The 15 Best Comedies of 2022 – Paste – Paste Magazine

The movies that best sum up the state of comedy in 2022 are the Mike Judge return to form Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe and the old-timer mayhem of Jackass Forever. A dedication to franchise, but with a knowing eye—an understanding that this is the way the industry (and the world) works, but a refusal to go down quietly. Among the best comedies of 2022 are some heavy-hitters, sure. Some movies that we expected to bring out the big guns, like the heartwarming humor of a top-tier Pixar movie. The sequel to a massive whodunnit hit. But there were so many others that knowingly looked at what the film world wanted and went hard, blessedly, in the other direction in order to give us what we didn’t know we wanted. A little bitty stop-motion shell. A multiverse-hopping extravaganza of hot dog hands and talking rocks. A ‘70s TV movie pastiche that stops dead in its tracks to walk us through a tasty-looking chili recipe. These are the ballsy, badass, truly hilarious films that defied expectations by understanding what the expectations were. Great comedy wasn’t everywhere in 2022, but if you understood the signs, you could find the folks on the right wavelength for you.
Here are our picks for the 15 best comedy movies of the year:


Nobody ever wants to find an unconscious white girl on their living room floor. But if you’re Black? If you’re Black and you have plans? That’s a surefire way to ruin a night. This is what happens to Princeton-bound stick-in-the-mud Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins) and party boy Sean (RJ Cyler), college best friends who just want to go on a massive, World’s End-level tour of frat parties. Now they’re stuck with a medical situation in a duct-tape dress that doubles as a laser sight for the targets already on their backs. Emergency’s night-out-gone-wrong caper sees director Carey Williams and writer K.D. Dávila reteam to expand upon their sweaty and sharp 2018 short of the same name. The feature version’s fantastic ensemble and tense premise provides plenty of squirmy laughter, but its prolonged evening suffers diminishing returns. At its core, Emergency is a comedy of self-preservation masquerading as a comedy of errors with plenty of laugh-out-loud gags along the way. But really, it’s the chemistry between Watkins and Cyler—playing complicated characters that counter and correct each other mid-sentence (about not saying “bitch” so much; about how Kunle dresses like a substitute teacher)—that stands out. There’s clear, complex affection between the two characters that plays out in punchlines and apologies, in invaded spaces and unself-conscious embraces. Their conversations are rapidfire, with Cyler giving the flashiest performance as the intoxicated and riffing realist, but the actors all deliver such honesty that we believe their characters would actually make whatever wrong-headed decisions actually push the plot further into danger. Chacon is a real talent too, getting some of the best jokes and delivering them with a reliably endearing dweebiness. It often doesn’t matter too much that these meandering talky scenes that aren’t naturally integrated into the movie feel like padding—the performers are so compelling that we’ll happily shut up and listen, even if it takes us out of the tension. Like any long night out, Emergency grows hazy and unfocused as it goes on; like a long night out with good friends, it’s still worth the headache. —Jacob Oller


Shawn Ruddy (Joseph Winter, who co-wrote and directed with his wife, Vanessa Winter), a recently disgraced and subsequently demonetized YouTuber decides to livestream his greatest fear in order to win back his fanbase: He’ll spend the night alone in a haunted house. The livestream format, in addition to solving the plausibility problem, manages to simultaneously intensify the film’s scariness. Shawn brings with him all of the high-tech recording equipment that you’d expect a high-caliber internet personality to have: Multiple GoPros, a tablet where he can watch all of their streams and a laptop where he can watch his livestream, reading the comments as they pop up. Shawn’s status as an influencer and his hunger to get back into the upper echelons of internet stardom solves some of found footage’s main technical problems: How can you optimize the use of chilling footage without us wondering why it is so high quality and, perhaps more importantly, why the cameraman is still filming in the first place? The Winters don’t let any element of their beloved format go to waste. The comments on Shawn’s livestream are consistently laugh-out-loud funny. Deadstream’s cleverness extends to its storytelling too. The stakes are clear: If Shawn fails to spend the night surrounded by haunted spirits, his career won’t live to see another day. It helps that he is an easily likable character—once you get used to his hyper YouTube persona, that is. Shawn is a goofy scaredy-cat who screams at the top of his lungs every time the floorboards creak. It’s hard not to welcome a horror protagonist who is utterly terrified of the things that go bump in the night, and refuses to seek out bloodthirsty ghosts. —Aurora Amidon


