Perhaps more than any other genre, comedy films generally revolve around characters the audience can identify with. They’re people we want to see succeed in their endeavors, regardless of any faults they may have. If it’s a romantic comedy, we want to see the two lovers end up together. If it’s a buddy comedy, we want to see the two friends overcome whatever obstacles they might be facing. Even black comedies tend to have someone we can get behind. But every once in awhile, there comes a comedy where all the main characters are lacking in relatable traits. Whether they’re selfish jerks, just in it for the money or are simply too stupid for their own good, these are not people who can reasonably be called “heroes”.

So here are five comedies that eschew likability in favor of an examination of the dark side of humanity. I’m not passing judgment on the quality of the films themselves, merely highlighting their protagonists’ failings and shortcomings.


5. Wag the Dog

David Mamet imbues all of his screenplays with his trademark cynicism and Wag the Dog is no exception. When the President gets caught in a sex scandal, he calls on  expert spin doctor Robert De Niro to provide a distraction so he can be reelected. Enter Dustin Hoffman’s veteran Hollywood producer who helps them cook up a fake war with Albania. Given that their entire operation relies on deceiving the public, it’s almost like we want to see them succeed in spite of ourselves.

In a way, the movie is tame compared to its source material. The novel portrays Desert Storm as nothing more than George H.W. Bush’s desperate attempt at reelection. I guess there are some scenarios that are too cynical for even David Mamet to contemplate.

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This article was first posted on November 17, 2012