If you’re hankering for that sensation of having your head smashed with a mallet for three hours, this is your film. Director Ari Aster parlays his skills at horror moviemaking into an absurdist examination of trauma in the bloated, tonally challenged folly of Beau is Afraid (D). What starts out promising wears out its welcome quickly as the mawkish title character played with commitment by Joaquin Phoenix endeavors against great madcap odds to visit his controlling mom, portrayed briefly with campy relish by Broadway legend Patti LuPone. There’s no denying Aster’s mastery of the camera, and he orchestrates occasionally clever and sometimes whimsical sequences illustrating the video game style obstacles thwarting the protagonist’s mental health – but the shrill outweighs the droll in his prolonged one-note allegory. A handful of delirious dark comic laughs can’t fully compensate for the extended and sometimes pretentious march into the mental abyss. Whatever thesis statement Aster is trying to present about the peculiar familial relationship afoot in this tale is buried in distracting artifice. It’s a disappointing miss, cynical and nightmarish without proper payoff to its downhill slide.
Tag Archives: Dark comedy
Movie Review: White Noise (2022)
The future in plastics once predicted in the ‘60s comes full circle in Noah Baumbach’s absurdist ‘80s-set dark comedy White Noise (C), in which airborne toxic events, misbegotten drug deals and the power of suggestion in consumerist culture swirl in the whirling dervish of a day-glo college town. This is far from linear or logical stuff, and it only works in spurts despite lots of creativity. Based on Don DeLillo’s notoriously unadaptable postmodern novel, this go-for-broke movie introduces all sorts of intriguing ideas which are equal parts fascinating and face palm worthy. Adam Driver is the assured oddity at the center of the proceedings as an eccentric professor of Hitler studies, surrounded domestically by a bunch of loquacious, precocious offspring from multiple marriages. His current wife played by a wryly funny Greta Gerwig is largely defined by a penne pasta meets poodle inspired haircut and a possible secret. Another talky teacher friend played with relish by Don Cheadle harbors awe for Elvis and supermarkets. The plot is a series of strange events, some that linger too lovingly long on their source material roots. The ensemble’s commitment to a hilariously heightened vibe is admirable though and makes for an uneven but readymade cult sensation, a bonkers love child of Robert Altman, Steven Spielberg and Kurt Vonnegut. Perhaps the film should be accompanied Rocky Horror style with a survival kit baggie of edibles. If you make it to the end, enjoy a closing credit musical sequence that’s somewhat more thematically cogent than the feature overstaying its welcome preceding it.
Movie Review: The Menu (2022)
There’s nothing more delectable than watching bad people get their comeuppance, and many may have guessed that just such social commentary is on The Menu (B) directed by Mark Mylod. Ralph Fiennes plays a despotic chef at the helm of an exclusive restaurant that’s the sole tenant of an island, and its ensemble of guests ranging from Janet McTeer to John Leguizamo have no idea what kind of meal is coming their way. Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult are a treat as the central odd couple, she with no interest in high-minded cuisine and he obsessed with every morsel. The story’s chapters are also food courses with life lessons attached, with only one that looks as delicious as described. There are a bunch of flawed characters with too many greedy, grubby hands in the veritable gobstopper jar. The allegory loses steam as the story progresses and doesn’t fully quench the appetite it hypes. The film is entertaining but may not stick to the ribs as much as intended.
Movie Review: The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)
Whether interpreted as a peculiar fugue on male loneliness, a reflection on the origins of conflict or simply a dark comedic lark about an “unfriending” on a fictional Irish isle in the 1920s, Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin (A-) is a fulfilling comedy-drama well told with excellent acting, keen insight and glorious atmosphere. McDonagh makes a largely talky story fully engaging and cinematic by showcasing the tinges of violence simmering under the surface among his carefully drawn parochial, sometimes spiteful island denizens. Lush cinematography by Ben Davis and a lyrical score by Carter Burwell help punctuate the environment of a pretty but isolated rural village where good-natured Pádraic (Colin Farrell) finds one day his BFF Colm (Brendan Gleeson) has abruptly resolved to stop interacting with him. Farrell’s protagonist, provincial and blissfully unaware he is cramping the style of his grumpy bud, simply can’t get out of his own head about the confounding situation. The battle of wills following this fissure of friendship amasses complicated, unexpected and near-mythic implications, with the eerie, elderly Mrs. McCormack (Sheila Flitton) holding court over the island’s history as if guarding the temple to the Underworld. Farrell, all hound dog expressions and sad sack emotions, and Gleeson, gruff and troubled with few words and a mournful fiddle, are in top form at the center of the existential struggle. Those who enjoyed this duo’s past collaboration with the director, In Bruges, will likely appreciate this story as a counter companion piece. Also delightful as foils to Farrell’s character are Kerry Condon as feisty sister Siobhán and Barry Keoghan as troubled and uncensored local boy Dominic. The film is a rich work full of perfectly drawn humor, expected to be rewarding to cinephiles and possibly a bit of a head scratcher to those who don’t hop immediately on its vibe.