A classic romantic comedy construct with enough bells and whistles to entice even the most jaded viewer, The Valet’s smooth control over its Fake Relationship bluff deserves a generous tip. Jack-of-all-trades filmmaker Richard Wong proves himself adept at maintaining the messy machinery of Hollywood starlet Olivia (Samara Weaving), her married real-estate-tycoon lover Vincent (Max Greenfield) and the haplessly embroiled valet Antonio (Eugenio Derbez) used to cover up their affair. As Antonio and Olivia pretend to be a couple snapped in a paparazzi photo, the Francis Veber remake takes the opportunity to inject its update with American complexity while retaining the tried-and-true humor of its French comedy master. The Valet parks itself squarely between the lines of established genre tropes, but with such precision and flair that you can’t help but be charmed. So much of The Valet’s success relies on its highly specific adaptation from sitcom veterans Bob Fisher and Rob Greenberg, who apply the story’s familiar structure to L.A.’s industry and multiculturalism. Olivia isn’t just a famous face, but a melancholy feminist trying her best to tell “women’s stories” while jumping through all the sexist hoops of the movie biz. Antonio isn’t just a big-hearted blue-collar worker, but a first-generation Mexican American representing the vast underclass supporting the glitz. The film serves as a reminder of timeless form: a comedy of carnival colors, chaotic upendings of social norms, and predictable pathways to solving tightly knotted entanglements. Turns out, those things are just as appealing in 2022 Los Angeles, 2006 Paris, and 1596 London. The Valet might not be blazing new trails, but it still knows what to do behind the wheel. —Jacob Oller

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Every once in a while you meet someone who’s truly just some guy, with no discernibly extraordinary qualities, for whom things seem to work out based on charisma alone. In writer-director-star Cooper Raiff’s friendly sophomore feature Cha Cha Real Smooth, that guy happens to be Andrew (Raiff), a charming and disarming recent Tulane graduate whose sole motivation is to make enough money to join his Fulbright scholar girlfriend in Barcelona. Unfortunately, the only job he can grab is as a minimum wage cashier at an unforgivingly named food court stand in his hometown (Meat Sticks for the Miscellaneous Sundance Audience Award!) while he crashes in his little brother’s room, fights with his pragmatist stepdad (Brad Garrett), and attempts to convince his mom (Leslie Mann) that she has the wrong taste in men and he has the right taste in women. Into this meandering existence stumble the opportunities of his lifetime thus far. While escorting his brother, David (the cute-as-a-button Evan Assante), to a bar mitzvah bash, Andrew takes it upon himself to spice up the floundering dance floor, and to make friends with the resident rumored bad mom, Domino (Dakota Johnson), and her autistic daughter, Lola (natural newcomer Vanessa Burghardt). He succeeds wildly at both, getting hired by a mob of Jewish moms as a party starter for their childrens’ b’nai mitzvot, and securing Domino’s affection in the process. In this indie, as with many before it, nothing is more attractive to a hot mom than a goofy, unfiltered young man-child who treats her own child like royalty. Also in this indie, as with many before it, Judaism is used as a backdrop and as texture, but isn’t engaged with on any level beyond its visual symbolism. (At one point, both Andrew and Domino bemoan that they’re not Jewish.) For the runtime of Cha Cha Real Smooth, Raiff’s clever script, affable characters and naturalistic direction make it painless enough to sympathize with someone who can’t moonwalk, but will nevertheless skate on by.—Shayna Maci Warner


