murray) decides to pull off a daring robbery in clown makeup and flee with help from his girlfriend (Geena Davis) and his goofball associate (Randy Quaid). The problem is they can’t seem to get out of town, encountering an about-to-retire police chief (Jason Robards, Jr.), an incomprehensible cabbie (Tony Shalhoub) and a bus driver demanding the exact change (Philip Bosco).

Why it’s Funny: The best way to describe this fractured farce, heavy on the deadpan comic moments, may be Dog Day Afternoon meets After Hours. It’s an “I Hate New York” commercial chockfull of the city’s annoyances, which also happen to be among Quick Changes funniest elements. At the center of it all is Murray (who co-directed) as a miserable jester, in a tour-de-force tune-up for later works like Groundhog Day and Lost in Translation. Paired with Davis as his devoted girlfriend and wild card Quaid as his equally devoted longtime friend, this is a perfect trio of comic whack jobs to pull off a bank job, stealing some big laughs along the way.

Sample Review We Totally Disagree With: “In films like Quick Change, he (Murray) is bogged down by scripts that don’t begin to match his comic imagination. Even though he chose and developed Quick Change himself, Bill Murray deserves better than this clunky, stereotypical comedy.”—Caryn James, the New York Times

Submarine (2010)

Premise: Oliver (Craig Roberts), a Welsh high school student, thinks he has found first love with schoolmate Jordana (Yasmin Paige), a depressive with a desire to start fires. At the same he tries to save his parents’ (Sally Hawkins, Noah Taylor) faltering marriage and stop his mother’s affair with an old flame (Paddy Considine) who has moved nearby.

Why it’s Funny: On paper, Submarine doesn’t seem that much different than any other coming-of-age film we’ve seen before. But there’s a fresh quality here, from the newcomers in the lead to the setting of a small town in Wales to the terrific score by Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys to the memorably off-kilter direction of  Richard Ayoade, the actor (The IT Crowd) making an impressive  filmmaking debut here.  The most recent entrée on this list is last year’s most overlooked film, a winning and inventive coming-of-age saga that is sharply observed, poignant and off-handedly humorous.

Sample Review We Totally Disagree With: “The film is so self-conscious it seems to be dictating your every reaction.”—Owen Glieberman, Entertainment Weekly

Safe Men (1998)

Premise: Through a case of mistaken identity,  third-rate Providence, RI entertainers Sam (Sam Rockwell) and Eddie (Steve Zahn) become safecrackers and are enlisted by mobster Big Fat Bernie Gayle (Michael Lerner) to pull off a couple of heists. During their crime sprees, they also encounter Good Stuff Leo (Harvey Fierstein), a powerful fence.

Why it’s Funny: It takes a little while to get going, but when it does, this comical crime saga delivers big laughs in the oddest of circumstances. Consider: Rockwell and Zahn entertaining at a bingo night in a Polish nursing home; a Bar Mitzvah with a Stanley Cup ice sculpture—and the Stanley Cup!– and yarmulkes with the New York Rangers logo; and Veal Chop (Paul GIamatti), a weird gang enforcer who wears zebra jammer pants. Small details and characters’ reactions, not the plot, make Safe Men click, and there were enough funny, little moments to help the debut film from John Hamburg (I Love You, Man) amass a strong cult following after its quick retreat from theaters.

Sample Review We Totally Disagree With: “Safe Men whirls wildly from one bright idea to the next, trying to find a combo that will hold the movie together. No luck. This is one of those movies where you picture the author at his keyboard, chortling so loudly that he drowns out his own thoughts.”—Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

The Big Picture (1989)

Premise: Recent film school graduate Nick Chapman (Kevin Bacon) has a dream project to make for his first feature movie, but Hollywood agents, producers and studio executives try to seduce him and corrupt him. Nick begins to get sucked into the Tinseltown lifestyle, leaving his girlfriend (Emily Longstreth) and close ally and cinematographer (Michael McKean) in the dust.

