Lists · Movies

Your Happy Place Movie

It’s been a rough week in the real world. To what cinematic adventure might you escape, if only for a few hours?
happy place Finding Nemo
By  · Published on November 11th, 2016

Walk down the street in any American city or town today and you’re likely to feel a version of it: the buzzing energy of an anxious society. The fear of the unknown often ranks among the greatest fears of modern humans, and following Tuesday’s Presidential election, the unknown of what comes next has never been greater. Many have compared this anxiety to that which followed the events of September 11, 2001. But this is different. In 2001, the horrific loss of life at the hands of a then-unknown enemy was a uniting force for all Americans. It brought a country together under the banner of fighting back to protect our democratic way of life. When you got up the next morning to go to work, you did so to show the terrorists that we, as a people, would not be defeated. Our lives would not be disrupted.

This week is different, regardless of where you land on the political spectrum. The election further exposed the divides that exist in the United States, a driving force behind worldwide anxiety and unrest.

What is our role in all of this? We are mere bloggers, who seek to converse about that which entertains us. It’s hard to imagine that being an important thing when placed in the context of what’s happening in the real world. But it is important. As a publication, we will continue to view film, television, and all manner of popular culture through a lens that hopefully brings us greater understanding of the human condition. We’ll continue to see our world reflected back to us in stories told on screens big and small. And in some instances, we’ll seek to get away for a few hours and recharge our depleted emotional batteries.

After a long week of anxiety, frustration, division, and fear of the unknown, we’d like to take a moment to talk about that last category of movies: the diversions that allow us to recharge our emotional batteries. We call them “Happy Place” movies, the ones that whisk you away with silliness, humanity, and levity. Not so that you can forget the things you face in the real world, but simply as a way to press pause and revel in the delights that the world of entertainment can deliver.

These are our Happy Place movies…


Jacob Oller: UHF is Weird Al Yankovic’s movie that came about in the late ’80s when his wave of fame was cresting, which means it’s gotten about as much respect as the man himself. Released during a summer of pure box office hedonism (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Ghostbusters II, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Lethal Weapon 2, Batman, When Harry Met Sally, etc), the unlikely underdog flopped. But I say it was ahead of its time. Too smart and too weird.

It’s one of my favorite movies – shot entirely in Tulsa, where I went to elementary school – filled with stupid gags and one-off parodies ripped from Yankovic’s music videos. It also interlaces its oddball TV station owner with the strangest collection of screw-ups to ever unseat the perfectly WASPy network owner. It’s a parody of feel-good ’80s movies that still manages to feel good. Pre-Seinfeld Michael Richards crowdsurfs as the countdown clock (that ’80s moviegoers know means certain real estate developer-induced doom) erupts fireworks and monster trucks rage into the shot. It’s absolutely crazy, over-the-top victory featuring an alien, a dwarf, and Fran Drescher. When R.J. Fletcher (even his name makes you hate him) gets kicked in his uppity rich nads, it’s a moment worth cheering for as much as the delightfully absurd schtick of “Conan the Librarian” or a commercial for Spatula City.

Hot Rod

H. Perry Horton: What I need from a “happy place” movie is not just the chance to escape from whatever’s bugging me, but the chance to have my emotions realigned so that when the credits roll I’m not dropped right back into whatever hole I just spent the last couple hours climbing out of. That means I gotta have something funny, but not just any funny movie will do. It can’t be something nostalgic for me like Ghostbusters, Back to School, or The Jerk — those come with their own emotional contexts – and it can’t be something too silly like Buster Keaton movies, Marx Brothers movies, or Jim Carrey movies, because those don’t take me out of my headspace enough, they’re obviously entertainment. What I want is something that straddles the line between the two without straying too far into either territory, something that’s silly without being absurd, and something that’s sweet without being saccharine. That’s a space Hot Rod from Akiva Schaffer fills for me. Rod Kimball (Andy Samberg) is the world’s most inept amateur stuntman, but that doesn’t stop him from trying to be the best. It’s heartfelt without being sappy and hilarious without being slapstick. Sure, there are some physical elements to the humor, but the real joke is just how ill-equipped Rod is for his profession of choice, while the real soul comes from his ability to transcend his shortcomings. It’s the kind of film that makes everything cool beans again.

Real Genius

William Dass: I need a hero in a my Happy Place flick because I need to identify with a POV character. I need to empathize with their challenges and relish their victories. And, since I’m a bit of a sap, my Happy Place films tend to have very earnest, heartfelt characters. What’s my go to movie with these requirements? Real Genius. Val Kilmer and Gabe Jarret are – and I mean this literally – a joy to watch. They have terrific chemistry. And, for an absurd movie about a teenage science wizard teaming up with a slacker genius to get back at The Man, the characters all feel true. There are no false moments. Even when they destroy a house by cooking popcorn with basically a space laser, all of the characters’ decisions feel sincere.