Marcel the Shell with Shoes On gives us the opportunity for a delicate, whimsical and poignant escape that will make you feel stronger, taller and better for it on the other side. Who knew that a one-inch shell with shoes on would be our existential savior this summer? If you were poking around YouTube about a decade ago, you might have been witness to the viral introduction of Marcel the Shell with Shoes On. The tiny shell with insightful observations, and questions, about our everyday existence evolved into a trio of stop-motion animated shorts created by director Dean Fleischer-Camp and writer Jenny Slate (who also voices Marcel). It took more than a decade for the pair, along with co-writers Nick Paley and Elisabeth Holm, to come up with a broader story that would bring their bitty big thinker onto the big screen for a worthy continuation of his adventures. What they came up with connects loneliness, grief, hope and Lesley Stahl. No prior knowledge is necessary walking into Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, because the first act sets up the broader origin story for Marcel and their family, as well as recreates the heyday of their Internet notoriety into the film’s overall story. Taking place in a lovely Airbnb rental home in Los Angeles, Marcel is a resourceful little shell who lives in the vast home with his aging Nona Connie (Isabella Rossellini). Marcel spends most days creating Rube Goldberg contraptions, out of everything from standing mixers to turntables, to navigate challenges like climbing stairs or shaking kumquats from outside trees for food. The rest of their time is spent watching out for Connie as she gardens and makes friends with insects who assist in her garden-box tending. As Connie’s gotten more frail and forgetful in her old age, Marcel is the dutiful and gentle caretaker who cherishes her presence as his only existing family. Like the shorts, the canvas for Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is our real world, so Fleischer-Camp and cinematographer Bianca Cline are tasked with turning the mundane—a nice but regular old house—into a micro-playground filled with dappled light and ordinary obstacles meant to push Marcel’s ingenuity. Coffee tables become ice rinks, plant boxes become communal gardens and washing-room window sills become contemplative nooks for self-reflection. Their macro lens reframes everything we take for granted and makes them charming spaces for Marcel to navigate—and for our eyes to discover with fresh perspective. Of course, the cynics and the naysayers may accuse Marcel the Shell with Shoes On of being too twee or not cinematic enough. That’s ok. From the jump, a huge part of the film is allowing yourself to go to the tender places this movie intends to take you. This is an introspective journey that, if you let it, shatters the tiny boundaries of Marcel and Connie’s shells, connecting us all to the wealth of shared experiences, feelings and wants that take up essential space inside every one of us. That we can learn to embrace those things, with such vulnerability and bravery, from an anthropomorphic mollusk proves the true power of cinema.—Tara Bennett


Everything Everywhere All At Once follows Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), a jaded, middle-aged laundromat owner who may or may not be involved in some minor tax fraud. Her tedious, repetitive life is thrown into total pandemonium, however, when her husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan)—or at least a version of him—alerts her to the existence of the multiverse on the elevator ride to an IRS meeting. He then explains that a powerful villain named Jobu Tupaki is in the process of constructing a universe-destroying force that only Evelyn has the ability to stop. And so Evelyn reluctantly plunges headfirst into the multiverse. The facts: There are an infinite number of universes that exist simultaneously, containing just about anything you could possibly imagine. The rules: To acquire different skills, you must picture a universe in which you inhabit that skill, whether it be inhumanly strong pinky fingers or a mastery of knife-fighting. (If you can think it up, it exists.) What follows, then, are roughly 140 frenetic minutes filled to the brim with dense, complex science, colorful setpieces and scenes that feel like they’ve been pulled straight out of dreams far too abstract to describe. As you can probably gather, Everything is not dissimilar to its title—and a lot to wrap your head around. If all this sounds intimidating (which, let’s be honest, how could it not?), rest assured that Everything is grounded by an effortlessly simple emotional throughline. Indeed, the film contains as much emotional maturity as it does cool concepts and ostentatious images (yes, including a giant butt plug and raccoon chef). At its core, it is a story about love and family, carried by the dazzling Yeoh in a subtle and unsentimental performance. Where Everything’s emotional throughline is Evelyn’s relationship with her family, its visual thread manifests as a series of hypnotic, vertiginous action sequences, choreographed like a ballet by Andy and Brian Le. As a bonus, these sequences recall Yeoh’s iconic role in Ang Lee’s wuxia film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The directors do not shy away from the use of dizzying flashing lights, or rapidly shifting light sources that disorient the viewer. They also aren’t afraid to implement over-the-top images, like a person’s head exploding into confetti or a butt-naked man flying in slow-motion toward the camera. At the same time, movement between ‘verses feels seamless through Paul Rogers’ meticulous editing, as does the effortless fashion in which different aspect ratios melt into one another. If Everything Everywhere All at Once can be boiled down to one, simple question, it would be reflexive of its own title: Can you really have everything everywhere all at once? Whatever the characters’ answers end up being (I’ll let you discover that on your own), I am certain that the Daniels would say yes, of course you can.—Aurora Amidon


