CHICAGO – We needed a laugh in 2021, and thankfully the movies were there to provide it for us.
In fact, this year offered no shortage of different kinds of comedies, from the absurdist fun of “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar” to the meta blockbuster mania of Ryan Reynolds’ “Free Guy.”
While laugh-out-loud raunch fests like “Plan B” and “Bad Trip” found new angles on the classic road trip comedy, charming hangout movies like “Together Together” and “Language Lessons” delivered platonic riffs on classic rom-com templates.
From dark comedies that challenged us to Netflix specials that spoke to our current moment, 2021 featured a comedy for every type of person and every type of mood.
Here, in no particular order, are the comedies that defined 2021 — and where they’re streaming.
Ryan Reynolds in ‘Free Guy’ (VOD, coming soon to Disney+)
Jodie Comer and Ryan Reynolds in “Free Guy”
Throw “The Lego Movie” in a blender with “The Truman Show,” “The Matrix,” “Wreck-It-Ralph” and just a touch of “Westworld,” and you’ve got “Free Guy”— the sarcastic yet surprisingly earnest blockbuster starring Ryan Reynolds as Guy, a non-player character (NPC) in a massive multiplayer video game. When Guy begins to evolve past the limits of his programming, however, he shakes up not just his digital world, but also the real world too. That allows “Free Guy” to hilariously spoof action movie tropes while finding a surprising amount of heart along the way. Rated PG-13. 115 minutes. Dir: Shawn Levy. Also featuring: Jodie Comer, Lil Rel Howery, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Joe Keery, Taika Waititi.
WHERE TO WATCH: Streaming on VOD. On Disney+ Feb 23.
Timothée Chalamet and Bill Murray in ‘The French Dispatch’ (in theaters and VOD)
Bill Murray in “The French Dispatch.”
Maybe the most Wes Anderson-y film Wes Anderson has ever made, this charming ensemble feature is a wistful tribute to creativity, art, writing and mentorship. Bill Murray plays the beloved editor of the French foreign bureau of a “New Yorker”-esque magazine. And a triptych of eccentric stories offer the sort of whimsically poignant scenarios that are Anderson’s signature. Come for Owen Wilson riding his bicycle in a beret and Timothée Chalamet leading a student revolution, stay for Jeffrey Wright giving one of the best supporting performances of the year. Rated R. 108 minutes. Dir: Wes Anderson. Also featuring: Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Mathieu Amalric, Stephen Park.
WHERE TO WATCH: In theaters and VOD.
Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo in ‘Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar’ (Hulu and VOD)
Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo in “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar.”
“Bridesmaids” co-writers Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo reunite for this delightfully absurdist comedy about two oddball midwesterners who decide to take a vacation to Vista Del Mar, Florida. Kindhearted Barb (Mumolo) and Star (Wiig) might not have much, but they do have each other. And “Barb and Star” celebrates their unique bond while giving Jamie Dornan a musical number, Wiig a chance to pull double-duty as a Bond-style villain and Reba McEntire one of the best cameos of the year (or maybe the century). Rated PG-13. 107 minutes. Dir: Josh Greenbaum. Also featuring: Damon Wayans Jr.
WHERE TO WATCH: Streaming on Hulu and VOD.
‘The Mitchells vs. The Machines’ (Netflix and VOD)
THE MITCHELLS VS. THE MACHINES – (L-R) Mike Rianda as “Aaron Mitchell”, Danny McBride as “Rick Mitchell”, Abbi Jacobson as “Katie Mitchell” and Maya Rudolph as “Linda Mitchell”. Cr: ©2021 SPAI. All Rights Reserved.
Oh, the Mitchells. Producers Phil Miller and Christopher Lord (“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”) dropped a lovable yet seriously dysfunctional family right into a robot apocalypse, and in “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” Katie Mitchell (Abbi Jacobson) and company more than rose to the occasion. Co-writers Mike Rianda and Jeff Rowe blend pathos and humor as nimbly as the film’s several animation styles, creating a treat for the eyes, ears (courtesy of Mark Mothersbaugh’s excellent score) and heart. Oh, and it just might make you think twice about welcoming Siri and Alexa into your home, courtesy of a deliciously deranged vocal performance from Oscar winner Olivia Colman. Rated PG. Runtime 110. Dir. Mike Rianda. Also featuring the voices of: Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Eric André, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett.
WHERE TO WATCH: Streaming on Netflix and VOD.
Eric André, Tiffany Haddish and Lil Rel Howery in ‘Bad Trip’ (Netflix)
BAD TRIP (2021) Eric André as Chris Carey and Lil Rel Howery as Bud Malone. (Photo: Netflix)
Half road trip buddy comedy, half hidden camera prank movie, “Bad Trip” is a fascinating combination of sour and sweet. Stars Eric André, Lil Rel Howery and Tiffany Haddish go for gross-out humor and full-on button-pushing raunch in their cross-country pranks. Yet instead of slipping into mean-spiritedness, “Bad Trip” mostly winds up functioning as an unexpected celebration of communal spirit and people’s willingness to help one another when the going gets tough. That makes “Bad Trip” the rare movie that manages to be silly, heartfelt and pretty darn gross all at the same time. Rated R. 84 minutes. Dir: Kitao Sakurai.
