These Comedies Are Way Better Than Their Rotten Tomatoes Scores
'Step Brothers' was rotten... for shame.
Perhaps more than any other genre, comedy is hard to evaluate. What's funny to one person is maybe not so to another, and it can be difficult to describe what it is that makes a joke hilarious. That's why so many genuinely great comedy films often don't get the appreciation they deserve upon release. From sweet rom-coms like One Fine Day to stone-cold masterpieces like Step Brothers, these movies were received tepidly when they came out, but are now beloved. So the next time you're looking for something to make you laugh, smile, or even cringe, take a gander at these once under-appreciated selections.
One Fine Day
Release date: December 20, 1996
Director: Michael Hoffman
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 50%
Why it's better than that: Michelle Pfeiffer and George Clooney are at the height of their collective movie star powers in this underrated rom-com directed by Michael Hoffman and produced by the great Lynda Obst. (Obst, by the way, is responsible for all your favorite rom-coms, including Sleepless in Seattle and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days .) Pfeiffer is a divorced harried architect with a young son who likes to stick things up his nose; Clooney is a divorced cocky newspaper columnist with a young daughter (baby Mae Whitman of "Her?" fame) who is obsessed with cats. One (fine) day their lives intersect when they both miss the bus that will take their kids on a field trip. She thinks he's obnoxious! He thinks she's uptight! Their cell phones get switched because of their meddling offspring! Naturally, they are going to have chemistry. It's an absolutely charming movie about the frustrations of parenthood that takes the viewer on a tour of '90s New York. Sure, it's predictable, but it's also impossible not to fall under its spell.
The Cable Guy
Release date: June 14, 1996
Director: Ben Stiller
Rotten Tomatoes score: 54%
Why it's better than that: A common theme on this list is comedies with a darker edge that critics just couldn't get on board with at the time of release. That's true of The Cable Guy , which often feels like it's just a straight-up horror movie with an entirely unsettling performance from Jim Carrey, who plays a cable guy who infiltrates the life of Matthew Broderick's newly single schmuck in increasingly unhinged ways. Now-famous scenes like the Medieval Times brawl and Carrey's gonzo performance of "Somebody to Love" by Jefferson Airplane still hold up and are truly deranged, and even though the movie's obsession with the 24-hour news cycle is definitely a product of the '90s, it rings almost prescient.
Drop Dead Gorgeous
Release date: July 23, 1999
Director: Michael Patrick Jann
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 45%
Why it's better than that: Michael Patrick Jann's pageant satire is beloved for good reason: It's an ultra-dark skewering of gender roles and small-town America that features excellent performances from Kirsten Dunst, Ellen Barkin, Allison Janney, Brittany Murphy, and more. Early reviews called the movie "unfunny"—which is wrong—and "mean-spirited"—which is right, but that's the point. Drop Dead Gorgeous is like if you took a Christopher Guest mockumentary and filtered it through RuPaul's Drag Race. Its aesthetics are iconic—Denise Richards' Mount Rushmore hat, for example—and its tone is so grim it's practically upsetting.
Wet Hot American Summer
Release date: July 27, 2001
Director: David Wain
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 38%
Why it's better than that: The alt comedy from comedy group The State was just too alt for most critics when Wet Hot American Summer came out in 2001. I guess if you're not attuned to its brand of humor, Wet Hot can seem a bit weird. What, you don't like discursive turns into surrealism, like a talking can of vegetables or a trip into town that turns into a drug-fueled spiral but only lasts an hour? Wet Hot weaves '80s pastiche into its genuinely original brand of joke telling, where everything is just a little awkward, but incredibly good natured. Camp Firewood features a cavalcade of stars before they were famous, from Amy Poehler and Elizabeth Banks to Bradley Cooper. And what other movie has Christopher Meloni saying he's going to fondle his sweaters?
Release date: June 28, 2002
Director: Steven Brill
Rotten Tomatoes score: 22%
Why it's better than that: My colleague Dan Jackson has already written at length as to why you should give this Adam Sandler-starring remake of a 1936 Frank Capra film a try. I'll just add that it's deceptively charming and odd mix of Sandler's schtick and the starry-eyed optimism of classic Hollywood. Sandman plays pizza shop owner Longfellow Deeds who learns he's the heir to a deceased billionaire's fortune. Upon his arrival in New York City, his inner circle is infiltrated by a bunch of people who want to get their hands on his money and story, including a corporate honcho played by Peter Gallagher and a TV tabloid journalist played by Winona Ryder.
Two Weeks Notice
Release date: December 20, 2002
Director: Marc Lawrence
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 42%
Why it's better than that: I'll fully admit that I haven't watched Two Weeks Notice since the Donald Trump presidency began, and I'm not sure how it plays given that Hugh Grant's billionaire love interest is sort of a Trump-type. Still, I've always been a sucker for this lower-tier entry from two rom-com gods, Grant and Sandra Bullock. She's an environmentalist lawyer who goes to work for Grant's asshole rich guy in order to save a community center, and even though she's fed up with his antics, she finds herself falling for him. It has fun supporting performances from Dana Ivey and Robert Klein as Bullock's hippie parents and spawned one of the most bizarre early 2000s classic rock covers: Vanessa Carlton and the Counting Crows doing Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi."
Release date: August 3, 2007
Director: Akiva Schaffer
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 39%
Why it's better than that: Just a classic case of "they didn't get it," The Lonely Island's odd, hilarious comedy about a wannabe daredevil was panned upon release but has grown into a beloved cult classic. The thing about Hot Rod, and arguably why it baffled so many critics, is that, on one hand, it's off-putting, filled with bits that feel almost like inside jokes. But, on the other, it's this bizarrely sweet comedy about a dude, the titular Rod, trying to do an insane stunt to raise money to save his stepfather from dying in order to beat said stepfather up.
Release date: July 25, 2008
Director: Adam McKay
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 55%
Why it's better than that: Yes, you read that right. Bonafide masterpiece Step Brothers is rotten on Rotten Tomatoes. That's why you can never trust a consensus. Adam McKay's movie about two oversized, curly haired weirdos whose parents get married is the ultimate portrait of the Large Adult Son. What's so wonderful about Step Brothers is how the truly bizarre behavior of Brennan (Will Ferrell) and Dale (John C. Reilly), thrown together thanks to the shotgun nuptials of their respective mother and father, goes largely unexplained. They just are their Powerade-drinking, drum-loving selves, kings of chaos whose arrested development infects everyone else around them. Richard Jenkins turns in one of the finest performances ever put to screen as Dale's dad, Robert Doback. His "dinosaur" speech should be taught in schools.
Release date: September 27, 2012
Director: Leslye Headland
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 56%
Why it's better than that: Leslye Headland's movie was released in the shadow of Bridesmaids , and is also about, well, bridesmaids, but it's a much different beast. Bachelorette, based on Headland's play, is downright nasty, a film about failure and how the expectations women have for one another can curdle into something cruel. Kirsten Dunst, Lizzy Caplan, and Isla Fisher play a group of childhood friends attending the wedding of the outsider in their clique (Rebel Wilson). They are hotter and sadder and meaner than the bride and make life a living hell for her, like they always have. Dunst in particular is a wonder in this role, an ice queen whose perfect exterior masks a roiling soul underneath.
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