Now Playing! Comic Diversion Unspools Across SF's Landscape

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 (Collage by Sarah Hotchkiss)

SFFILM, the venerable, far-ranging festival and big dog on the local cinema calendar, was supposed to start Wednesday. To fill the void, I should have compiled a selection of challenging films from around the globe. Maybe next week. Right now, a bit of comic diversion is called for. Here’s a batch of movies that use San Francisco locations to excellent effect.

What’s Up, Doc?, 1972
Criterion Channel
Peter Bogdanovich’s homage to ’30s screwball comedies is a charming romp up and down San Francisco’s hills. Careening from coincidence to improbability, the movie revels in the comic timing of Barbra Streisand and straight man Ryan O’Neal. Raise a glass to co-screenwriter Buck Henry, who jitterbugged off this mortal coil in January.

North Beach, 2000
Telegraph Hill is the picturesque setting for this indie gem that played to a packed Lumiere at a long-ago Indiefest. Casey Peterson (who wrote the clever comic screenplay) wakes up after a one-night stand with a stripper to discover that everyone—including his fiancée—knows about the dirty deed. Co-directors Jed Mortenson and Richard Speight draw naturalistic performances from a coterie of likable twenty-somethings who handle the sparkling banter with brio and aplomb.

So I Married an Axe Murderer, 1993
Amazon and other online rental platforms
The other comedy that Mike Myers put out in 1993 spun the turnstiles a good deal slower than Wayne’s World 2. It’s worth a look for its local setting, the star’s dual performances and the weirdly funny supporting cast of Nancy Travis, Anthony LaPaglia, Phil Hartman, Brenda Fricker, Amanda Plummer and Charles Grodin.

Bicentennial Man, 1999
Six years after Mrs. Doubtfire, Robin Williams and Chris Columbus paired up again to showcase the Bay Area’s natural and man-made beauty—as envisioned in the near and distant future. This speculative and overly sentimental fiction, adapted from Isaac Asimov’s story, follows a household robot’s progress over two centuries.


Medicine for Melancholy, 2008
Amazon and other online rental platforms
Barry Jenkins’ black-and-white debut, shot during the Miami-born director’s time in San Francisco, won the Audience Award at (what was then called) the S.F. International Film Festival. It’s of a piece with his later successes; that is, it’s an artful and piercing character study focused on the acute challenges of being black in America. After spending the night together, Wyatt Cenac and Tracey Heggins stroll around town navigating their awkward connection and the larger picture.

After the Thin Man, 1936
Amazon and other online rental platforms
The copyright laws mystify me. How can an 84-year-old film not be in the public domain, and free to all? If you (or your children) have never seen Woody Van Dyke’s terrific S.F.-set sequel (the first of five) to The Thin Man, his immortal 1934 adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s novel, mix a pitcher of martinis and curl up with the dog. Urbane amateur detectives Nick and Nora Charles (the sublime William Powell and Mary Astor) are on the case, though assuredly not on the wagon.