15 Movies With Decent, Uncomplicated Main Characters

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Cha Cha Real Smooth proves complex, morally ambiguous main characters are so overrated.


Photo-illustration: Alexa Fishman; Sundance Institute, Everett Collection: Julieta Cervantes/A24, Francois Duhamel/Focus Features, Columbia Pictures, Magnolia Pictures, Apple TV+

People love movies with complicated characters. Stories about antiheroes who wallow in moral ambiguity and forgo personal growth in favor of navel-gazing and celebrating their own self-loathing. That’s all well and good but you know what’s underrated? A protagonist that is simply a good person without any fuss about it.

Cha Cha Real Smooth, the newest film from director-writer-actor, Connor Raiff, is the rare movie that features one of these uncomplicated, entirely decent people and it feels incredibly refreshing to watch. To celebrate this rarity, I came up with 15 other films that show how underrated naturally good-hearted main characters really are.

1.

Andrew (Cooper Raiff) — Cha Cha Real Smooth


Apple TV+ / Courtesy Everett Collection

Fresh off of graduating college, Andrew (Cooper Raiff) starts working as a party host at Bar Mitzvahs as he tries to figure out what he actually wants to do with his life. Even though Andrew makes mistakes, he never feels like he is acting maliciously. He’s just another early 20-something who is only beginning to figure out how little he actually understands about the world. But as a viewer, you feel confident he’ll figure it out because Andrew shows himself to be a kind and caring person who naturally wants to help others feel included, which is why he got the job as the Bar Mitzvah party host in the first place.

Watch it on Apple TV+.

2.

Matt and Anna (Ed Helms and Patti Harrison) — Together Together


Bleecker Street Media / Courtesy Everett Collection

There’s a certain level of tension you might feel the first time you watch Together Together because of the expectations that come with a story like this. When Anna (Patti Harrison) agrees to be the surrogate for Matt (Ed Helms), they both seem like nice people. But as they grow closer, you almost wonder what kind of conflict or revelation will blow up their unique friendship. What makes this movie stand out is that, even when that conflict does eventually come, Anna and Matt remain extremely solid, level-headed people who you can tell truly connect with one another in a sweet way. 

Watch it on Hulu.

3.

Kiki (Minami Takayama) — Kiki’s Delivery Service


Studio Ghibli

Thirteen-year-old witch-in-training, Kiki (voiced by Minami Takayama), leaves her provincial life behind to move to the big city. What makes Kiki such a compelling character to watch is that she is a fundamentally good person who simply wants to make a life for herself. While there is no shortage of challenges she faces while trying to adjust to her new life, she remains someone who is committed to working hard and being considerate to the people around her. Even when she loses her ability to fly, she is able to regain her powers when she needs them to help save her friend Tombo (voiced by Kappei Yamaguchi).

Watch it on HBO Max.

4.

Dottie (Geena Davis) — A League of Their Own


Columbia Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

Dottie (Geena Davis) is incredible at pretty much everything she does, which is how she almost reluctantly becomes the face of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. You might expect someone as gifted as Dottie to be an arrogant jerk, but when the big leagues come calling for her, she proves her loyalty and selflessness by insisting her younger sister Kit (Lori Petty) gets a try-out as well. And Dottie’s virtuous nature never wavers, as she humbly goes about her business and never causes any trouble, unless someone or something gets in the way of her morals. Even as Kit continues to blame her older sister for all of her problems, Dottie never turns on her.

Watch it on Prime Video via AMC+.

5.

Dewey (Jack Black) — School of Rock


Paramount / Courtesy Everett Collection

Listen, Dewey Finn (Jack Black) is not exactly a model citizen. In fact, he’s a lazy freeloader who kind of steals his roommate’s identity in order to trick a group of students into joining his band. But despite all of these valid complaints against him, it always feels like Dewey’s heart is in the right place. He shows that he genuinely cherishes his students and even helps them express themselves in ways they were not allowed to previously. It’s this level of true altruism that allows Dewey to not get sent to jail immediately after his real identity is discovered. 

Rent it on Prime Video.

6.

Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) — C’mon C’mon


A24 / Courtesy Everett Collection

Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) is traveling the country as a radio journalist when his sister asks him to come to California to look after her son Jesse (Woody Norman). It’s incredibly heartwarming to watch Johnny bond with his nephew and as the two get to know each other, we see Johnny instinctively care for Jesse in a way that shows how much he loves him. In most movies like this, Johnny would probably start out as a workaholic jerk who only learns to be a decent guy when he is forced to spend time with Jesse. But in this case, Johnny already is a good guy but his time with his nephew simply reminds him of what really matters in life: the connections you share with those you love.

Watch it on Prime Video via Showtime.

7.

Frances (Greta Gerwig) — Frances Ha


IFC Films / Courtesy Everett Collection

Frances (Greta Gerwig) is a bit of mess. She’s impulsive, aimless, and feels like she is failing through life while everyone around her thrives. However, even in her most chaotic moments (like her lonely trip to Paris), France’s earnestness and desire to grow always make her a compelling and sympathetic protagonist who is impossible not to root for. None of her issues come from her being a cruel, selfish, or mean-spirited person; she, like most of us, is simply struggling with the crushing uncertainty of existence. But Frances doesn’t let this frustration make her cynical or aloof and her commitment to vulnerability is among her more admirable qualities.

