Amazon Prime Review – Fleabag: The Truth Hurts (Spoiler-Free)

Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s fourth-wall breaking comedy ends after two seasons of hilariously blunt social commentary.

SUMMARY

Fleabag (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) is a single woman living in London who is fond of drinking, sex, wisecracking her way out of her own misery, and being the subject of ridicule at the hands of others and, more commonly, herself. She runs a café that she opened with her deceased friend Boo (Jenny Rainsford), fights with her sister, Claire (Sian Clifford), deals with the sh*tbag that Claire married, Martin (Brett Gelman), and tries to tolerate the relationship between her widower father (Bill Paterson) and her Godmother (Olivia FREAKING Colman). In the second season, she begins to have a crush on her family’s Catholic priest (Andrew Scott). 

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She wants to genuflect so badly.

END SUMMARY

I’ve mentioned before that horror and comedy are always related. They’re both our ways of dealing with the absurdity of reality, both are often based on showing us a deviation from expectation, and the primary difference is really whether we’re being cued to respond to the situation with revulsion or relief. This is why a comedy genius like Jordan Peele can be so good at horror or why John Carpenter can make a hilarious action-comedy like Big Trouble in Little China, because the genres are naturally separated only by the relief/revulsion response. This show frequently eschews that distinction and asks that we feel both. We should feel absolutely revolted at some of the things that are said and done to our lead in the show, as well as how often we’ve seen or heard them done to people in real life. The relief comes not just from the quip or hilarious face that Fleabag makes to the audience, assuring us that she’s fine, but also from the fact that someone is actually willing to say some of the stuff that this show is saying. I watched the entirety of this show with a woman and, to quote the Faceless Old Lady Who Lives on My Couch (and who did not get to select her pen name), the show is “the brutal comedy of everyday life.” I think that pretty much nails it, but more on that in a second.

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This.

While Fleabag’s life and her family and the people she encounters are all absurd, the absurdity is closer to a type of hyperrealism. You know some people who are similar to ALL of the characters, because they’re all “that girl/guy” archetypes. It’s made even more pronounced by the fact that, aside from Claire, Martin, Claire’s extremely creepy stepson Jake (Angus Imrie), and Fleabag’s overly-emotional ex-boyfriend Harry (Hugh Skinner), none of the recurring characters in the series actually has a name. Appropriately, though, those characters are, if anything, even more familiar archetypes than the others: The uptight workaholic/woman who married an a**hole and doesn’t leave him, the a**hole who somehow is still married, the creepy kid, and the guy who thrives on making sure everyone knows that he’s in touch with his emotions. All of these characters are played completely honestly with almost no other defining attributes, but the solid performances and great writing keep them from feeling tired. It helps that they’re only used sparingly (aside from Claire) and that the show is only 12 episodes long. 

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Claire’s hair, however, is quite prominent.

One of the keys to the show is the device of allowing the main character to directly address the audience through the fourth wall, but I have rarely seen a show play with it so well. It’s particularly interesting to see her fourth wall breaks when she’s dealing with the Priest, because his belief in a comforting higher power (God) gives him an insight into Fleabag’s belief in a comforting lie (the Audience), to a shocking and unnerving degree. Rather than doing the traditional fourth wall breaks, which are derived from Shakespearean soliloquies and thus given time and weight, Fleabag’s fourth-wall breaks are quick and often in the middle of conversations or even sentences, acting as quick punctuations rather than explanations. It gives the show a unique feel and the dialogue a distinct style and pacing.

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Seriously, this is an amazing medium disruption.

