The complicated dynamics at play in the very best ensemble comedy movies have the effect of making the laughs flow freely and effortlessly. Whether the idea came from a tightly-knit group of comedians, able to improvise and hone the material over time, or through a canny casting director the result, when it works, is always a joy.
Cinema does have a long tradition of truly great ensemble comedy movies, and here are a few of the best.
10. There’s Something About Mary
On paper, at the time at least, There’s Something About Mary didn’t boast a cast of comedy giants. Despite his TV work, Ben Stiller hadn’t broken out yet in Hollywood, as this was the film that did that. Cameron Diaz was thought of as little more than a pretty face, and Matt Dillon’s career was on a downslide.
Together, however, with the puerile writing/directing of the Farrelly Brothers, and a cast that included The Thing’s Keith David, British stand-up comedian Lee Evans, Sarah Silverman, and Lin Shaye, There’s Something About Mary was a surprise hit.
Stiller as Ted showed his natural comic delivery as well as leading man credentials, whilst Matt Dillon displayed hitherto unknown comedic talents. The biggest surprise, though, was probably Cameron Diaz as Mary, who revealed a great flare for comedy. Top marks, however, go to Keith David as Mary’s joker father, busting Ted’s chops at every opportunity.
9. The Big Lebowski
The Coens have made an award laden career of making quality, humorous, ensemble movies, but The Big Lebowski may be the most comedic of them all.
Jeff Bridges is undoubtedly the star of the show, as the laid back, mellow Dude. The rest of the cast, though, are no less brilliant. John Turturro, Steve Buscemi, John Goodman, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Julianne Moore are all hilarious, and the great lines are spread around generously.
The general lack of complex plotting allows us to just sit back and enjoy the incredible comedic performances. Go ahead, try and pick a favourite. It’s impossible.
8. National Lampoon’s Vacation
Vacation is, on the surface, the Chevy Chase show, but it wouldn’t work nearly so well without such a talented cast surrounding him.
Beverly D’ Angelo plays the straight man perfectly, with great cameo support from Eugene Levy, John Candy, and an impressively restrained Randy Quaid. Some of the best stuff, though, comes surprisingly from the Griswold children, played by Dana Barron, and particularly Anthony Michael Hall, who would go on to be a big star.
Also keep an eye out for an almost unrecognisably young Jane Krakowski, who plays the Griswold kid’s French kissing cousin – ‘Daddy says I’m the best’.