Movie Review: Triangle of Sadness (Sans Filtre) (2022)
The title of Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness (C) refers to the fleshy polygon between one’s brows where expressed emotions unfurl on the faces of the “have nots” or stoic unwrinkled beauty is showcased among the Botoxed. Despite intriguing milieus for his human animals to act out their heightened histrionics, Östlund keeps a satirical distance from his mostly unpleasant ensemble. Much of the action takes place aboard a luxury yacht, with the most recognizable actor Woody Harrelson amusing in a glorified cameo as the lackadaisical captain. Harris Dickinson and the late Charlbi Dean play insufferable models on an influencer trip; they and most of the characters have very little to add to society aside from wealth or beauty. Dolly de Leon is wonderfully droll and dry as an emerging character who may be onto their ruse. The comedy is broad but regretfully redundant. The director knows his targets are obvious, and he literally drops grenades and gross-outs with gleeful anarchy to his wishy washy tale almost destined to polarize. The message in his bonkers bottle is pretty clear early, and it feels like the injections of his thesis treatment come in too many doses.
Movie Review: Fresh (2022)
After an intriguing appetizer of a first act including a charming Meet Cute in a grocery store, Mimi Cave’s dark comedy Fresh (C) outstays its welcome through course after course in a twisty tale about the dog eat dog world of modern-day dating. The horror of contemporary courtship depicted here is a bit more audacious than even the vastly superior Promising Young Woman, and it’s not just toxic and terrifying because of the male love interest’s penchant for the musical catalogue of Peter Cetera. Daisy Edgar-Jones is game enough and committed to character, even though the direction and script render her lead performance a bit unremarkable. Sebastian Stan as the love interest is also a bit one-note in the tonally inconsistent film. It’s ultimately an allegory in search of a story and not funny or dark enough to traverse much new territory. Devour or delight in it at your own risk.
Movie Review: I Care a Lot (2021)
A filmmaker’s ability to manipulate viewers to root for despicable characters is the grift that keeps on giving. A scorching dark comedy about modern day capitalism wrapped in the trappings of a dark comedic bonbon, J. Blakeson’s I Care a Lot (B) coasts on the chain-vaping, stiletto-spiked, impeccably-bobbed charisma of Rosamund Pike who absolutely demands your attention in a sharklike lead role. Her swaggering character works the system, a veritable wolf of independent living as she gains guardianship over elderly victims and then scams them with abandon. She gets more than she bargained for when a character played by a feisty Dianne Wiest becomes her latest prey, and mean-spirited highjinks ensue. The antihero’s machinations are so clever that the events of the final acts have a hard time measuring up, even though much of the escalating action is indeed quite thrilling. The punchy verve of the storytelling and amusing encounters with icy adversaries such as Chris Messina and Peter Dinklage draw the audience in deeply to the intrigue. Eiza González is also gently effective as Pike’s love interest and partner in crime, in a duo not likely to win any GLAAD Awards (hey, villainesses deserve love too!) The film ultimately swallows a few too many poison pills; but in its essence, it’s a madcap ride tracking the escapades of this brilliantly played scheme queen.
Movie Review: Promising Young Woman (2020)
Writer/director Emerald Fennell’s debut film Promising Young Woman (A-) is an absorbing hybrid dark comedy thriller with an unforgettable storyline and a fiercely focused central performance by Carey Mulligan as a one-woman avenging force. As the wronged protagonist, Mulligan shape shifts into a variety of show-stopping personas in stunning episodes to underscore her poignant points, and the themes are never preachy or pedantic. In fact, the satire is so sharp, the movie continually blurs lines between genres and leaves viewers fairly unsure of what’s coming next. The film’s unconventional, entertaining script helps showcase and sell a story which otherwise might have been marginalized into well-meaning long-form essays or flash-in-the-pan hashtags. Fennell’s creative, symmetric, candy-coated aesthetic is countered and complimented by some of the most unhinged and provocative dialogue set to film about toxic male culture. Escaping the main character’s burn book (bit parts include Adam Brody, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Max Greenfield) is Bo Burnham’s character who gives a fleeting glimmer of hope into the male psyche. The filmmaker also employs phenomenal music choices ranging from pop tunes to Broadway anthems to punctuate the proceedings. This will go down as a definitive movie about the ramifications of sexual assault on both victim and perpetrator and will surely speak to a generation to think twice before being complicit in micro-aggressions and beyond. It’s a smart and sneaky surprise and not for the faint of heart.
