Call them dramedies – laughter and crying may seem to be polar opposite emotions, but some works of cinema are able to bring them together in a big amalgam of relatable, hysterical, moving storytelling.
These rare precious films deserve to be celebrated for the gamut of emotions they put us through, their therapeutic value, their true-to-life qualities. Here are 10 of the best:
10. Happy Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, 2009)
Sally Hawkins’ breakout role as Poppy, the titular happy-go-lucky Londoner whose ordinary life we follow through Mike Leigh’s film, demonstrates the depth of the actress’ ability to convey the heart of her characters and her uncanny charisma and luminosity. As much as her exuberance exasperates everyone around her, Leigh’s script and Hawkins’ performance never let it exasperate us, the viewers.
The result is a funny movie, mostly because we see how people are so frustrated with her and how lost in their cynicism they are; and a heartbreaking one, because we realize that, if this wasn’t a film so expertly crafted, we too would be foaming at the mouth when encountering this wonderful human being. Well played, Mr. Leigh, well played.
9. Beginners (Mike Mills, 2010)
There’s a boasting, colorful simplicity to Beginners’ humor, especially around Hal’s (Christopher Plummer) decision to come out at the end of his life and his relationship with a much younger man, Andy (Goran Visnjic). It’s not disrespectful, just mindful of how lead character Oliver (Ewan McGregor), Hal’s son, would see it as eccentric and improbable, even possibly absurd.
At the same time, Mike Mills’ moving film charts Oliver’s journey toward understanding his father’s life, emotions and desires while living a complicated romance himself. Beginners’ bitter-sweetness comes from the way it contrasts these two experiences and from the stunning good fortune that Oliver himself admits he has.
8. Tangerine (Sean Baker, 2015)
Before the deliciously childish antics of the economically disenfranchised in The Florida Project, Sean Baker lent his sensibility to the equally harrowing oppression suffered by transgender people of color in Tangerine. Filmed with an iPhone and starring transgender actresses, it charts the weird, unrelenting journey a duo of prostitutes go through on Christmas Eve.
With invaluable help from stunning performances by Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor, Baker works his magic again as we fall in love with these people in all their so-called, societally defined crass behavior, and as we understand what they go through and the beauty and solidarity they carry within them. With a touching final scene, Tangerine is prime entertainment with a purpose.
7. Dan in Real Life (Peter Hedges, 2007)
This charming romantic comedy puts together Steve Carell and Juliette Binoche while exploring the dynamics of family reunion in very funny ways. After Dan (Carell) meets Marie (Binoche) in a bookstore, reigniting a flame he thought extinct since the death of his wife, he finds out that she’s also his brother’s girlfriend, which he brought over to the Holidays.
A film that could be just predictable rom-com shtick becomes much more than that because of the grief that Dan is still experiencing, his complicated relationship with his three daughters, and writer-director Peter Hedges’ sensitive way of dealing with all that. It’s definitely a feel-good-movie, that ends on a good note, but expect some well-earned tears on the way there.
6. Stranger Than Fiction (Marc Forster, 2006)
Much of the humor in Stranger Than Fiction comes from writer Zach Helm’s very creative premise – that of a man, Harold Crick (Will Ferrell), who starts to hear the narration of his own life by bitter, creatively blocked writer Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson). The ways this affect his life as a I.R.S. auditor and the way his relationship of bakery-owner Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal) are immensely entertaining and frequently quite funny.
On the other hand, Marc Forster’s film has his patented sensitivity and, as we accompany Harold in this crazy journey, we also slowly learn what’s missing from his mundane, weirdly organized life. What could be just decent comedy elevated by good actors becomes a more complex beats because Helm’s script is so hungry for meaning and so filled with longing.