At the end of a long day, there’s nothing better than a good laugh. (Okay, there are better things, but the goal is to keep this rated PG.) Experts at the Mayo Clinic note many benefits of what they call humor therapy, including “stimulating many organs,” so maybe in any event laughter is good medicine.
The trouble comes in choosing a film both you and your significant other won’t find repulsive or unexciting. With Hollywood producing an endless variety of crude comedies, stopping a Netflix movie you’ve started is more common even than having Wi-Fi issues (curse you, Comcast).
Yet as comedian and star of “The Middle” Patricia Heaton says in interviews: “There is a way to be real and a way to do quality that people can appreciate without feeling offended.” My wife and I have found, after some trial-and-error-and-restarting-and-wincing-and-choosing-another-flick, that smart, surprising comedies do still exist.
Because Netflix availability frequently changes, there’s no guarantee these five films will be around long. Or you can always rent on iTunes later, if you’re made of cash.
1. ‘The Matchbreaker’ (2016, rated PG, 94 minutes)
In this indie comedy, an entrepreneur realizes his talent as a “matchbreaker” — mothers hire him to randomly befriend their daughters, dish dirt, and keep their girls from choosing the wrong guy. Getting paid to be snarky: a millennial fantasy!
Produced for less than the cost of a Marvel trailer, “The Matchbreaker” infuses common rom-com tropes with humanity revealed in hilarity. “Why’d you break up with her?” a guy asks his male friend scared of commitment. “Seven reasons actually,” the protagonist answers in nerdy deadpan akin to “The Big Bang Theory.” “Number one, she doesn’t vote.”
For those who know the backstory, the film is also bittersweet, as it co-stars the late Christina Grimmie, a singer and actress who rose to fame on “The Voice” and was tragically shot by a troubled fan at a June 2016 concert. Her family has said that, as a laugh-out-loud comedy, “The Matchbreaker” is how she’d want to be remembered.
2. ‘Turner & Hooch’ (1989, rated PG, 93 minutes)
The masterful Tom Hanks, who seems to disappear into whatever role he’s playing, was just hitting his stride when he starred in this detective caper. Dressed up as a whodunit, “Turner & Hooch” is actually a buddy comedy between local policeman Hanks and an endearingly ugly floppy-eared dog.
As you wait for other Hanks classics like “Big” and “The Terminal” to make it to a streaming service, there’s no need to slobber and eat your shoes. Instead, enjoy him and his cop partner (veteran actor Reginald VelJohnson) wrangling a pooch and solving a murder mystery from the writer of “Beverly Hills Cop” — though with laughs instead of scenes in a strip club or explicit violence.
The synth-driven soundtrack, outrageous leaps in plot, and lots of big hair will remind fans of the show “Psych” where they got their template for ‘80s-themed crime-solving comedy. It’s the kind of film they just don’t make anymore. Sad!
3. ‘The Decoy Bride’ (2011, rated PG, 89 minutes)
Yes, it’s another rom-com; stop rolling your eyes. Bucking genre conventions, this one lampoons our escalating cultural obsession with celebrities, baring the industry as needy, power-crazy, and backstabbing, all in a way you can laugh at.
David Tennant (“Doctor Who,” and don’t ask me which iteration) plays an author whom flighty blonde actress/model (Alice Eve, “Star Trek into Darkness”) chooses as her betrothed. Two problems, though: they can’t pull off a private wedding without the press crashing in. The two also have no chemistry or interest in one another, so there’s that.
When they decide on the remote island of Hegg in Scotland for a ceremony, into the mix comes bonnie lass Kelly Macdonald (“No Country for Old Men,” “Brave”) who’s lacked romantic prospects as she helps her mother run a local inn. When media gets wind of the secret wedding — one scene of a photographer rowing to shore is just perfect — the celebrity couple hires Macdonald to serve as a veiled decoy.
From Eve posing as an old woman to Macdonald sparring with the self-important novelist to the amusing antics of paparazzi versus their media handlers, “The Decoy Bride” has many players trying to steal every scene. And it’s viewers who benefit.
4. ‘The Bucket List’ (2007, rated PG-13, 97 minutes)
Since he’s responsible for some of the funniest comedies of the past half-century, it’s worth watching when director Rob Reiner (“The Princess Bride,” “This is Spinal Tap”) teams up with Morgan Freeman (“God” in “Bruce Almighty”) and Jack Nicholson, known for his over-the-top portrayal of the Joker in 1989’s “Batman.” Alas, this one isn’t a sure-fire crack-up like the four just listed, though it has its moments.
When two men in their sunset years meet during a hospital stay, they decide to travel around the world and do what they always wished they had before they “kick the bucket.” Filmed in six nations, the veteran actors clearly relish a story that lets them skydive, imbibe wine in France, walk among lions in Tanzania, and race motorcycles on the Great Wall of China.
“The Bucket List” can be compared to comedies of a bygone era, as it’s rather, er, geriatric in its pace — like the 1957 Spencer Tracy-Katherine Hepburn vehicle “Desk Set,” though that one has fewer f-bombs (thanks, Nicholson). If the premise strikes you as morbid, it helps to know recent studies show thinking about death promotes better health and happiness. Cheerful notion, huh?
5. ‘Cool Runnings’ (1993, rated PG, 98 minutes)
With recent news from Walt Disney Studios that essentially all their films will be leaving Netflix by the end of 2018, it’s worth searching out any good House of Mouse flicks you’re keen to watch. Start by adding this offbeat, sincere, ridiculous Olympics misadventure to your queue.
“Cool Runnings” has all the Disney sports clichés: underdog team, aspiring star player, a shattering early loss, and surface-level treatment of race issues (though loathing of nefarious German challengers seems to run deep). Still, broad performances by comic genius John Candy in his final film and a young cast led by Doug E. Doug make this journey of Jamaica’s 1988 Olympic bobsled team one ’90s kids remember with great fondness.
While some real-life figures portrayed lament its Hollywood treatment of sports history, few people deny “Cool Runnings” succeeds at acquainting audiences with Olympic-sized dreams in an unlikely global excursion full of heart.