Why it’s Funny: Before Christopher Guest and his merry band of satirists gave us such terrific mockumentaries as Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show, regulator collaborators Guest and McKean tackled selling out in Hollywood for this smart spoof of the way the business really goes down. The film is heavy on the anecdotal asides, but they are spot-on, from John Cleese’s bartender adjusting a TV set showing It’s a Wonderful Life to color—“the proper way”– to a number of film parodies including “Abe and the Babe,” about Abe Lincoln and Babe Ruth (!?). The supporting cast is first-rate, too: Teri Hatcher, Elliott Gould, the late J.T. Walsh and Martin Short as a zany talent agent. Caught in the crossfire of turbulence at Columbia Pictures, its distributor, The Big Picture made about as much as a price of a bag of popcorn in 1989.

Sample Review We Totally Disagree With: “This fails on almost all counts, hampered by poor pacing, sophomoric parodying, and for the most part lackluster performances by leads Kevin Bacon and Emily Longstreth. Though it begins well enough, the wit doesn’t last.”—TV Guide Online.

Death to Smoochy (2002)

Premise: Children’s TV show host Randolph Smiley (Robin Williams) is let go when he is found to be taking bribes from the parents of kids. Idealistic Sheldon Mopes (Edward Norton) is hired to replace him, playing a purple rhinoceros named Smoochy. Mopes enlists a high-powered agent (Danny DeVito, who also directed), but the increasingly despondent Smiley also wants his job back, and is willing to go to desperate lengths to get it.

Why it’s Funny: The Big Picture is a genial show biz satire compared to this pitch-black spoof. Barney, the purple dinosaur, so popular with the kiddies at that time, is the obvious model for Smoochy, but the film also takes aim at greed, back-stabbing, the state of what children watch, and how they are affected by it.  While this fairly expensive farce bombed at the box-office, we’re happy to say that those who like their comedies cynical with lots of sting should give this a shot. The cast is game, too: Williams’ phony goody two-shoes; Norton’s sublimely naïve host; Catherine Keener’s groupie/TV exec; DeVito in typical slimeball mold; Jon Stewart as Smiley’s two-faced pal; Harvey Fierstein as a corrupt charity head; and Vincent Schiavelli as a heroin-addicted ex-kids’ show host hired to take Smoochy out during an ice show. Hey, that’s how this movie rolls.

Sample Review We Totally Disagree With: “Dreadfully, historically unfunny — a career low for DeVito, Williams (which is saying something) and certainly Norton.”—Gary Thompson, Philadelphia Daily News

Do you have any underrated quirky comedies from the last 30 years you would like to recommend to other movie fans?

  • masterofoneinchpunch

    It has been stated that comedies tend to translate the least to different countries (because of language and/or cultural differences), but I’ll include a few here in the past 30 years that I really do like.

    Also I will be using the definition: “a peculiarity of action, behavior, or personality; mannerism” I know the definition fits Wes Anderson films, but they have a big enough fanbase not to be mentioned here.

    Aki Kaurismäki’s Finnish “Proletariat Trilogy,” Shadows in Paradise, Ariel, and The Match Factory Girl: a pitch-black comedy trilogy that is completely deadpan.

    For those who thought Pulp Fiction was a comedy you will get a kick (or punch) out of Bronson — with one of Tom Hardy’s greatest performances and one of the more bizarre “real-life” UK characters put to cinema.

    Plain Jane to the Rescue (1982: John Woo: Hong Kong) It just barely fits the timeline, but Josephine Siao’s character is hilarious, quirky and yes John Woo has done comedy.

    I’ll have to think of some more.

    • Frankie

      “Heart and Souls” with Robert Downey Jr. & Alfre Woodard.

      • Masterofoneinchpunch

        Sounds like a good recommendation.  I like Robert Downey Jr. so I’ll look to buy that.

        I just saw Local Hero (1983: Bill Forsyth) which easily fits the definition of a quirky comedy and less than 30 years old.  I’m sure it influenced Wes Anderson.  As soon as I finished it I thought of this thread.  Not sure if it is underrated since it is on TSPDT1000 list, but quite a good film.

  • Alton Robertson

    Wow! I just saw “Bronson,” a dark, violent, macabre comic masterpiece with Tom Hardy giving a performance that has no doubt left a watermark, so to speak, on my brain. The humor is twisted in the way “A Clockwork Orange” was.