An adaptation of Karen Cushman’s 1994 children’s novel, Catherine Called Birdy follows a 14-year-old girl (Bella Ramsey) as she comes of age in 13th century England and attempts to avoid being subjected to a financially-driven arranged marriage. It’s another perfect distillations of Lena Dunham’s matured artistic musings, particularly when it comes to her personal reflections on pregnancy, motherhood and bodily autonomy. We first meet Catherine (Ramsey) in the midst of a playful afternoon rolling around in the mud, returning home to the gentle scolding of her nanny Morwenna (Lesley Sharp). As the only daughter of Lord Rollo (Andrew Scott) and Lady Aislinn (Billie Piper), there is a looming expectation that Catherine (affectionately dubbed Birdy due to her formidable collection of pet birds) will be wed as soon as she’s crossed the threshold into womanhood with the arrival of her “monthly tithings.” With the family fortune nearly depleted, her father begins to line up prospective suitors, anxious for the financial relief that a generous dowry for a virginal wife would provide. Adamantly opposed to leaving her family and the comfort of her home in “the village of Stonebridge, in the shire of Lincoln, in the country of England, in the hands of God,” Birdy predictably frets when she finally experiences menarche (her first period), opting to hide the bloody rags under the floorboards to keep her parents in the dark. After all, if she theoretically can’t bear children for a husband, she can’t be sold off as a viable wife. The tone of Birdy is perfectly congruous with Dunham’s established comedic sensibility, a testament to her overarching prowess as a writer. She carefully imbues Cushman’s original story with her own observational slant, deftly handling fart jokes and naïve assumptions of the birds and the bees without ever tipping over into unnecessary crudeness. As a creative who has unabashedly explored the ickier side of (oft-sexual) human connection, it’s heartening to see her nurture a precocious childlike sensibility as opposed to languishing amid spoiled, stunted adults. —Natalia Keogan


On paper, Jackass Forever operates in perfect sync with every other long-gap nostalgia sequel/revival being used to prop up various streaming services or the tenuous theatrical experience. It arrives 11 years and change after a second sequel to a movie based on (and very similar to) a TV series, brings back as much of its core cast as possible for more of the same and, in some cases, even circles back to revisit certain sequences from previous installments. Just like past versions, Jackass Forever opens with a more staged action sequence that seems designed to blow remaining budget money on a larger-scale expression of the project’s grody whimsy. It’s Jackass, again, again. Two factors help Jackass Forever mitigate this on-trend sameness, and then transcend it. One is the durability of Jackass itself, which—in case it has somehow escaped you—consists of ringleader Johnny Knoxville and assorted skater-adjacent goofballs performing a variety of stunts and pranks that blur the line between primitive sketch comedy and sophisticated geek show. The second factor also has to do with that longevity. Let any movie or TV series run long enough, and it will become at least in part about its own age, and while Jackass doesn’t get too cutely sentimental about how long these guys have been in each other’s lives and ours, it is unavoidably aware of that fact. In some sequences, Knoxville’s hair is a distinguished mussed gray; more than once, Steve-O brandishes and/or retrieves his false front tooth (“They’re dropping like flies,” he grins semi-ruefully). In an early sequence, Knoxville jokes about the camera needing to avoid capturing his bald spot. Spike Jonze, a longtime cohort who only occasionally makes on-camera appearances, rushes on with some spray paint to cover it up. These guys are well into their forties, and they’re still surprising each other with taser zaps, engaging in everyone-loses slapstick competitions and using each other to prop up bike ramps. This is, as the saying goes, a feature, not a bug. That affability goes a long way: More casual viewers’ mileage may vary on which stunts are laugh-out-loud funny and which are abjectly horrifying, and the rickety carnival rollercoaster ride works better when the other passengers—whether fellow audience members or the on-camera talent—are screaming and laughing along in equal measure. Knoxville himself feels more like a host than ever, jumping into the fray for select bits, including a hell of a curtain call for his closer. He’s been good in fiction films, but he never feels as comfortable onscreen as when he’s presiding over this particular brand of mayhem. He emcees every Jackass movie like he may never get the chance to do it again—an unspoken threat that looms larger than ever over this one. After all, it may not be physically feasible to keep this series going as a Richard Linklater or 7 Up-style chronicle of slapstick performance art. Then again, Forever is right there in the title.—Jesse Hassenger


