Note: I have recently published a slightly edited version of this article on Devtome.
Comedies have always been popular, but most fall into a sadly limited number of categories –romantic comedy, teen comedy, sophisticated type comedy, and so forth. That isn’t to say that some of these films cannot be entertaining and quite funny. But as as this site is mainly about independent films, I thought I’d take a closer look at some truly offbeat comedies, some you may not even be familiar with.
Schizopolis (1997) is one of Steven Soderbergh’s earlier films, before he became more successful and mainstream (and arguably less interesting). This is a movie that lives up to it’s name. Soderbergh himself plays two roles in this meandering, bizarre story –if it can even be called that– of suburban life, corporate idiocy and a strange cult that looms in the background. There is little coherent structure to Schizopolis. It’s the kind of movie you either get in some way, and find funny, or not. If you like offbeat films, you might want to try it.
The House of Yes (1997), directed by Mark Waters and stars Parker Posey and Josh Hamilton. This is a film that’s almost too bizarre, and occasionally violent, to be considered a pure comedy. On the other hand, it’s also too bizarre to be anything but a comedy, albeit a dark one. It’s the story of a rather normal young man who thinks he is being taken to the normal home of a new girlfriend (Tori Spelling). Unfortunately, the house in question is inhabited by a psychotic brother and sister team who are living out a JFK fantasy. Parker Posey gives a great performance as the nearly foaming-at-the-mouth Jackie O.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) -based on Hunter S. Thompson’s book of the same name. Starring Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro, who are both superb as, respectively (but definitely not respectably), Thompson and his almost equally drug-crazed lawyer. This is a film that I think many mainstream critics felt obliged to put down, simply for the unapologetic and constant drug use. It’s also a good indication of how little these critics can be depended on for good information when it comes to anything vaguely unconventional, for this is a brilliant and hilarious movie. It hardly glamorizes drug use, as it depicts a veritable nightmare existence, but it does this in a way that also illustrates the equal absurdity of “straight” life as well.
Citizen Ruth (1996) -directed by Alexander Payne, starring Laura Dern. The abortion debate may seem like an unlikely subject for a comedy, but this one succeeds brilliantly. Laura Dern plays a glue-sniffing pregnant woman named Ruth who must choose whether or not to have her child. Both sides of the issue are hilariously skewered in this dark comedy that might make you think differently about this emotionally charged issue.
Strangers With Candy (2005)- directed by Paul Dinelly, staring Amy Sedaris. This is based on the Comedy Central show of the same name. Amy Sedaris returns to her role as Jerri Blank, the absurdly out of place 47 year-old high school student.
Stephen Colbert and Greg Holliman co-star as teacher and principal at the high school. This is another movie where the plot is almost irrelevant. To appreciate the humor here you must have a taste for the bizarre and ridiculous, which is provided in ample quantities.
Jesus Is Magic (2006) -starring Sarah Silverman. This is mostly a concert film, highlighting the ultra-unPC comedian, but also has some added sketches. If you are offended by…well, almost anything, you probably should not see this film. What I admire about Sarah Silverman is her willingness to completely disregard sacred cows –who else would make fun of Martin Luther King? She also has a knack for disguising her most offensive remarks with a pseudo-naivete that is almost believable.
Doug Stanhope -No Refunds (2007). This is a pure concert film. If Sarah Silverman has competition as the most politically insensitive comedian working today, it would be Doug Stanhope, who seems to hold nothing whatsoever as the least bit sacred. His routines, which are full of drug references, are a challenge to all conventional standards in a way somewhat similar to the late George Carlin, though, to be honest, Carlin’s routines were getting a little stale during the last decade of his life. You don’t have to share Stanhope’s rather nihilistic spirit to appreciate his humor and the way he blasts through the hypocrisy of mainstream society.
Four Rooms (1995) – this film is divided into four loosely connected stories, directed by Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Allison Anders and Alexander Rockwell. They take place in a hotel during one very strange evening. The connecting link is a bellboy, played with slapstick perfection by Tim Roth. This was not very well received critically. The episodes range from just o.k. to outright hilarious (the segment starring Antonio Banderas, which makes it worth seeing all by itself).
Kabluey (2007) – directed by Scott Pendergrast, starring Lisa Kudrow and Scott Pendergrast. A recent addition to my list. This film may not have the best title, as it’s hard to remember, but it’s truly funny and offbeat in a low-key way. Scott Pendergrast directed and stars as a rather hapless loser who arrives at the doorstep of sister-in-law Lisa Kudrow and takes a job at a local company that involves dressing up in a bizarre blue suit and handing out leaflets in middle of a deserted road. If that doesn’t sound like it makes much sense, I don’t think it’s supposed to.
The above is a rather small sampling of some offbeat comedy of the last ten or so years. I’ve left out some well known cult classics, such as The Big Lebowski and Office Space, not because I deem them unworthy of inclusion, but because they barely need mentioning.