    • Irv

      I loved Bronson. Had a Clockwork feel to it and also reminded me of another McDowell film “O, Lucky Man.”  

  • Movie Fan

    As a weird-looking kid who lived in a rough neighborhood I don’t appreciate the humor in laughing AT someone else. The comedies I like tend to find humor in everyday human behavior. I love Mel Brooks. He’s laughing at everybody, including himself. One of my favorite Mel Brooks movies is “Spaceballs.” I also adore his movie, “Young Frankenstein.”

    • Irv

      Mel is usually hysterical. Thanks for the response.

  • Charlotte Vale

    If the trailer can’t me laugh, chances are pretty good the movie won’t either.  This was later confirmed to me by friends who them and said they wished they had followed my route.

  • Deanie_Loomis

    If various web posts are any indication, there are a number of people besides me who adore the wryly funny A NEW LEAF (1971), directed by Elaine May and starring her and Walter Matthau in one of his best roles. The unavailability of A NEW LEAF on DVD makes it criminally underrated in my view.

    • Irv

      Good news. A New Leaf is onthe future DVD docket from Olive Films.

  • roy levering

    Here is a really offbeat one.  “Love Stinks” with French Stewart.

    • Irv

      Missed that one but I like him. will seek i tout.

  • Fbusch

    An older one that is very hard to explain, but, that keeps you laughing is “Where’s PaPa?” Ruth Gordon, Elliot Gould, and a great cast make this little known flick very entertaining. Gould’s frustration trying to date while caring for his alshiemer mom with little help from his proffesional brother who live s accross Cenrtral park uses several over the top situations, (that surprisingly work), to carry the plot.

  • Dave Ecklein

    Check out almost anything you can find starring George Formby (the top British film comedian of the 30s and 40s),  Most entertaining for me is “No Limit” (1935), a madcap motorcycle race where he does his own stunts.  He wrote and performed his own songs in his films, accompanied by a ukelele-banjo of his own design.  Perhaps he was too “quirky” to be popular in the United States.  I think Columbia has the rights to his many films, but never distributed them here.

    • Irv

      Not familiar with him.  I will look into it.

    • Christine Harrison

      George Formby was famous for his repertoire of songs which included many containing a great deal of innuendo – my guess is that his style of humour wouldn’t have transferred well to the States. As an example, one song was entitled “My Little Stick of Blackpool Rock”. If you look up the lyrics on the net, you’ll find that it’s a very suggestive number. I’m sure the censors at the time would have gone haywire over it!

  • Jewel Ross

    Give “Lord Love A Duck” a try. An odd 60′s movie with Roddy McDowell and Tuesday Weld. It was funnier when it came out, (most comedy is) but it still works.

    • Irv

      Lord Love a duck is fabulous 60s weirdness. It owuld make a great double feature with the Loved One.  

  • Chloe

    Disorganized Crime (1989) is wonderfully funny. Fred Gwynne, Corbin Bernsen and Lou Diamond Phillips are wonderfully hilarious in a bank heist where everything goes wrong.

  • footcenter

    To correct fbusch. It’s Where’s Poppa with George Segal & Ruth Gordon, directed by Richard Benjamin. Also recommend is Ruth in Harold & Maude

  • mary c.

    “Undertaking Betty” is a sweet, funny movie with the great Alfred Molina and Christopher Walken as a rather bizarre undertaker. Just a treat of a movie. Even my 20-something grandson liked it and he never agrees with my choices – nor I his. I laugh just thinking of some of the scenes.

  • istrouma

    Shakes the Clown & The Gods Must Be Crazy.

    • Antone

      The Gods Must Be Crazy is my favorite quirky, pleasant-surprise comedy. The technical aspects of the movie are amateurish [poor dubbing into English and laughable special effects]. There are no name actors. However the premise of the film is so original and intriguing, and the performances so enthusiastic, that technical flaws are unimportant—and in fact, add to its charm.

  • Bruce Reber

    “Down And Out In Beverly Hills” and “Ruthless People” – two more quirky comedies from the 80′s.