In Rian Johnson’s latest Knives Out mystery, the Glass Onion is as much a metaphor for the nature of the whodunit as it is for the grandeur of the film itself. Resting upon a gorgeous Greek villa (on a billionaire’s private island, no less), the titular emblem is created through a combination of VFX and a practical structure that stands a mighty 20 meters high. Made in the U.K. from all-glass paneling, the Onion’s design was so intricate that it had to be assembled in its birthplace first to ensure that all its pieces fit together, disassembled entirely for its journey to a Serbian studio and then reassembled for the film. This extravagance perfuses beyond budget and set design to inform key elements of the overall work—most notably, its characters, sense of humor and roller coaster narrative. In Glass Onion, everything is more. More jokes. More self-reflexivity. More twists and turns. And, undeniably, more fun. Peeling back the layers of this campy mystery is none other than Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), “The Last of the Gentlemen Sleuths.” He opens a mixed bag of eccentric personalities, including unfiltered fashion designer Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), Connecticut governor Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), mysterious scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.), men’s rights influencer Duke Cody (Dave Bautista), wealthy entrepreneur Miles Bron (Edward Norton) and Andi Brand (Janelle Monáe), his estranged business partner. This absurdly delightful cast and gags are accompanied by a narrative that mirrors their chaos and lightheartedness. Where Knives Out is a straight whodunit, this second installment is more of an adoring parody of the subgenre. From recurring jokes about Clue to the utilization of famous novella tropes, the film dives headfirst into all things murder-mystery. It has multiple puzzles layered onto each other to create a viewing experience jam-packed with revelations and shocks—hence its overarching onion metaphor. Glass Onion is the kind of crowd-pleasing entertainment that is best experienced in a group setting, where the film’s topsy-turvy take on the whodunit is sure to keep you guessing (and laughing).—Kathy Michelle Chacón

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The decades-long path to making another Fletch movie, littered with A-list stars and directors, ended in a movie with a barely-there theatrical release, and a quiet shuffle over to Showtime a month later—seemingly a classic case of misguided franchise-building anticlimax. But maybe the tossed-off release of Confess, Fletch makes sense, because the movie itself achieves such a perfect nonchalance, without slumping into the contemptuous indifference of Fletch Lives (the Chevy Chase sequel that’s responsible for Fletch going into cinematic hibernation in the first place). It comes down to how well writer, director and underappreciated comic craftsman Greg Mottola uses Jon Hamm, an actor who previously had to confine his comic instincts to Saturday Night Live-and-adjacent guest appearances and certain Mad Men line readings. As shoe-averse reporter-turned-detective Irwin Fletcher, Hamm rarely breaks his deadpan, even when he’s suspected of multiple murders. Is he a feckless wiseass, or a deceptively smooth operator? The movie is less about answering that question than getting on Fletch’s wavelength—made all the easier by Mottola’s unfussy, Soderberghian direction. At a time when so much great comedy has migrated over to television, it’s an especially rare treat to catch a comic mystery looking like a real movie. Can we have half a dozen more of these, please?—Jesse Hassenger


More than 25 years ago, Mike Judge’s vision of the U.S. was one of unmitigated sowing, absolutely no reaping whatsoever, and Beavis and Butt-Head (also Judge), teenage boys whose whole American way of life has evolved their bodies into top-heavy monstrosities where the pituitary gland stores hormones like a camel’s hump (heh) stores water, were the ageless expressions of that pioneering curse. More than 25 years later, and Judge’s vision remains pretty much the same. As a legacy sequel, then, it’s hard (heh heh) to imagine Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe doing anything better. Written by Judge and Lew Morton (with story help from Guy and Ian Maxtone-Graham, all adult animation and/or SNL vets), little has changed for Beavis and Butt-Head, including the passage of time. Just as in Do America, puns provide all the story motivation Judge needs to get Beavis and Butt-Head anywhere—in this case it’s space, then through time, then eventually to college and jail, all while pursued by the government (who thinks they’re aliens, even after capturing them, because they look so inhuman) and astronaut Serena Ryan (Andrea Savage) and versions of themselves (“Smart Beavis” and “Smart Butt-Head”) from another reality. Toward the end of the film, Smart Butt-Head must remind Beavis of everything they did—“You also went to college…and jail”—only reinforcing how obligatory and episodic (heh) it all is, how every legacy sequel just aimless tosses IP (heh, “I pee”) at the wall, seeing what sticks, never really attempting to forge anything new. Just rehashing the same story over and over. Judge sarcastically bakes that lousy truth into the DNA of his own legacy sequel, making a movie that stubbornly refuses to have its characters ever change, exposing the creative dearth at the heart of most of these reboots. Then again, Beavis and Butt-Head not changing is inherent to Beavis and Butt-Head. Were they to ever learn from their mistakes, they would not be Beavis and Butt-Head. A legacy sequel that does nothing to revitalize its characters, expand its canon, extend (heh) its mythos, or even really tell a new joke. I laughed through the whole thing.—Dom Sinacola


