Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Underrated Comedies - Will Johnson ""

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Favorite Underrated Comedies - Will Johnson

Will Johnson is an avid film collector and father of two currently exiled in Midland, TX. When he's not staring glassy eyed at one screen or another, he writes (albeit infrequently) about what he's seen on his blog at He can also be followed on twitter @BingoLollipop.

More than any other genre, comedy is very subjective. One man's treasure is another man's "Dickie Roberts". Nevertheless, here's my list of some films that always make me chuckle, but don't seem to be in the forefront of public consciousness:

Little Darlings (1980)
Aww, the summer camp film. While movies like "Meatballs" and "Wet Hot American Summer" are still watched today, this forgotten gem has remained in the shadows for decades. Probably the hardest to obtain in this list, having never been on DVD, "Little Darlings" is a wonderful female centric companion to its better known peers. It stars Kristy McNichol and Tatum O'Neal as two very different girls who make a bet on who can lose their virginity first. After picking their targets (Matt Dillon and Armand Assante), the race is on. Of course, sex isn't exactly what either girl thought, and they both learn a lot in the process. While lots of films have covered teenage boys in their quest for their first time, "Little Darlings" is unique in showing how the other half deals with the same hormone rush of adolescence.

Death Becomes Her (1992)
This was one of those films that came on UHF channels all the time on weekends in the 90's. I would spend many lazy Saturday afternoons watching this weird story of the unforeseen side effects of eternal youth. Since then, however, I have heard very little mention of this odd film. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, the film starred Bruce Willis as the brow beaten husband of a stage diva wife (Meryl Streep) who conspires with his ex (Goldie Hawn) to do her in. What they don't know is that Streep has taken an elixir of eternal youth and cannot die. She can sure be injured, though, and a lot of the special effects gags revolve around her (and later, Hawn) moving around with what should be fatal injuries. This was also one of the first times I remember seeing an effective "fat suit" in a movie. When it came out it received very mixed reviews("Two Thumbs Down" from Siskel and Ebert), but it also garnered an effects Oscar. The film is on DVD, but is in serious need of some remastering.

Joe Versus the Volcano (1990)
Hands down, this is my favorite Tom Hanks comedy. It's also my favorite Meg Ryan movie, period. The story follows Joe Banks, a hypochondriac office drone, who discovers he is dying from a "Brain Cloud". A mysterious millionaire (Lloyd Bridges) turns up and asks Joe to sacrifice himself by jumping into a volcano on a strange pacific island populated by Hebrew/Polynesians with an unquenchable thirst for orange soda. Meg Ryan plays three roles, each one representing a different type of woman in Joe's life. Rounding out the cast are Abe Vigoda, Dan Hedaya, Robert Stack, and Ossie Davis in small, but memorable, roles. The title may be silly, and the film is often passed over when Hanks talks about past roles, but "Joe Versus the Volcano" is a hilariously uplifting tale of self discovery. One of my favorite things about this film is how it rewards the audience on repeat viewings with lots of little things you may have never noticed the first time through. For instance, did you know the sidewalk outside of Joe's factory is the same shape as the path up the side of the volcano? Or, that the whole plot of the film is pretty much shown on a lampshade in the first few minutes? Things like that make this a perennial favorite around these parts.

Angus (1995)
Maybe it was because I was the fat kid in my high school when this film hit, but Angus has always had a special place in my heart. In the vein of the great John Hughes teen comedies, it's the story of an outcast who has to overcome genetics, family tragedy, and a bullying James Van Der Beek to get the girl of his dreams. Kathy Bates and George C. Scott play his mother and grandfather wonderfully, and Chris Owen (The Sherminator himself) is hilarious as his best friend, Troy. Angus was a real breakout role for lead Charlie Talbert, who has since faded into obscurity. This film was criminally unavailable on DVD for years before finally being released by Warner Archive.

The American Astronaut (2001)
In the world of genre bending film, this is one of my all time faves. Directed by and starring Cory Mcabee of the underground band The Billy Nayer Show, this film is probably the greatest sci-fi/western surrealist musical you will ever see. Shot in a style that makes it impossible to place in any one era, it tells the story of a lone astronaut named Samuel Curtis. Curtis is tasked with taking new breeding stock (in the form of The Boy Who Actually Saw a Woman's Breast) to the female population of Venus. Of course, things don't go smoothly and the audience is treated to a plethora of strange characters and ridiculous situations. I'll admit that I was baffled for the first fifteen minutes when I first saw this, but, after the first minimalist musical number, I was hooked for life. It's a good bet for fans of Buckaroo Banzai and similar insane fare.

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