Link to Silver Screen Capture’s video review of Promising Young Woman.
Movie Review: Parasite (2019)
Months after Jordan Peele’s Us explored the haves and have nots duking it out in a surreal version of contemporary American society, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite (A-) elevates class warfare to a whole new milieu via a dark comedic story of the extraordinary denizens of a blissed-out South Korea metropolis. The visionary director introduces viewers to a lower-class family of four rising to roles in a posh home tutoring, cooking for and driving the domicile’s privileged occupants. Is this jaw-dropping story a searing supernatural thriller or a ghost tale, dramatic chess game or upstairs/downstairs allegory? With shifting mixed-genre shenanigans, it’s all these and more. The film is fierce, frisky and funny as it makes salient points about the underbelly of society with inhabitants clawing for a way out of the funk of a bunker mentality. Favorite characters in this twisty treat are the resourceful sister played by Cho Yeo-jeong and the prideful and practical father portrayed by Song Kang-ho. The mansion at the center of the narrative is a fantastical fixture almost as labyrinthine as the pulpy plot points. Aside from some silly pratfalls and a lugubrious epilogue, expect consistent shock and awe from this inventive cinematic import.
Movie Review: Jojo Rabbit (2019)
With a Hitler youth and his imaginary friend Adolph as central protagonists, it’s stunning that Taika Waititi’s WWII-set black comedy Jojo Rabbit (B-) gets its satiric tone right even some of the time. Blending what could only be described as a Wes Anderson aesthetic with a coming of age story (oh, that was already done in Moonrise Kingdom?), Waititi writes, directs and even plays a sassy version of the make-believe Nazi mastermind with acerbic aplomb. While marquee stars Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell and Rebel Wilson lend deft performances, it’s really the kids on center stage: the staunch ten-year-old German boy (Roman Griffin Davis) who finds his mother (Johansson) is harboring a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in her attic during the waning weeks of the war. A grab bag of gags and droll set-ups give way to somewhat unearned sentiment. By far, McKenzie is the VIP here as the teen who’s largely the only grown-up in the room. Waititi disarms viewers with his unusual point of view and waltzes just a bit toward schmaltz. Still, it’s daring, occasionally funny and sometimes insightful. I expected more hop and less garden variety, more revisionism and less requiem. This will likely be the only movie remotely like this getting a rather wide release.
Movie Review: Vice (2018)
Adam McKay’s genre-hopping Vice (B) is a distant cousin to Oliver Stone’s similarly dark comedic Natural Born Killers, admirable for creative storytelling about issues ripped out of the headlines but a bit confounding in what it’s intending to explore about its caricatures. Christian Bale is as good as you’ve heard brilliantly inhabiting the enigmatic role of Dick Cheney at various points in his life; he’s best in his quietest moments utterly lacking in expected reactions (his multiple heart attacks are treated like an occasional case of the hiccups). Amy Adams is magnificent as his deeply humanizing wife Lynn; she’s in fact his beating heart and just as ruthless. Many others in the ensemble simply feel like stunt casting, although Sam Rockwell does indeed make a spiffy W. The plot largely explores the build-up of the case for unilateral presidential (and strong vice presidential) authority and for the Iraq War. McKay so blissfully plays with the conventions of cinema – never trust a closing credit scroll or that a sequence won’t show up in iambic pentameter – that he often loses track of his central themes. In the film’s straight down the barrel of a shotgun portrayal of Wyoming’s famous son who stays pretty resolute in his principles and doesn’t care if you like him or not for it, you can find traces of character to please both sides of the aisle. But largely it’s a blistering assessment of power and an indictment of what the Cheney/Bush (or was it the other way around?) administration did with said power when they had it. There wasn’t a big record to clear up here, and the film doesn’t attempt to rose color it.
Movie Review: I, Tonya
None of the characters in Craig Gillespie’s I, Tonya (C) are going to win top honors in The Nice Capades, but I give the actors credit for their commitment to a biopic that is equally uneven in its tone and its point of view. The faux documentary style largely works in chronicling the real-life tale of a conspiracy to injure a competitor in the figure skating world, but the knowing commentary breaking the third wall mid-action sequences is a misfire. Margot Robbie is gloriously tragic as driven athlete Tonya Harding, and she gets solid, stone cold support from Allison Janney and Sebastian Stan as her abusive mother and husband. The funny bits aren’t darkly comic enough to counterbalance what is largely a tale of domestic and psychological abuse. The parts don’t add up to a cogent enough theme; and once they do, the director spells it out a bit too obviously. It doesn’t pulse with enough love for its protagonist to pierce the ice on the surface and actually melt misconceptions or your heart. And it doesn’t add all that much to the “well, this is what America is now” canon.