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Tag Archives: Carnage

Young Adult

Young Adult posterSynopsis

This film, produced by Juno director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody, stars Charlize Theron as Mavis Gary who was a prom queen at her school in Mercury, Minnesota.  Twenty years on she is a writer of children’s books.  She is a divorcee, an alcoholic, and she pulls hair out of her head.  She meets up with a former student, Matt Freehauf played by Patton Oswalt, who’d been beaten up on the mistaken assumption that he was gay.  He is the plump nerd who worships the prom queen.  Theron’s scheme is to win back her former boyfriend Buddy, played by Patrick Wilson.  He is happily married and has a child.  Theron causes embarrassment at the christening…

Criticism

This is about the potentially hazardous business of the nostalgic return to earlier life.  Theron is dissatisfied with her situation and she wants a triumph, to snatch her ex-boyfriend from his wife.  She is so confident of her ability to do that, one is persuaded that arrogance and vanity are beside the point, it’s something that has to happen.  Theron’s cheekbones don’t seem that high, so it’s the nose and eyes, right?  She treats (plump nerd) with polite disdain, then a sort of friendliness as she learns what happened to him.  This film spurns the chance to be a direct comedy of manners, it lacks wit and perception.  Theron should be the charismatic gang leader and trend setter who everybody wants to be with, the sort of superbitch whose jokes everyone laughs at, and whose cruelty everyone wants to preen themselves on her reflected glory, but here she’s a psychological accident zone and ends up looking petulantly sad.  Apart from the amiable Patrick Wilson, you wouldn’t want to spend too much time with any of these people, they are stuck in a provincial rut and don’t care to leave it.  Minneapolis is the big city they dream of.

When a person returns to their alma mater, what can happen is either embarrassment, revenge, expiation, or appeasement.  Ironically, the embarrassment comes from the ex-prom queen but the characters whose lives are mundane, see no reason to apologise for anything.  Revenge is a non starter since no-one has done her any harm.  Expiation is not in order, though Theron should apologise for her behaviour.  Appeasement is unnecessary since there are no outstanding concerns.  Theron presumably blames Wilson for not guaranteeing her present happiness, but was he expected to wait?  There don’t seem to be any Sliding Door moments in this film, no painful entering into a fateful decision.  It’s all well enough acted but there’s the feeling of a missed opportunity.

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Posted by on February 22, 2012 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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Carnage

Carnage posterSynopsis

Based on a play by Yasmina Reza, it’s supposed to be set in a New York apartment, but was filmed in Paris because Roman Polanski (the director) cannot film in America.  The film starts with an argument between two boys, one of them strikes the other in the mouth with a stick.  Then we go to the apartment where the parents of the two boys try to reach a satisfactory decision which will prevent any recourse to the legal option.  The parents of the offending boy are played by Kate Winslet, who is Nancy Cowan an investment banker, and Christopher Waltz plays Alan a corporation lawyer.  The parents of the injured boy are Michael Langstreet, played by John C Reilly, and Penelope Langstreet played by Jodie Foster.  Their initially sociable politeness ends in raging acrimony.  The film ends with the two boys having a friendly chat.

Criticism

The title of this film promises predatory behaviour, a Bunuel tea party where bourgeoise politeness will be ripped away.  Since Nietzsche made us aware of Christian hypocrisy and self deception, one of our favourite blood sports is to see the chattering classes stripping the effete convention of politeness from each other, to reveal the ravening egomaniac beneath.  These are affluent cage fighters, whose cage is the smart apartment trip-wired with faux pas giveaways of the anxious social climber.  Polanski has set his films in confined domestic spaces, the affluent respectability accentuating the lurking threat of a psychological disintegration.  The main problem with this film is that these couples become too easy targets.  Penelope (Foster) is so obviously a brittle and hysterical control freak and coffee table liberal that she barely merits satire.  She is humourless and screechingly self righteous, the very epitome of the politically correct crusader.  The rippling latex of her face easily contorts with rage.  She is ready to defend herself against imagined or real assaults on her insecurely contrived dignity.  Her husband Mike (John Reilly) has a prosaic job compared to the more glamorous careers of Nancy and Alan, so they must suspect that they might be the recipients of condescension which makes them in turn even more ready to lash out.  Alan plays the usual middle class game of status-driven put downs but Mike in turn mocks his role in corporate corruption.  Alan keeps answering his mobile phone, to the eventual exasperation of Nancy who drops it in the tulip vase.  The Cowans nearly exit the cage door twice but return to resume hostilities.  On one occasion Nancy improbably comes back for more argument when she could have easily walked away.  We can almost see Polanski (himself pretty corrupt and feral when we look at his biography) prodding the protagonists back through the cage bars.  Nancy vomits over Penelope’s art books, so we wonder how lavatorial the shouting match is going to get.  Their slanging match is then fired by whiskey and we get the descent by Alan into self pity.  Argument seems sustained, but what we get towards the end is a solipsistic scream for help as each character undermines the other’s sincerity in self awareness.  They flatter themselves with the illusion of getting rid of illusions.  We are reminded here of the role of self deception in our everyday social exchanges and how difficult it is to be honest, how lying is socially necessary.  Even the whiskey sodden revelations seem just pre-emptive claims of sincerity that self-servingly sustain the phoniness. The film wallows in this and tries to make us complicit in our self recognition.  It’s artificial and forced and is an unsubtle symptom of our malaise.   One thinks of those films driven by laurating honesty, those by Tenessee Williams and Arthur Miller.

Entertaining but unconvincing, like watching actors rehearsing a play about naughty people.

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2012 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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