Watch it on Prime Video via AMC+.

8.

Lars (Ryan Gosling) — Lars and the Real Girl


MGM / Courtesy Everett Collection

In a lesser movie, Lars (Ryan Gosling) and his relationship with “Bianca'” would be treated like a punchline. But Lars and the Real Girl isn’t interested in making lazy jokes. Certainly, there is shock when Lars introduces a sex doll as his significant other, but Lars is never treated with cruelty. And because of this, we get to see the loneliness and guilt that has caused Lars to isolate himself from everyone in his life and fear any sort of real relationship. Gosling does an outstanding job showing the sensitivity and soft-heartedness of Lars so that you can sympathize with his decision, no matter how strange it might seem at first.

Watch it on HBO Max.

9.

Calvin (Ice Cube) — Barbershop


MGM / Courtesy Everett Collection

After deciding to sell his barbershop to a greedy loan shark, Calvin (Ice Cube) realizes how much the shop means to the entire community and does everything he can to keep the sale from going through. He isn’t motivated by greed or selfishness; his love for the barbershop comes from the love he has for the people around him and even though he’s frustrated with them half of the time, there’s never a question of what his friends and family mean to him. Calvin is a simple guy who wants to live a good life surrounded by the people he cares about. 

Rent it on Prime Video.

10.

Paterson (Adam Driver) — Paterson


Bleecker Street Media / Courtesy Everett Collection

Movies about artists tend to focus on their complexity, showing anyone who makes art as a tortured soul whose inner demons fuel their creativity. Perhaps that’s why Paterson feels like such a breath of fresh air, as the titular poet is shown to be a mostly uncomplicated man who writes simply because he loves to write. Is there depth to Paterson (Adam Driver)? Unquestionably. But that does not automatically translate into emotional instability or moral depravity. Paterson is shown to be a loving husband who is happy with his simple life as a bus driver in New Jersey and who also writes beautiful poetry. Is that not enough?

Watch it on Prime Video.

11.

Burt and Verona (John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph) — Away We Go


Focus Features / Courtesy Everett Collection

As Burt (John Krasinski) and Verona (Maya Rudolph) prepare to become parents, they decide to travel around the country in the hopes of figuring out where they want to settle down and start their family. Along the way, the expecting parents meet a collection of kooky characters but as we get to know the couple, their shared love and decency are apparent. Even in the moments of tension or frustration between them, neither feel like they are coming from a place of malice. They are committed to building a fulfilling life together and while that proves to be more difficult than they expected, they don’t abandon that commitment.

Rent it on Prime Video.

12.

Ruby (Emilia Jones) — CODA


Apple TV+ / Courtesy Everett Collection

As the only hearing member of her family, Ruby (Emilia Jones) plays an essential role in helping her family’s fishing business stay afloat. But as she discovers her talent as a singer, Ruby feels guilt about her desire to branch out and experience life on her own. Of course, that inner conflict ultimately speaks to Ruby’s character, as she has so much love for her family that the idea of ever leaving them causes her intense emotional distress. She has spent her entire life helping her family without thinking twice and even as she feels herself being pulled away, Ruby’s affection for them never falters.

Watch it on Apple TV+.

13.

Lisa (Regina Hall) — Support the Girls


Magnolia Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

If movies teach us one thing, it’s that the overwhelming majority of bosses are self-involved jerks who will happily throw their employees under the bus to get ahead. But Lisa (Regina Hall), the general manager of the Hooters knock-off, Double Whammies, is a massive exception to that rule. We see her go out of her way to treat everyone who works for her with absolute respect and will even protect them against customers who cross the line or act inappropriately. Even when Lisa faces a nightmarish day that includes a botched robbery, marital woes, and a Steph Curry tattoo, she refuses to take out her frustration on her employees.

Watch it on Prime Video via Showtime.

14.

Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) — Columbus


Sundance Institute / Courtesy Everett Collection

Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) is a recent high school graduate who works at a library in her small town in Indiana while supporting her mom, a recovering drug addict. The struggle that Casey is facing stems directly from her kind nature, as she is resigned to put off her dreams of becoming an architect because she needs to care for her mother. And when she crosses paths with Jin (John Cho), she is allowed to be vulnerable and voice her fears and disappointments in a way that gives her clarity about what she really wants. Casey faces difficult decisions and not everything before her is black and white but her compassionate and considerate nature guides her every step of the way.

Watch it on Prime Video via Showtime.

15.

Kathy (Hong Chau) — Driveways


FilmRise / Courtesy Everett Collection

Kathy (Hong Chau) heads to her recently deceased sister’s house with her young son Cody (Lucas Jaye), who ends up forming an unexpected bond with Del (Brian Dennehy), an elderly widower who lives next door. A more conventional movie would, like, have Kathy butting heads with her son but instead, she is shown to be a loving mother. And while she is initially unsure of Del, she eventually warms up to him and goes out of her way to be neighborly to a man who is clearly very lonely, even giving him a ride to a local veterans’ event and inviting him to join her son’s birthday party.

Watch it on Peacock.



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