Another big thing about the show is it is not hopeful nor is it crushing. It doesn’t make the world out to be a darker and more cruel place than it is, but it also doesn’t give us any of the comfort that we typically expect from our media. We’re not told, at any point, that things are going to be okay. We aren’t told that love conquers all. We aren’t told that you’re going to find fairness or happiness. We’re just shown the world of the show that so closely mirrors ours, with all the nerves exposed. In Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, one of the characters, Samuel Vimes, is described as “two drinks sober,” meaning that he was always so sober that he couldn’t even tell himself the harmless lies that people have developed as part of society in order to sleep at night. That’s what this show is for media: It’s two drinks sober. It’s a hair too real to give us the comfort we expect or the painful distancing we secretly crave. It isn’t the show we want, it’s the show we need.

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It asks the real questions.

Overall, I loved this series. I thought it was funny, exciting, and so novel that it deserves an audience. However, I do concede that I might not have gotten out if it the same things that other people might have, particularly The Faceless Old Lady Who Lives on My Couch. So, in a first for this blog, I asked her to give me her perspective, rather than try to interpret hers through my own lens. She submitted this: 

*SPOILERS*

As absurd as the show can get, it’s absurd in a very real, human way and it just doesn’t stray that far from the ordinary kind of ridiculous. It’s not only hilarious but extremely cathartic. When Claire tells Martin to leave her and Martin’s counter-argument includes “I vacuum” and “I made dessert at Easter” and “I pick up my son from bassoon lessons” I actually put my face in my hands and said “Oh my god that is literally men.” It’s just such a perfect sendup of the ways we pat men on the back for doing the bare minimum in domestic life and relationships. 

I’d been struggling to describe why this show feels different and refreshing compared to other shows that could also be described as both “brutal” and “funny,” but it’s best encapsulated by a speech in the show itself from a savvy businesswoman Fleabag has a martini with (Kristin Scott Thomas). “Women are born with pain built in. It’s our physical destiny. Period pain, sore boobs, childbirth, you know. We carry it within ourselves throughout our lives. Men don’t. They have to seek it out. They invent all these gods and demons and things just so they can feel guilty about things, which is something we do very well on her own. Then they create wars so they can feel things and touch each other, and when there aren’t any wars they can play rugby.” The show goes for honesty over melodrama, and there just isn’t the feeling of the writers trying to wring all the emotion out of you like there is in a lot of prestige TV. (Why it takes me forever to watch most of it.) And the comedy doesn’t feel like a bunch of writers in a room thinking about what the most offensive thing to say is. The show puts its trust in the writing and in the hearts and jagged edges of its characters and as a result it doesn’t have to try so fucking hard.

“I love you,” says Fleabag.

“It’ll pass,” says the Priest.

It’s brutal, without brute force.

*END SPOILERS*

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Oscar Review – The Favourite: Or The Wonderful Cycle of Suffering

Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth, The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) brings us a historical fiction about a rivalry for the ages.

SUMMARY

It’s the early 1700s and Queen Anne’s War (or, in Europe, the War of Spanish Succession) has been going for nearly a decade. Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is not in good health and most of the ruling decisions are made by her friend and secret lover Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz). While Sarah favors taxing the landowners to continue the war, the head of the Tories, Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult), opposes taxation and seeks to convince the Queen to end the war.

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Oddly, this scene’s not sexual.

Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), Sarah’s cousin, arrives to seek employment, her father having squandered her family’s wealth (and having lost Abigail previously in a card game to a German). Abigail becomes a maid, but after she puts some healing herbs on the Queen’s gout-ridden leg, she is promoted to Lady-in-Waiting. Abigail soon discovers that Sarah and the Queen have sex, but does not tell Harley, even after he threatens her to be his spy.

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America needs more big fluffy wigs and fake moles in our legislature.