WHERE TO WATCH: Streaming on Netflix.
WATCH NOW: Tiffany Haddish in “The Freak Brothers,” streaming free on Tubi
Natalie Morales’ ‘Plan B’ (Hulu)
Kuhoo Verma and Victoria Moroles in “Plan B.”
Another defining road trip comedy of 2021, “Plan B” flips the script on the usual raunchy mode by putting two teenage girls in the driver’s seat. When Sunny (Kuhoo Verma) finds herself in need of the Plan B pill, she enlists her best friend Lupe (Victoria Moroles) to make a multi-hour journey to the nearest Planned Parenthood. What follows is a raucous adventure with real heart, anchored by fantastic performances from two newcomer leads and a pointed message about the importance of giving women and girls control over their own bodies.
It’s also on-the-rise director Natalie Morales’ feature film debut —sort of. When the pandemic halted production on “Plan B,” Morales found a way to make another movie, and that one’s also on this list. Not bad, rookie! Not Rated. 107 minutes. Dir: Natalie Morales. Also featuring: Michael Provost, Myha’la Herrold, Mason Cook.
WHERE TO WATCH: Streaming on Hulu.
Tense cringe comedy ‘Shiva Baby’ (HBO Max and VOD)
Rachel Sennott in ‘Shiva Baby.’
For those who like their comedies to feel more akin to horror movies, try this stellar debut feature from writer/director Emma Seligman. “Shiva Baby” locks you into the real-time experience of aimless college senior Danielle (Rachel Sennott) as she finds herself at a shiva with her parents, her ex-girlfriend and her sugar daddy — who she also discovers is a married man with a new baby. This one puts the cringe in cringe comedy, with an acerbic voice all its own. Not rated. 78 minutes. Dir: Emma Seligman. Also featuring: Molly Gordon, Polly Draper, Danny Deferrari, Fred Melamed, Dianna Agron.
WHERE TO WATCH: Streaming on HBO Max and VOD.
Ed Helms and Patti Harrison in ‘Together Together’ (Hulu and VOD)
Ed Helms and Patti Harrison in “Together Together.”
While 2021 wasn’t a particularly strong year for conventional romantic comedies, it was a great year for platonic love stories. And one of the best is “Together Together,” which follows soon-to-be single dad Matt (Ed Helms) and his surrogate Anna (Patti Harrison) as they strike up an unusual friendship during her pregnancy of his baby. Funny, thoughtful and just the right amount of melancholy, “Together Together” both embraces and subverts rom-com tropes as it explores a different kind of love story. Rated R. 90 minutes. Dir: Nikole Beckwith. Also featuring: Tig Notaro, Julio Torres, Rosalind Chao.
WHERE TO WATCH: Streaming on Hulu and VOD.
Natalie Morales (again) and Mark Duplass in ‘Language Lessons’ (VOD)
Mark Duplass, Natalie Morales. Photo: Jeremy Mackie.
If you’re reading this on a computer or phone screen, there’s a pretty decent chance that you’ve had enough of Zoom to last a lifetime. The last year-and-a-half has seen far too many major life events taking place over webcam — weddings, baby showers, graduations, funerals, the list goes on. And as any parent and/or adult picking up a quarantine hobby can tell you, that list also includes many, many classes. Enter “Language Lessons,” one of two excellent movies released this year by debut filmmaker Natalie Morales (“Parks and Recreation”), working from a script by Morales and executive producer Mark Duplass (“Mars“). (The pair also star.) Yes, “Language Lessons” is a webcam movie, but please don’t let that dissuade you from logging on and spending some time with two of the most engaging characters to appear on screen this year. Not rated. 91 minutes. Dir: Natalie Morales.
WHERE TO WATCH: Streaming on VOD.
Bo Burnham goes inside Bo Burnham in ‘Bo Burnham: Inside’ (Netflix)
Bo Burnham in Bo Burnham: Inside. (c) Courtesy of Netflix 2021.
Nobody turns anxiety into art like Bo Burnham. The comedian released the defining comedy special of the year with this absurdist, surprisingly moving musical fantasia he recorded alone in his guest house during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cry, it’ll maybe even make you feel a little less alone during this strange phase of life — and it will definitely make you rethink your Instagram choices. Rated TV-MA. 87 minutes. Dir: Bo Burnham.
WHERE TO WATCH: Streaming on Netflix.