The reverse pageantry of Owen Kline’s directorial debut Funny Pages is the greatest kind of eyesore: Mildewy abodes, nudie comix, stinkpots, creeps and hermits. In this inverted fairy tale, produced by the Safdie brothers and Frownland’s Ronald Bronstein, teenage cartoonist Robert (Daniel Zolghadri) jilts his upper-crust New Jerseyan suburb to drop out of school after the untimely death of his teacher and mentor, Katano (Stephen Adly Guirgis). Katano was a creep, his last breathing moments spent trying to coax Robert into his front seat after stripping nude in a lesson on art modeling and caricature. But his steadfast belief in Robert’s art went with him, sanctifying the art of cartooning in the process. Sojourning in Trenton, Robert “signs”—his stay is off the books—a monthly lease in a truly chilling, tumbledown basement apartment (an ad hoc boiler-room-turned-bunker). Kline adds all the nasty fixings: A landlord with a violent combover, a fish tank sans fish, coffee-colored shower water, toenail scraping and rogue pork rinds, all clouded in thick, clammy heat. Robert has all the makings of a coming-of-age protag—he’s a vicious little curmudgeon, constantly chewing out his parents and undermining his best friend Miles’ (Miles Emanuel) comic strips (“Your linework’s like, really ratty” is perhaps his kindest remark). He reserves all of his decency for the artists he deems worthy. But Zolghadri plays Robert with such modulating disdain and charm that you still root for him on the other end of the screen, not to succeed per se, but to be affirmed by his trampish heroes. Funny Pages rubs the same marrow as Crumb, a 1994 Zwigoff documentary which surveys American cartoonist and founding father of the underground comix movement, Robert Crumb—presumably Robert’s psychic namesake, seeing as Kline has seen the film “over a hundred times.” There’s then the comic throughline of Ghost World—adapted from Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel—and the running appraisal of high culture in Art School Confidential which match Funny Pages’ roughed out suburban malaise. Funny Pages has all the bells and whistles of a Safdie joint, from the hustler caught in a hellish loop to the frenetic coda set to rest by moments of painful introspection. The elliptic ending will split audiences, but Kline’s commitment to eschewing a redemption arc for Robert only buffs the film’s balance of the grotesque and the mundane, seamlessly reproducing Crumb’s gloomy ethos: “To be human is, for the most part, to hate what I am. When I suddenly realize that I am one of them, I want to scream in horror.”—Saffron Maeve


In what seems like a lost TV movie from the 1970s, the understudy of an avant-garde theater group murders its star actor in cold blood so that he can finally have the spotlight for himself. He thinks he’s gotten away with it until Inspector Ike, New York City’s greatest police detective who, according to legend, can “solve crimes without any clues or evidence,” comes knocking at the door asking questions and poking holes in the understudy’s story. Since the exact details of the crime are revealed in the first act, Inspector Ike’s charm doesn’t come from trying to figure out whodunit, but from watching Inspector Ike unfold the case before him with signature deadpan—all while the killer’s inner psyche unravels as he tries to outrun his guilt. Where most detective parodies might take their leads for a bumbling fool, Inspector Ike himself is skillfully played straight-faced by Ikechukwu Ufomadu in a refreshing spin on an old comedy trope. Ike’s confidence in himself and in his work projects the presence of a trustworthy, comforting guiding hand in the absurd world that director Graham Mason has carefully crafted. Simultaneously deadpan and warmly funny, Inspector Ike borrows ingredients from multiple genres to create something weird and totally new in a way that honors the feelings of its characters, yet never takes itself too seriously. For example, the narrative flow of the film is interrupted so that Inspector Ike can relay a chili recipe to us. We’re encouraged to write it all down on a recipe card. With a pinch of satirical, self-deprecating humor here and a dash of giallo-esque deep red flashbacks there—all structured as a Columbo-style detective serial—you get a dish so hearty that you’ll find yourself clamoring for another bowl. In fact, after the credits rolled, I wished I lived in a time and place where I could tune into Inspector Ike’s adventures every week.—Katarina Docalovich