Abigail and Sarah develop a friendship, but as Abigail becomes closer to the Queen, it becomes a rivalry. Abigail first talks to the Queen about her rabbits, which she discovers represent each of Anne’s 17 unsuccessful pregnancies, something Sarah clearly never cared to ask about. Eventually, Abigail uses her position to sleep with the Queen, which Sarah finds out immediately and dismisses her. However, Queen Anne hires her back. With Sarah now actively trying to curry back the Queen’s favour to get rid of Abigail, Abigail poisons Sarah’s tea, resulting in her being dragged for days on a horse and nearly forced into sex slavery. While she’s gone, Abigail convinces the Queen to allow her to marry Baron Samuel Masham (Joe Alwyn), regaining her title and wealth. When Sarah returns, she threatens the Queen to either send Abigail away or have their sexual relationship revealed. Sarah eventually destroys the evidence of their relationship, but this has ended her friendship with the Queen. Sarah is sent away and then framed for theft by Abigail, resulting in her exile from Britain.

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She also looks like a Victorian Supervillain.

At the end of the film, Abigail has now become cruel and egotistical, and the Queen dislikes her because of how she forced Sarah out. After going one step too far and hurting one of the Queen’s rabbits, the Queen forces Abigail to rub her legs like a common servant.

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It’s tough to stare someone down while looking up, Abigail.

END SUMMARY

The general story behind this movie isn’t exactly original (whether in fiction or history). It’s the powerful being corrupted and overthrown by the downtrodden… only for the downtrodden to now become the powerful and corrupted. When we see Sarah in the film, she mostly takes Queen Anne for granted and talking to her like a child, despite the fact that Anne, being, you know, QUEEN is actually much more powerful. She also antagonizes almost everyone, from the Tories to Abigail (who she pretends to shoot as a threat when Abigail learns her secret love life). The only advantage she really has is that she’s the Queen’s only lover and confidant. She also risks her husband’s (Mark Gatiss) life, seemingly with only a moderate amount of concern, by continuing a war that he is fighting. Despite that, she is trying to do what she thinks is best for the country, not necessarily just herself.

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She also knows how to work a room.

When we first see Abigail, she is ostensibly fairly honorable, but has dealt with a lot of hardship because of her father, including having to be the sex slave of a German man to honor her father’s wager. She’s basically a classic tragic figure. While she sees the merit in gaining the Queen’s favor, she does also seem to be genuinely interested in helping her and being friendly towards her and Sarah. However, as the movie progresses, we see her scheme more and more and with less and less concern for the morality of her actions. She even says at one point that her honor won’t be much comfort if she’s forced to become a prostitute to survive. Eventually, she stops caring about anyone besides herself, becoming even more antagonizing to everyone than Sarah was.

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Sarah would never have resorted to the fake cry.

Anne is the most sympathetic character, because she’s constantly in a position that she doesn’t want, is in physical pain, is dealing with a number of traumas, and her closest friends are constantly taking vengeance upon each other. However, she also is someone who could have prevented many of the issues in the movie had she just been more assertive. That’s part of why it’s satisfying in the end to see her take control over Abigail and diminish her feeling of invincibility.

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It’s tough to be the queen. 

Neither Sarah nor Abigail ever chooses to end the cycle of escalating attacks between them, even though either one could end it. Abigail even points this out to Sarah after she becomes a Baroness again, but neither can stand the other one having the last strike at them. Sarah does finally try to stop, choosing to burn the letters between her and the Queen for Anne’s sake, but by this time it’s too late, and Abigail realizes that she has to remove Sarah forever to ensure her power, which cements her as truly corrupted.

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It gets really rough.

The costuming and sets in the movie are excellent, as expected for a period piece like this. They’re not exactly accurate (I’m told), but the outfits do a good job of conveying how the characters are trying to present themselves in a scene, particularly the more masculine shooting outfits that Sarah adopts to try and show dominance over Abigail.

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I don’t know period accuracy, but I know what Queen Anne likes.

The cinematography is interesting, with a lot of the film using wide-angle fisheye lenses. From a practical standpoint, this shot shows the entirety of a room, something that shows off the setting rather than just the character, but from a narrative standpoint it tends to isolate the characters, showing how they are trapped within the rooms because of their choices. It’s definitely the easiest Yorgos Lanthimos film to watch, but it will still throw some people off.

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It also serves to give distance between the characters… and create this neat mirror effect.