When the world feels hostile, Real Genius gives me a path. It’s funny to me, as a grown man with kids of my own even, how I still identify with Mitch’s struggle. Casual nastiness is baffling and daunting. I just want to go out and do good things, you know? But, sometimes the world doesn’t want to play along. Maybe they’re threatened by me? Maybe they hear the voice of God in their head and they’re ashamed of their masturbatory habits so they take it out on me? I really don’t know. It’s all very overwhelming. I take the message of Real Genius to heart. When the world messes with you, don’t just suck it up. Get up. Make a plan. And go get your mojo back. It’s a moral imperative.

Raising Arizona

Chris Coffel: Anytime I’m looking for a movie to lift my spirits odds are that what I end up choosing will be something with Nicolas Cage. I love most of his work and am thoroughly entertained by it all so what that movie ends up being can change from time to time. There is one movie, however, that I find myself returning to more often than not and that’s Raising Arizona.

Not only is Raising Arizona a vehicle for my favorite actor, but it was made by my favorite filmmakers, the Coen Brothers, and it just so happens to take place in my home state. Those three things are merely bonuses. The real reason Raising Arizona is my go-to pick me up is because it delivers every single time. Every viewing is funnier than the last. It’s slapstick and silly but genuinely good hearted. Plus it has arguably the greatest chase in the history of film as well as one of the all-time classic prison escapes. And it sort of foreshadows Cage taking on Ghost Rider. I guarantee Raising Arizona will make you laugh every time you watch it or my name ain’t Chris Coffel!

Finding Nemo

Christopher Campbell: This is going to sound very cheesy, but at the moment I don’t have a personal happy place movie so much as I have my kids’ happy place movies. I don’t get to see a lot of my favorite movies or any movies more than once these days but I do wind up watching Minions, Dumbo, and Ice Ages 2–4 over and over and over with my very young son and daughter. It makes me happy to see them happy, which if you know any 2 and 4 year olds that’s not quite all the time.

Of course, I prefer their happy-making movies are also good movies that I enjoy, more Inside Out and especially My Neighbor Totoro over Despicable Me. Right now the two of them share in a love of Dory, which is actually what they call Finding Nemo since we don’t have Finding Dory yet (and only the older child saw that sequel in the theater). They’re mesmerized and engaged, my son is really into imitating whale speak a lot which can be annoying but is still always sweet. He’s also appreciative of the comedy routine of short-term memory loss, while my daughter loves the turtles and well, just any of it. I didn’t even like Finding Nemo when it came out, but I love watching it while watching them watch it.

Yellow Submarine

Jamie Righetti: My happy place movie has definitely changed through the years. As a child, my go-to sick day movie was Yellow Submarine and the inescapable lure of cartoon Beatles, an actual yellow submarine and songs you love come to life in a technicolor acid trip to behold. The plot is non-sensical but it doesn’t matter, it’s about love, tangerine skies and the music. Seriously, watch it and try getting “It’s All Too Much” out of your head, I’m already singing it in my own. It’s a magic that’s lasted for me over the years and I find anytime I’m down, it does the trick.

But when cartoons aren’t enough, and lately they haven’t been, I always turn to (you knew this was coming, right?) Keanu Reeves. Seriously, go put on Point Break and get ready to feel great because there’s nothing better than surfing, sky diving, bank-robbing, and Patrick Swayze. Nope, wait there is: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, one of my favorite movies from childhood that only got better as an adult. Reeves used to lament that his tombstone would say “He played Ted,” but his loveable airhead, his swaying stature and that HAIR make the movie. I could truly go on and on about the hidden gems in Reeves’ long and expansive career (Man of Tai Chi is hugely underrated) but just pick anyone (but not Dracula) and get ready to feel good. Vaya con Keanu!

Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky

Rob Hunter: I like happy movies well enough with films like We Are The Best and the recent Sing Street being examples of ones capable of bringing a smile to my face, and two of my favorite movies of all time, Broadcast News and Breaking Away, are even more guaranteed to fill me with joy every single time I watch.

But when it comes to “happy place” movies, few are as blissfully entertaining as Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky.

The story is so simple it doesn’t even bear mentioning, but the execution is a mad, hilarious, and gory as hell romp. Ricky punches through people, tears heads off, knocks eyeballs out of their sockets, and more, and the villains are every bit as creatively violent. The practical effects are surprisingly effective and deliciously ubiquitous as flesh crumbles left and right beneath the impact of Ricky’s fists. It’s essentially an old-school video game as he works his way through mini-bosses before reaching the main bad guy – a balding and snot-nosed incredible hulk – and along the way we’re treated to goofy asides, absurd dialogue, and “great” performances. It even ends with a triumphant prison break that leaves us cheering for the sequel that never came.

