Funny movies about sadness?
March 10, 2014 6:21 PM   Subscribe

What are some movies that make light of sadness or hard times in a non-mean-spirited way?

So, I realized that when I'm feeling sad about something, it really helps to watch a movie that shows people being sad or experiencing difficult things, but where these situations are presented as funny, but not in a mean-spirited way. It helps me to put things in context and realize that not every bad feeling is the beginning of a downward spiral into endless sorrow and eventual demise.

The example that made me think of this question is Forgetting Sarah Marshall, where Jason Segal's character is broken up with, and, heartbroken, does things like cry in public. But it's a comedy, he's the protagonist, and the humour comes from the assumption that we've all been there.
posted by ITheCosmos to Media & Arts (63 answers total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:29 PM on March 10

I was thinking that Jeff Who Lives at Home would hit the funny and sad buttons. So, maybe all of Jason Segal's movies? (I have no idea if he's always a mopey character or not.)
posted by vespabelle at 6:30 PM on March 10 [5 favorites]

Ha, yeah, maybe it's just him, cause Freaks and Geeks also totally fits the bill.
posted by ITheCosmos at 6:34 PM on March 10

The Royal Tennenbaums and The Descendants both have that balance for me.
posted by purenitrous at 6:35 PM on March 10

posted by pretentious illiterate at 6:38 PM on March 10 [4 favorites]

Maybe not quite what you're looking for, but Chaplin's movies feature his Little Tramp character suffering all sorts of heartache. City Lights is great.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:40 PM on March 10 [4 favorites]

The Station Agent. It recently became available on netflix streaming, too.
posted by shortyJBot at 6:40 PM on March 10 [9 favorites]

Welcome to The Dollhouse is a black comedy about suburban junior high misery by Todd Solondz.

In the interest of trigger warnings, it seems prudent to mention there is a lot of mentions of rape, but as this excellent review by Roger Ebert notes, it never actually happens.
posted by Juliet Banana at 6:44 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]

This may or may not work for you, but "Eternal Sunshine" is often labelled a comedy despite being just a thesis on human misery. But it is funny, and it is humane and we feel for the characters.
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:51 PM on March 10 [8 favorites]

It's Kind of a Funny Story with Zach Galifianakis is pretty great and fits your criteria.
posted by mireille at 6:53 PM on March 10

Being There
posted by thelonius at 6:54 PM on March 10 [2 favorites]

Little Miss Sunshine? A comedy, but with an uncle who just attempted suicide, a teenager who refuses to talk, and a dead grandpa. Plus (spoiler but it's obvious within the first 30 minutes of the film) the girl loses the pageant but it's OK.
posted by holyrood at 6:57 PM on March 10 [7 favorites]

The Sting was set during the Great Depression.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:57 PM on March 10

Anchorman. Milk was a bad choice!

Perhaps more helpfully, the first few Rocky movies. These are some good people who are at rock bottom, who overcome through sheer perseverance and grit.
posted by jbickers at 7:01 PM on March 10

Harold and Maude.
posted by mr. digits at 7:02 PM on March 10 [11 favorites]

+1 for The Descendents and Little Miss Sunshine as prime examples.

The Upside of Anger
28 Days
I Heart Huckabees
posted by artlung at 7:03 PM on March 10

Bridesmaids. Woman's life dream is attempted and failed, she's being left behind by her friends, she lets her friends down, and she fumbles romantically. Honestly some parts of that movie hit too close to the sad for me, but overall it's a comedy.

Same for This Is 40. Couple goes through rather crappy couple fights, financial crises, and the feeling of being unmoored from their parents for support.
posted by samthemander at 7:08 PM on March 10 [9 favorites]

Life is Beautiful, the Italian language movie starring Roberto Benigni. Very amusing if not 100% uplifting comedy set before and during the Holocaust. Benigni's character and his family are taken into a concentration camp and he proceeds to do everything he can to hide the horror from his young son. It's astonishingly successful as a movie and as a comedy. Bit of an extreme example, but it's a don't-miss.
posted by Sunburnt at 7:09 PM on March 10 [8 favorites]

Celeste and Jesse Forever
posted by Sunburnt at 7:12 PM on March 10 [2 favorites]

Muriel's Wedding. I have to admit that I haven't watched it since it was a first run film, because there's one scene that is so sad and hits so close to home that I don't think I could do it again, but it's also extraordinarily funny in places.
posted by janey47 at 7:14 PM on March 10 [4 favorites]

Sunburnt beat me to it!