  • Luger

    “The man who sued God”

  • diacad

    Three Japanese comedies I have enjoyed – all quirky! First, “Carmen Comes Home” (1951): a Tokyo “exotic dancer” returns to her traditional village in the mountains and shocks locals at the county fair with a strip tease performance. This was Japan’s first color feature! Second, “Rainbow Kids” (1991) is an updated version of O Henry’s Ransom of Red Chief idea, where a sweet old grandmother with her own agenda is kidnapped by juvenile delinquents. Hilarity ensues. Third, “Calamari Wrestler” (2004), a spoof both on professional wrestling and rubber suited monster movies – it’s up to you which is more bogus.

  • Anne Walker

    “Real Men” with Jim Belushi and John Ritter. John plays a milquetoast who looks like a spy the baddies killed off. Jim is the top agent sent to get him as the agent was supposed meet with the men from outerspace to get the “good package” which will save the Earth. The baddies want the “big gun” which will destroy it. The aliens in return will get a glass of water. Of course, there is also “Arsenic & Old Lace” with Cary Grant. Love that movie.

  • John

    Thanks to TCM I have seen some great quirky comedies. “Arsenic and Old Lace” is the best. Cary Grant made the most of being the normal guy whose world is turned upside-down when he learns his dear aunts have been murdering lonely gentlemen and burying them in the basement. Two Tom Poston comedies are fun; “Zotz!” about a professor who finds an ancient artifact with magic powers and “the Old Dark House” (1963) which is about an American being invited to visit an old English manor with a very eccentric family. William Castle directed the cast including Peter Bull, Robert Morley, Janette Scott, Joyce Grenfell and Mervyn Johns as the family who have an interest in killing each other to inherit the family fortune.

  • Groover

    No one was quirkier than Peter Sellers in the 60′s. “What’s New, Pussycat?,” “Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Love the Bomb,” “The Mouse that Roared,” “The Party,” “The Magic Christian,” “There’s a Girl in My Soup,” “After the Fox,” “Woman Times Seven,” “I Love You, Alice B. Toklas,” “The Bobo,” “March of the Toreadors,” 1967′s “Casino Royale,” “A Shot in the Dark” and “The Pink Panther” are all loads of fun to watch over and over again on video.

    • Joyce

      I agree with Groover about Peter Sellers, does anyone else remember Terry-Thomas and the people who did some of the “Carry On Doctor” et al., films. Also love many of Mel Brooks films, esp. “Blazing Saddles” and “the Producers”. What about “a Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum?”

    • Antone

      A few more Sellers quirky tasty treats: The Wrong Box in which he has a small but hilarious role as a deranged, corrupt doctor who sells fill-in-the-blank death certificates and deadly poisons; The Ladykillers- he is a member of Alec Guinness’ 5-man heist gang undone by one little old lady; Two-Way Stretch- he plays an imprisoned criminal mastermind who plans a break-out, heist & break-back-in to provide a perfect alibi; I’m All Right, Jack- he is the blustery, corrupt labor union leader in a labor relations satire.

      • CheriLynn

        Speaking of Michael Caine, did you ever see Without a Clue? Michael Caine is an out of work actor hired by the more brilliant Dr. Watson (portrayed by Ben Kingsley) to play Sherlock Holmes so Dr. Watson can solve an important case. The scene where Caine is swinging on a rope in the theater is side-splitting.

        • Antone

          Yes I did and yes it was another delightful quirky comedy.

    • Antone

      I can’t believe we both failed to mention Peter’s hilarious send-up of Charlie Chan in Murder By Death. In The Smallest Show on Earth he plays an old alcoholic projectionist in a dilapidated small town theater. In Carlton-Browne of the F O he plays the corrupt prime minister of a tiny war-torn island that was once a British territory [Terry Thomas plays the title character]. In Heavens Above he plays a naive, idealistic priest whose generous acts of charity have unforeseen disastrous effects. Two funny crime comedies were The Wrong Arm of the Law & The Naked Truth,

    • Bruce Reber

      Have to totally agree with you! BTW, it’s “Waltz Of The Toreadors”.