Filmmaker Domee Shi (who delivered the best short Pixar’s ever made in Bao) becomes the first woman to direct a Pixar movie alone, and her floofy red panda’s coming-of-age story stretches the strengths of the company’s legacy. Turning Red is a hyper-cute whirlwind of figurative layers and literal loveliness, dense with meaning and meaningful even to the most dense among us. An exceptional puberty comedy by way of Sanrio-branded Kafka, Turning Red’s truthful transformations are strikingly charming, surprisingly complex and satisfyingly heartfelt. And yes, so cute you might scream until you’re red in the face. Hyperactive 13-year-old overachiever Meilin Lee (Rosalie Chiang) likes to think she runs Toronto with her weirdo friends, partitioning her life into boy-band obsession, extracurricular exceptionalism and deference to intense mom Ming (Sandra Oh) and soft-spoken dad Jin (Orion Lee). She’s got it all balanced, embodying the multiple identities we develop as we become our own people with the overwhelming energy of someone discovering this exciting new freedom for the first time. Chiang’s crackling vocal performance and a blistering visual pace right out the gate make it clear that Mei’s a ridiculous little goober who knows exactly who she is. That is, until she’s “visited by the red panda.” What initially seems like a fairly straightforward allegory for the bodily betrayal and raging emotions of puberty starts scooping up more and more relatable elements into its impressive, finely detailed bear hug. Shi and co-writer Julia Cho weave an ambitious amount of themes into a narrative that’s main plot engine is boy-band concert lust. Its love-hate bout with puberty is obvious, but self-actualization, filial piety and intergenerational trauma keep its romping red wonder from feeling one-note or derivative of underwhelming transformation tales. Turning Red’s oddball characters and well-rooted fantasy inject personality into the common plot device. Not only one of Pixar’s best efforts from the last half-decade, Turning Red is one that overcomes some of the animation giant’s weaknesses. It’s original and human-centric; it’s not particularly beholden to messages more weepy for adults than enjoyable for children. It’s funny without being overly witty and smart without being overly heady. Shi displays a fantastic ability for integrating the specific and personal into the broad beats of a magical cartoon, all done sweetly and endearingly enough to become an instant favorite among modern kids and those who’ll recognize their past selves. —Jacob Oller

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The debut of writer/director Panah Panahi (yes, son of famed Iranian New Waver Jafar Panahi), Hit the Road is a sharp and endearing portrait of a family painted through a series of road trip conversations—often veiled, openly lying, or disguised by ballbusting humor. His ensemble includes a car karaoke queen mother (Pantea Panahiha), broken-legged father (Hasan Majuni), quiet driver son (Amin Simiar) and his scene-stealing fireball of a little brother (Rayan Sarlak). And a cute puppy, which means constant pee breaks. Together, they traverse the dry and rural roads fulfilling checkpoints for a mysterious quest that becomes clearer and clearer as they go. Panahi dwells on lived-in conversational rhythms as much as landscapes, both beautiful and affecting in their own ways. Sarlak’s manic little squirt often pays his respects to the picturesque horizon, but every long and loving sparring match between family members contains just as much reverence. It’s this adoration for closeness—and the confidence and trust in your cast to simply sit and shoot them rambling affectionate obscenities for long, long takes—that makes the film’s bittersweetness work so well. When Sarlak’s hilarious antics (he needs to get his contraband cell phone back because of all the people who constantly want to chat with him) and his parents’ deadpanned one-liners give way to fears about loss and separation, familiar modes of connective chatter become coping mechanisms and then reverse course, sometimes in seconds. Panahiha is particularly potent at this, letting it all play on her face—while singing her heart out, no less. For his part, the incredible Sarlak gets a musical moment as show-stopping as Mads Mikkelsen’s Another Round finale last year. It’s a movie where anyone can be a punchline, but nobody’s ever the butt of the joke. There’s too much love at hand, and even a child’s goofy babblings about the Batmobile can be transcendent moments of beauty. The road trip always has to have an end, but the excellent Hit the Road promises that the journey is as good as the people crammed in alongside you.—Jacob Oller
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