You might also try A Single Man - Colin Firth's character is coping (or, not coping) with the loss of his long-time partner, incredible performance and not as awful a viewing experience as you might expect.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 7:14 PM on March 10 [2 favorites]

When Harry Met Sally has some good bits.

The scene where Harry's describing his wife moving out while doing the wave at a football game just kills me every time.
posted by ODiV at 7:25 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]

Garden State. Zach Braff's character returns to his hometown for his mother's funeral, struggles with his strained relationship with his psychiatrist father (who's had him on depression medication for most of his life), tries to relate to his former friends from high school and meets a girl with plenty of problems of her own. It's not so much laugh out loud funny as it is quiet, "Thank god, I thought I was the only one that felt that way" quirky.
posted by platinum at 7:29 PM on March 10

posted by DayTripper at 7:37 PM on March 10 [2 favorites]

Pennies from Heaven
posted by Ideefixe at 7:44 PM on March 10

Away We Go is kind of sad and kind of hilarious depending on how you come to watching it.
posted by missriss89 at 7:46 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]

Groundhog Day is the ultimate comedic redemption movie for this kind of spiral. Protagonist (why is he not Mefi's Own by now?) Bill Murray gets very depressed, even suicidal (and even goes through with it, multiple times, but it's played for laughs). In the end, he finds his way and everything works out.
posted by mochapickle at 7:46 PM on March 10 [3 favorites]

Eagle vs Shark
500 Days of Summer
posted by tkappleton at 7:47 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]

Steel Magnolias! "Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion."
posted by HotToddy at 7:50 PM on March 10 [2 favorites]

Similar in vein to Garden State is Elizabethtown: kid fails, gets fired, and is headed home for his father's funeral... but it's funny and charming and good things are happening too.
posted by jrobin276 at 8:13 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]

Intouchables. A wealthy quadriplegic and his irreverent young assistant have real sadness in their lives but develop a fun-loving and humorous relationship to deal with it- just fantastic. For example, when interviewing the young man for the job, the invalid says he can't sign the form today. The young man says, "why not?" and the invalid just sort of glances down at his hands. The young man says, "oh. bummer."
posted by evilmomlady at 8:13 PM on March 10 [2 favorites]

I came in to recommend Steel Magnolias but HotToddy beat me to it. So funny, so sad!
posted by SLC Mom at 8:18 PM on March 10

posted by cacofonie at 8:27 PM on March 10 [2 favorites]

posted by eschatfische at 8:44 PM on March 10

Oh man, Intouchables is side-splitting; the two main characters have such chemistry. Second strongly.

Someone mentioned The Twelve Chairs, which I feel opens the doors for Mel Brooks' 1983 remake of the 1942 movie "To Be Or Not To Be." Brooks' character runs a well-regarded theater in Warsaw, before and during the Nazi occupation. The Nazis want to ship off certain undesirable sorts, but they also appreciate a good theater. Naturally their dislike of Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, and communists encounters a certain friction with their love of theater, because that's basically descriptive list of Brooks' acting company. (It's weird how many comedies have the Holocaust as the backdrop... and that's not even counting the never-seen Jerry Lewis movie "The Day the Clown Cried," which Lewis had buried.) Who knows, just maybe a certain Fuhrer will make an appearance!

"Teddy Bears" is an indie movie from last year about 3 couples who gather together in the desert somewhere to support one of their members who recently lost his mother. The unfortunate friend, while grieving, offers a very, erm, socially challenging proposal to his friends. Very good cast.

"Sleepwalk With Me" based on Mike Birbiglia's stand-up (spoken-word?) show of the same name, it's a slightly fictionalized version of the true story of a time he began his stand-up career, entered a hard time in his long-term relationship with his girlfriend, and also developed a sleep disorder which would threaten his life.
posted by Sunburnt at 8:48 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]

Sometimes when I'm lying in bed, contemplating the coming day with varying levels of dread, I think about Cameron in Ferris Buellers Day Off. Sort of makes me laugh at myself to sing "when Cameron was in Egypt's land..."
posted by bepe at 9:29 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]

Hawks is another one - and Timothy Dalton and Anthony Edwards do a stellar job. I did a lot of laughing-while-crying through that one.
posted by ninazer0 at 9:44 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]

Better Off Dead (with a young John Cusack) comes to mind immediately.
posted by aecorwin at 11:03 PM on March 10 [4 favorites]

Pennies from Heaven

I would not say that movie is funny, so much as it is rip your guts out sad. Obviously these things are subjective, but if you rent that one with hopes that it'll lift your spirits, you may end up in a fetal expression under your bed instead. It's got a few laughs, but mostly it starts out sad and then things just get worse.