  • NadaTall

    What about 1982′s “The King of Comedy”, with Robert De Niro and Jerry Lewis? (Okay, so it’s 31 years rather than 30…. :/ ) De Niro plays a would-be comedian who fancies himself extraordinarily talented but overlooked by those who could facilitate his career. So he begins to, essentially, stalk his favorite entertainer, played by Lewis. But offstage and off-camera, he is a very private person who doesn’t appreciate all the attention from someone trying to break into the business, particularly when he fails to see a great deal of promise in the wannabe king. It’s a bittersweet comedy in many respects, with some very fine work by these two talented men and the rest of the cast, including Tony Randall and several members of the Scorsese family.

    I was also thinking about Luke Wilson in “Idiocracy” from 2006. Wilson portrays an ‘average guy’ who agrees to participate in a top-secret military mission to study the effects of human hibernation; that mission, however, was abandoned prior to its completion. Wilson’s character, Joe Bauers, awakens from the experiment 500 years into the future in which people have become increasingly less intelligent from one generation to the next. Even though he wasn’t outstandingly brilliant when the experiment began, he now finds himself the most intelligent person living in the new, dumbed-down society.

    • CheriLynn

      We quote from Idiocracy all the time. When we see people, especially politicians that don’t seem to get things (Nancy Pelosi comes to mind) we repeat, “But, it has electrolytes.”

  • NadaTall

    Also, if we might go back beyond the 30-year limit requested in the question, I’d like to include Don Knotts in “The Incredible Mr. Limpet”, from 1964. I don’t know if it was underrated at the time it was released or not, because I was only nine years old; but I’m not sure how familiar some of the younger contemporary audiences are with Mr. Knotts’ work outside of his role as Barney Fife in “The Andy Griffith Show”. In this film, he essentially loves and studies fish and other aquatic life so avidly, that he becomes a fish; part of the movie is live and part is animated, so it’s really a delightful little story.
    Another much older (1950) comedy that some people might not know much about is “Harvey”, with James Stewart. He portrays Elwood P. Dowd, a man who loves everyone, including those who recommend he be institutionalized for his alleged friendship with a six-foot-tall rabbit (aka a ‘pooka’) that only he can see — (SPOILER ALERT) — until the end of the film, when another very influential individual is able to see it, as well.

  • Charlie G

    I like “The Mouse on the Moon”, the sequel to “The Mouse That Roared”.

    • Bruce Reber

      Although it doesn’t qualify as within the last 30 years, how about another Peter Sellers comedy, “I’m All Right Jack” (1959), a totally hilarious satire of labor vs. management in Britain. Come to think of it, most of Sellers’ comedies are kind of quirky.

  • laustcawz

    Couldn’t agree more with “The Big Picture”, one of the most underrated satires out there, with the added rare bonus of Jennifer Jason Leigh doing comedy (& she does it beautifully). “Quick Change” is also great. Others I’d add: “Murder By Death” (1976)–all-star whodunit parody written by Neil Simon; “They Might Be Giants” (1971)–George C. Scott as a man claiming to be Sherlock Holmes & Joanne Woodward as Dr. Watson–a psychiatrist desperate to evaluate him!!; “Madhouse” (1990)–John Larroquette & Kirstie Alley as newlyweds besieged by houseguests!!; “Election” (1999)–Hysterical, but disturbingly realistic, depiction of a high school election gone haywire, with Reese Witherspoon as a relentless overachiever & Matthew Broderick as a teacher determined to let some air out of her tires. Extremely unusual in that the story is told alternately from several different points of view; “The Science Of Sleep” (1996)–If Dali had the D.I.Y. sensibilities of MacGyver in the context of a rom-com, this is what you’d get: a wild, surreal, borderline experience bridging dreams & reality. Must-see. Lots of other great choices, but these are some of the ones that immediately come to mind.

  • JoAnne McMaster

    “Held Up” yes; very funny. The others, no. Especially “Quick Change.” Bill Murray comes off as more sarcastic than funny.

  • gwen

    i love “Happy, Texas”

    • CheriLynn

      Me, too! Did you ever see The Imposters? Very funny film. Campbell Scott is hysterical.