In Review

Best comedy films of 2021

Top movies include Free Guy, Mandibles, and Another Round

1

Free Guy 

With his “eerily generic” looks and knack for clowning, Ryan Reynolds is perfectly cast in this “cheerfully silly” action comedy as Guy, a character in a violent computer game who develops self-awareness, said Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian. Guy is a non-player character (NPC) – a perpetually smiley bank teller who lives an ordinary-joe life in a shiny modern city that just happens to have a wildly high crime rate. But then an encounter with Millie – a glamorous avatar controlled by a nerdy Seattle gamer (Jodie Comer) – kicks off his journey to free will and agency. The former background character starts to write his own story, with the privileges of a human-controlled player, and a romance thrown in. 

2

Mandibles

Surrealist auteur Quentin Dupieux proves himself “on sublime form” with this “kooky” road movie set in the south of France, said Kevin Maher in The Times. It stars comedians Grégoire Ludig and David Marsais as Manu and Jean-Gab, two “moronic” petty criminals who steal an old Mercedes for a mysterious delivery job, and find a fly the size of a labrador in its boot. With “conspicuous echoes” of Bill and Ted, the pair decide to train the giant insect and send it off to rob banks. Instead, they keep getting sidetracked by random events – and it is these detours that fill the rest of the film’s brief running time. The film is “phenomenally stupid, but in the best possible way”.

3

Our Ladies

Adapted from a novel by Alan Warner, this comedy-drama about six Catholic schoolgirls from the Highlands on a day trip to Edinburgh in the mid-1990s is often hysterical, but it is shot through with “compassion”, said Kevin Maher in The Times. Escaping the supervision of their teacher, Sister Condron (Kate Dickie), our young heroines embark on a “booze sodden, foul-mouthed, sex-obsessed” adventure, taking in karaoke, flaming sambucas, an alarming encounter with a naked bodybuilder, and more. Their yearning for “a wee shag” unites them, but so too do the harsh realities of their lives (including poverty, unwanted pregnancies and illness) – and “the eternal rewards of friendship and love”. All six characters are “vivacious” and acutely played, making their company an instant pleasure.

4

I’m Your Man

The last thing Berlin academic Alma (Maren Eggert) wants, in this “smart” German comedy, is a new relationship after a messy break-up, said Wendy Ide in The Observer. Nevertheless, she’s persuaded to take part in a three-week trial of a humanoid robot named Tom that has been designed to be her perfect companion. Her scepticism initially seems well placed as Tom (Dan Stevens) draws on a database of cornball compliments – “Your eyes are like two mountain lakes”. But because he’s programmed to learn from her responses, he starts to resemble the kind of man she could live with – and even love. Stevens produces a “deft” comic performance in a film that has unexpected depth, raising pertinent questions about a world in which algorithms can know us better than our human partners ever will.

5

Another Round

Winner of an Oscar for best international feature, this tragicomedy is director Thomas Vinterberg’s finest film since Festen (1998), said Mark Kermode in The Observer. Mads Mikkelsen plays a high-school teacher and reformed hellraiser who is in the throes of a mid-life crisis. Inspired by the notion – attributed to the real-life psychiatrist Finn Skårderud – that all humans are born a tiny bit alcohol deficient, he and three male colleagues start drinking secretly at work, hoping to “learn to live again”. They treat their drinking as a scientific experiment, with “severe and absurd” rules, and at first they amaze themselves, their pupils and their wives with their new-found lucidity, enthusiasm and spontaneity. But they struggle to limit their consumption, and are soon “spiralling towards self-destruction”. 

6

Shiva Baby

First-time director Emma Seligman, 25, “comes bolting out of the gate” with this “scabrously funny” comedy set during a single afternoon at a “highly stressful” Jewish shiva (a wake-like gathering) in Brooklyn, said Kevin Maher in The Times. Our protagonist is Danielle, a “droll, deadpan and bi-curious” 22-year-old (Rachel Sennott) who is going to the wake with her liberal but “acid-tongued” parents. There, she meets a succession of relatives and family friends who ask her prying questions about her professional aspirations (she’s “studying gender”) and her appearance (“You look like Gwyneth Paltrow on food stamps,” says one); a childhood friend with whom she hadafling; and, to make matters even more awkward, the businessman who has become her sugar daddy – and whose wife is on the way. Her attempts to navigate all this set the stage for a “busy, briskly edited, beautifully played comedy of errors with a sweetly psychotic undertow”. 

7

Apples

Set in an eerie version of contemporary Athens – strikingly depopulated and shorn of digital technology – Apples is an “unexpectedly moving” tragicomedy about an unexplained outbreak of amnesia, said Mark Kermode in The Observer. Gaunt-faced Aris Servetalis “cuts a mournful figure” – half Charlie Chaplin, half Daniel Day-Lewis – as a loner (also called Aris) who wakes up to find he’s forgotten everything about himself. To help him forge a new identity, doctors set him tasks – ride a bike, go to a fancy-dress party, and so on – and instruct him to take regular Polaroid selfies. A tentative romance develops between him and a fellow amnesiac Anna (Sofia Georgovassili), during which they crash a car (she can’t recall how to stop) and, in a moment of comedy gold, listen to another patient relate the plot of Titanic

8

My Donkey, My Lover & I

This easygoing comedy is one of “unparalleled Frenchness”, said Cath Clarke in The Guardian. Teacher Antoinette (Laure Calamy) is having an affair with a pupil’s father, but their plan for a week alone together is upended when his wife surprises him with a donkey-trekking holiday in the Cévennes. Impulsively, Antoinette books a place on the same trip – only to find herself in charge of a very stubborn animal, with her lover nowhere in sight. But as she and her donkey bond, the film switches from a gentle farce into a journey of emotional growth: “You might call it Eat Bray Love – except it’s European, so there’s less pseudo-spiritual self-discovery and more drunken snogging.” Calamy (Noémie in Call My Agent!) holds the film together with a funny, generous performance.

9

I Care a Lot

In this “exquisitely nasty”, blackly comic thriller, Rosamund Pike gives us “her most outrageous Hitchcock-blonde turn since Gone Girl”, said Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian. With a “sociopath haircut, shades and fashion-plate outfits”, she exudes “pure predatory wickedness” as Marla Grayson, a ruthless scammer who, aided by corrupt doctors, insinuates her way into the lives of wealthy but lonely elderly people in Boston. She becomes their legal guardian, has them committed to care homes, then fleeces them of their possessions. One day, she lands what she thinks is a particularly tame fish – sweet Mrs Peterson (a fabulous Dianne Wiest). She duly visits the old lady’s house, all “kindly, sorrowing smiles”, and entraps her during a scene of true emotional “horror”. But there’s something she hasn’t bargained for – Mrs Peterson’s connections in the Russian Mafia. 

10

Palm Springs

Palm Springs borrows its basic premise from Groundhog Day, but this romcom has a charm of its own, and it “fairly crackles with surprises”, said Tom Shone in The Sunday Times. Like Bill Murray’s character Phil in the earlier – and rather more family-friendly – film Nyles (Andy Samberg) is stuck in a temporal loop, reliving the same day repeatedly. He’s at a friend’s wedding in the eponymous resort and, having tried killing himself and sleeping with all the guests, he has already reached the “nihilistic-hedonism” phase of the Murray cycle. Where the film parts company with its predecessor is that another guest – Sarah (Cristin Milioti) – is in on the trick, repeating her day alongside his, a “goofy co-conspirator, sharing his godlike dominion over events”. 

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