It's a great movie, though.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 11:23 PM on March 10

Seconding Muriel's Wedding; Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind; Garden State and Bridesmaids.

Anything by Wes Anderson unless you're allergic to his colourful aesthetic- I liked Moonrise Kingdom the best so far.
posted by Coaticass at 12:40 AM on March 11

Kings of Summer.
posted by Sonny Jim at 2:14 AM on March 11 [1 favorite]

Argh... I meant fetal position, obviously. Auto-correct strikes again!
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:51 AM on March 11

Lars and the Real Girl
posted by hooray at 4:59 AM on March 11 [2 favorites]

Truly Madly Deeply is very funny and poignant on the subject of grieving/loss.
posted by susanvance at 5:38 AM on March 11 [2 favorites]

Silver Linings Playbook
posted by litera scripta manet at 5:58 AM on March 11

The 40 Year Old Virgin
posted by MsMolly at 6:30 AM on March 11

Fiddler on the Roof!
posted by colin_l at 6:39 AM on March 11

All that Jazz isn't a comedy, but I think it's a pretty light-hearted, or at least consciously self-deprecating approach to crisis.
posted by colin_l at 6:40 AM on March 11

Withnail and I follows two struggling, out-of-work actors trying to survive in late-sixties London and is brilliant and hilarious.

Reuben, Reuben
(much harder to find) concerns a Scottish poet (Tom Conti) who hasn't written a line in years, is in the throes of alcoholism, and is -- again -- funny and brilliant.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:05 AM on March 11 [3 favorites]

Reuben, Reuben (much harder to find) concerns a Scottish poet (Tom Conti) who hasn't written a line in years, is in the throes of alcoholism, and is -- again -- funny and brilliant.
[Spoiler alert] But the ending, though! One of the great bummers in film history.
posted by Sonny Jim at 9:17 AM on March 11

Year of the Dog
posted by interiority at 9:38 AM on March 11

I should add, pretty much anything written by Mike White.
posted by interiority at 9:40 AM on March 11

I think you could say this about The Way Back, from last year. Some serious moments, but lots of giggles along the way too.
posted by acm at 1:31 PM on March 11

Miss Firecracker, with Alfre Woodard and Holly Hunter. Actually the humour is quite harsh I thought.

Life of Brian
posted by glasseyes at 3:10 PM on March 11

Just found a nice review of Miss Fircracker:

A much under-rated movie: both a satire on the sheer awfulness of small-town pageants, and a poignant yet ultimately hopeful romance about talented misfits coming to terms with their nature. A minor criticism is that it suffers from the usual movie cliche: characters who are supposed to be plain - in this case, Holly Hunter and Alfre Woodard - who are the most charismatic people in the movie. Highlight: the amazing dance routine by Hunter. I'm an old cynic, but the ending was both iconoclastic and beautifully feelgood.
posted by glasseyes at 3:12 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]

"A Serious Man", the Coen Brothers' love letter to their father. My favorite movie of their great body of work.
posted by effluvia at 3:43 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]

Rain Man and As Good As It Gets were both big mainstream hits, but in addition to the comedy there is a whole lot of pain and sadness in both films. As Good As It Gets in particular is a messy, raw nerve of a movie.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:11 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
posted by namewithoutwords at 9:29 AM on March 12

> As Good As It Gets in particular is a messy, raw nerve of a movie.

I love, love, love As Good As It Gets for this reason. It leapt to mind when I saw this question; I use this movie to iron out my more extreme emotions.
posted by Monochrome at 6:36 PM on March 12

Crazy, Stupid, Love. is exactly this. Long-married couple suffers from an affair and subsequent breakup, kids are involved, lots of funny moments but lots of sad, poignant moments too.

I would say the same about Mrs. Doubtfire too. That movie is heavy on the laughs but has a deep undercurrent of reality and sadness to it.

Another favourite: In Her Shoes. Woman catches her sister in bed with her boyfriend, quits job, deals with depression and body image issues, ends up connecting with long lost family members. Sad and sweet.
posted by yawper at 7:51 PM on March 16

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