Watch it subtitled in Cantonese, dubbed in English, or with the sound turned all the way down… it remains a smile-inducing masterpiece.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension

Brad Gullickson: While stalking three evil Red Lectroids from Planet 10 through the mysterious backrooms of Buckaroo Banzai’s science compound, fresh recruit New Jersey (aka Jeff Goldblum in the bright red cowboy getup) spots a confounding fruit under the vise at the center of the laboratory. He asks with about as much comfort as he has holding his pistol, “Why is there a watermelon there?” Reno Nevada, the seasoned regulator assigned to his side gives a simple dismissal, “I’ll tell you later.” This is a marvelous absurdity that brilliantly alludes to a whackadoo history. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is my happy place movie because every time I return to the film, I am invited into a comic book fantasy that appears to have been running monthly for decades. The neurosurgeon/philosopher/samurai/rock star’s battle with dimensional escapee Lord John Whorfin is just one of many adventures that the Hong Kong Cavaliers have faced, and we should be thankful that director W.D. Richter managed to capture this episode on film.

I will never be as cool as Buckaroo Banzai. To aspire to such blazing glory would only result in suicidal self-loathing. But I could find some red chaps, I could learn a little piano, and I could maybe be cool enough to board the bus with the rest of Buckaroo’s Blue Blaze Irregulars. I’m certainly cool enough to be in the know, and that’s exactly how you feel when you pop in the film. Before there was the obvious acceptance of the MCU, there was Buckaroo Banzai. Watching the film is akin to participating in the film; you’re part of the crew. This merry band of MTV superheroes is a glimpse into our ultimate obsession with the MCU, and that might make the pain of a single chapter serial adventure a little more palatable. “Cuz remember, no matter where you go, there you are.”

The Baxter

Matthew Monagle: I tend to turn towards the action and horror genres whenever I need a cinematic pick-me-up, but since we could also use a little sweetness in our lives, I’m going to throw out a recommendation for Michael Showalter’s The Baxter. For the most part, the comedy stylings of Showalter, Wain, and Black leave me just a little bit cold. I certainly recognize a lot of humor in things like Wet Hot American Summer and Stella, but it tends to be more of the Mandy-Moore-on-Scrubs variety of enjoyment; you know, acknowledging that it is indeed funny but not actually laughing. The Baxter is different. Few things in life as funny to me as Justin Theroux’s gentle parody of the romantic comedy leading man, but the rest of the supporting cast – Peter Dinklage, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Rudd, and a never-been-more-likable Michelle Williams – gives this slight comedy a really powerful punch.

The message of the film is also not lost on me this week. The Baxter may be a love story, but at its core is a lesson about not defining yourself based on the things that have gone wrong. Michael Showalter and Michelle Williams’s characters are able to find a happy ending because they reject what’s easy in favor of what’s right, and unlike most comedies, this doesn’t have to come at the expense of others. A mid-credit sequence even hints that The Baxter has kicked off ripples through the lives of its characters, and that everyone has a chance to find happiness if they’re willing to revisit what’s truly important to them. It’s a sweet, silly love story, and one that perks me up immensely every time I see it. It may not brighten your horrible week entirely, but it’ll at least nudge it in the right direction.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Neil Miller: There’s something liberating about remembering those days in which you skipped school and led a parade through the heart of Chicago with your best girl and your reluctant best friend. Well, not exactly that, but we’ve all done it before: played hooky from school or work to do something rebelious, even if that something is marathoning Seinfeld on the couch. The thematic core of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is exactly what we need this week, a little bit of youthful rebellion in the face of totalitarian threats. When forces, such as Jeffrey Jones’ Ed Rooney, seek to micromanage our lives and Otherize someone who is different (a la Matthew Broderick’s Ferris), it’s important that we band together to fight back. Whether that’s dropping some lunch money into the Save Ferris bucket or taking a joyride in the old man’s vintage car, we have to find ways to fight back and disrupt the powers that seek to hold us down and divide us. We should do this, as Ferris, Sloane, and Cameron do, in the interest of maintaining of freedom for as long as we can.

When I picked Ferris as my Happy Place movie, I wasn’t anticipating it being this on the nose, but here we are. Even if you disagree with the parallels to our current real-world situation, there’s no denying that joining up with Bueller and Co. is at least a lot of fun. There’s an exuberant anxiety to watching Ferris escape Rooney’s clutches at every turn, an almost Chaplin-esque physical comedy, bullfighting with the forces of evil. The charismatic and resourceful Bueller is a hero for all of us, the Camerons of the world who feel the weight of reality.

What is your Happy Place movie?

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