This is a great time for R-rated comedies. In the age of internet dominance and peak TV there’s more comedy talent than ever. These writers and performers get a unique place to shine in the most exaggerated and outrageous comedies on the big screen.
The R-rated comedy is special. It’s not just an excuse to be vulgar or outrageous. No, the great ones are vulgar and outrageous because they talk about things we often leave pent up. When these issues get out in the open, things get wild.
An image of the R-rated comedy as a sex romp lingers from the glut of silly 1980s filler. But great examples of the form aren’t here to show us sex. Instead they’re about sex – and relationships, and all the stuff we have to do in order to live with other people and find happiness. They’re about lives with all the nice filters stripped away.
Some eras are better for these movies than others. The ’70s were great, the ‘80s and ‘90s less so. Things kicked into gear in 1999, and R-rated comedies have grown ever since. Now we’re in a comedy boom, with several good choices every year. The first big new comedy of 2018 is Game Night, which opens on February 23. Let’s look back at the past decade or so of other great comedies.
Oops, this is from 2007, which breaks the “best movies of the past decade” rule, but why are you, the stickler for following the rules, reading a feature about R-rated comedies? RELAX. Television viewers knew the stars of Superbad from Arrested Development and Freaks and Geeks, but this movie, which was totally unafraid to show just how gnarly the sexual conversations between high school boys could get, was also unabashedly heartfelt. The combination, and the strange confidence of newcomer Christopher Mintz-Plasse, made Superbad a massive hit and a lasting favorite.
Step Brothers (2008)
The “my large adult son” joke effectively started with director Adam McKay and co-stars Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly. (McKay and Ferrell also wrote the script.) The two comedy giants play adult men whose single parents marry one another, forcing the two willful, stubborn, and childish guys to deal with one another. We’re not surprised that they grow up in the process, or that it’s all hilarious to watch, but what is surprising is how perfectly-pitched the film is.
Kristen Wiig got her star turn in this 2011 comedy from Freaks and Geeks director Paul Feig, and she made the most of it. Wiig plays a single 30-something who, despite being wildly ill-equipped for the task, becomes the maid of honor to her best friend, played by Maya Rudolph. Wiig is brash and vulnerable in the lead, with a throw-caution-to-the-wind confidence that turns every situation into a pratfall waiting to happen. And while Melissa McCarthy already had major roles in three TV series under her belt, not to mention a host of film appearances, her role as a blunt and sexually aggressive member of the bridal party turned her into a comedy star.
21 Jump Street (2012)
Everyone sneered at the idea of reviving the ’90s first-generation Fox TV series, this time with Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill as mismatched cops who go undercover to sniff out a high school drug ring. But everyone failed to account for directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who seemingly have the power to make great movies out of terrible ideas. 21 Jump Street became a great and wildly funny movie about friendship – just one with car chases and shootouts and a comically mismatched pair at the center.
This won’t be a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention: Zac Efron is really funny. Neighbors wasn’t his first comedy by a long shot. But this no-holds-barred story, about the war between a pair of new parents and the fraternity that moves into the house next door, showcased Efron’s comic timing just as much as it showed off his abs. With Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne as the upright couple and Dave Franco as a frat brother-in-arms, Neighbors explores every corner of its premise, leaving Efron a comic wreck and us entertained.
Magic Mike XXL (2015)
The first Magic Mike film was a surprising delight. The sequel is even better because it is so clearly free to follow its whims as a road trip/musical/comedy/whatever. For those demanding a rigid adherence to story and form in a second film about a friendly bunch of exotic male dancers, we just have one question: why? Ultimately this is a showcase for the charisma of the cast, with Channing Tatum, Matt Bomer, Kevin Nash and Joe Manganiello all offering standout turns as guys out for that one last dance in a faraway land.
Melissa McCarthy broke out with Bridesmaids, sure, but Spy is her best film to date, in part because she’s paired with not one but two ideal foils: an uber-suave Jude Law, all but parodying his own image, and an uber-serious Jason Statham, definitely parodying his own image. Law is the super-spy who gets things done in large part because his CIA controller, played by McCarthy, keeps him armed with information. Statham is the take-no-prisoners colleague who scorns McCarthy’s attempts to become a real field agent. Spy works as a comedy and an action thriller, with ideas and setpieces even a Bond movie could be proud of, but far more jokes.
The Big Sick (2017)
Most of the films on this list make the cut because they capture something about life – The Big Sick is actually true to life. Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon wrote the film about their own experience dating, then breaking up, then dealing with a traumatic, near-fatal illness. Nanjiani even stars as himself, with Zoe Kazan appearing as Gordon. The couple’s story is perfectly told, and a supporting cast which features Ray Romano and Holly Hunter elevates the material even further.
Girls Trip (2017)
At this point pretty much everyone has heard about Tiffany Haddish’s big moments in this comedy about a group of friends, the Flossy Posse, who reunite for an event where the most successful of the bunch will be the keynote speaker. Long-buried resentments between everyone in the crew surface almost immediately, and it isn’t just Haddish who turns in a killer performance as things get decadent as the women run around New Orleans. Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, and Jada Pinkett Smith all have standout scenes and turn the film into a consistently funny exploration of the difficulties of recapturing the easy friendships of youth.
Game Night is in theatres now, get tickets to this R-rated comedy at AMC!