Emilia Jones and Marlee Matlin in feel-good dramedy ‘CODA’ (Apple TV+)
The big winner at this year’s Sundance Film Festival was Sian Heder’s coming-of-age drama “CODA”, which earned four awards, including the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award — and it’s incredibly clear why the film has brought home such recognition. With quippy dialogue and meaningful conversations alike, “CODA” ultimately provides viewers with a perfect example of communicating love through silence. … From the beginning, it’s clear the filmmakers of “CODA” understood the responsibility to accurately and effectively depict Deaf culture and American Sign Language. … It’s this soul and depth that takes the movie from feel-good and predictable to one that is [memorable] and masterfully achieved. Rated PG-13. 111 minutes. Dir: Sian Heder. Featuring: Emilia Jones, Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur, Daniel Durant, John Fiore, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Eugenio Derbez.
WHERE TO WATCH: Streaming on Apple TV+.
Left: “Don’t Look Up” and “The Suicide Squad.” Center: “Coming 2 America.” Right: “Single All the Way” and “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.”
Eddie Murphy revisited his iconic role of Prince Akeem in “Coming 2 America” (Prime Video). Netflix put a gay couple at the center of its sweetly cheesy holiday romance “Single All The Way” (Netflix). Adult entertainment became dramedy fodder in “Red Rocket” (in theaters). “The Suicide Squad” brought a darkly comedic sensibility to the superhero genre (VOD). “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” revived a beloved ghostly franchise (in theaters now, coming to VOD in Jan. 2022). And Adam McKay’s “Don’t Look Up” crammed as many movie stars as possible into a dark comedy about the end of the world (in theaters now, streaming on Netflix Dec. 24).
Our critics pick the best of the year
Left: Ed Helms and Patti Harrison in “Together Together”; Kristen Wiig, Jamie Dornan and Annie Mumolo in “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar.” Right: Timothée Chalamet in “The French DIspatch.”
Allison Shoemaker’s picks: “Barb and Star Go to Vista del Mar” and “The French Dispatch.” I’m going to cheat (not for the first time) and pick two very different movies. We may not be traveling all that much these days, but Barb (Annie Mumolo) and Star (Kristen Wiig) allowed us to take a daffy, delightful vacation alongside them. All that, and a seagull-centric musical number from Jamie Dornan! What more could you want? And while Wes Anderson’s wry, mournful ensemble comedy shares little with Wiig and Mumolo’s tribute to culottes, it, too, is a treat for the eyes and the heart. (Also, “Language Lessons” is a gem! And I loved “Shvia Baby!” The list goes on!)
Caroline Siede’s pick: “Together Together.” As someone who loves thinking and writing about romantic comedies, I found “Together Together” to be a delightful riff on the form. Like the best rom-coms, it’s about loneliness and connection, risk and reward — both the joy and the fear that come from being truly seen by someone else. It’s also sweetly hilarious, with a Patti Harrison performance I’ll be thinking about for years to come.
Some of the year’s best laughs are streaming for free on Tubi
THE FREAK BROTHERS: After learning that the mystical Swami Bhajan holds the secret to the “ultimate high,” Franklin, Phineas, Freddy, & Kitty go to Woodstock to find him in the “Pilot” episode of THE FREAK BROTHERS, which begins streaming Nov
The Freak Brothers (2021): Based on Gilbert Shelton’s cult classic 1960s comic, “The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers,” this adult animated series follows three hippie stoners who smoke a magical strain of weed in 1969 and fall into a 50-year slumber, only to wake up in the 2020s. “The Freak Brothers” is a Tubi Original. Rated TV-MA. One season, new episodes arrive weekly. Featuring: Woody Harrelson, John Goodman, Tiffany Haddish, Pete Davidson, La La Anthony and Adam Devine.
About Tubi: Tubi has more than 35,000 movies and television series from over 250 content partners, including every major studio, in addition to the largest offering of free live local and national news channels in streaming. The platform gives fans of entertainment, news and sports an easy way to discover new content that is available completely free.
Tubi is available on Android and iOS mobile devices, Amazon Echo Show, Google Nest Hub Max, Comcast Xfinity X1, Cox Contour, and on OTT devices such as Amazon Fire TV, Vizio TVs, Sony TVs, Samsung TVs, Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, Android TV, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X | S, and soon on Hisense TVs globally. Consumers can also watch Tubi content on the web at http://www.tubi.tv/.
Tubi and this television station are both owned by the FOX Corporation.
About the writer: Caroline Siede is a film and TV critic in Chicago, where the cold never bothers her anyway. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, she lovingly dissects the romantic comedy genre one film at a time in her ongoing column When Romance Met Comedy at The A.V. Club. She also co-hosts the movie podcast, Role Calling, and shares her pop culture opinions on Twitter (@carolinesiede).
About the writer: Allison Shoemaker is a Chicago-based pop-culture critic and journalist. She is the author of “How TV Can Make You Smarter,” and a member of the Television Critics Association and the Chicago Film Critics Association. She is also a producer and co-host for the Podlander Presents network of podcasts. Find her on Twitter and Instagram at @allisonshoe. Allison is a Tomatometer-approved Top Critic on Rotten Tomatoes.
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The essential comedy movies of 2021: starring Ryan Reynolds, Timothée Chalamet, Kristen Wiig and more