The performances are all amazing, and I think Olivia Colman’s performance as a stroke-ravaged Anne is one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen. Given how much of the communication between characters relies on what is being intended rather than what is being said, anything less from the actors might have wrecked the film.

Overall, it’s a great movie and practically screams “Oscar Bait.” I don’t know that it’ll win, but it’s definitely worth seeing and Olivia Colman is the only person who might take the Oscar from Glenn Close this year.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

 

Hot Fuzz: Real Maturity Requires Some Immaturity

We’re at my favorite. Yes, that’s right, out of the entire Cornetto Trilogy, this one is the one that I will re-watch most. Now, that’s not to say I don’t like the other two immensely, I love the hell out of them, but this is one of the most perfect action movie parodies out there while still being meaningful, intelligent, and freaking hilarious. The World’s End impacts me more on a personal level, Shaun of the Dead is funnier to me, but this one struck the balance that I think works best.

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Most bad ass cover, too.

Based on feedback, I’m using my new format for movie reviews, so, if you want a full annotated summary of the film, go to the bottom and click the link.

SYNOPSIS

PC Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is removed from the Metropolitan Police Service in London due to being so dedicated to his job that he makes all the other officers look bad. He’s also not particularly social or fun, due to constantly being “on duty,” which doesn’t help. Since firing him would draw attention, they instead promote him to Sergeant and transfer him to Sandford, Gloucestershire, a small village known for being peaceful and quaint.

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Fewer Santa stabbings in the countryside.

When he arrives, he is partnered with PC Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), son of Inspector Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent), the head of the local police service. Danny is a huge fan of action movies and is disappointed that most of police life, according to Angel, is paperwork and regulations. The two eventually start to bond with Danny showing Angel Point Break and Bad Boys II as examples of “proper action,” before finally becoming friends as they investigate cases together.

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I’d watch a show of this.

Meanwhile, a series of murders (shown to the audience but framed to the characters as accidents) start claiming members of the town, leading Angel to suspect there’s a serial killer. He eventually accuses local obviously evil guy Simon Skinner (Timothy Dalton) of killing everyone as part of a real estate scheme, only for it to be revealed that Skinner clearly couldn’t have done it. He then theorizes that Skinner could have done it with help, since he employs much of the town, but Frank dismisses it as paranoia, because murders don’t happen in Sandford.

HotFuzz-4Dalton
In no way does he look like he totally 100% did it. 

Nicholas returns to his hotel room, only to be ambushed by Lurch (Rory McCann), Skinner’s supermarket cart boy (trolley if you’re British). Angel fights him off and goes to confront Skinner, only to find out that most of the town, including Frank, are part of a “secret” society, the Neighborhood Watch Alliance. Even crazier, the murders weren’t part of a grand, logical scheme, but just based on thinking the people were annoying or inconvenient to have in the “Village of the Year.”

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Killed for Bad Acting and an Annoying Laugh, respectively. 

Danny helps Nicholas escape, but he comes back, armed to the teeth. Together with Danny and, later, the rest of the police force, Angel engages in a shootout that destroys much of the town and ends with everyone in the NWA in jail or dead. At the end of the film, Nicholas and Danny are still partners, now having fun being bad ass on the streets of Sandford.

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Most bromantic moment in film.

END SYNOPSIS

Part of the reason why this movie is my favorite is… well, I’ll Venn Diagram it.

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I love The World’s End, but the humor was a little too dense the first time.

The first time I saw Shaun of the Dead, it was amazing. The first time I saw The World’s End, it was just good. The second time I saw Shaun of the Dead, it was much the same. The second time I saw The World’s End, it became one of my favorite films. Hot Fuzz started at amazing and moved into epic on repeat viewing.

Part of it is that the foreshadowing in this movie is more subtle and spread-out than in the other films, but, because it’s based on action movie clichés, you really already know what’s going to happen. There’s one sequence where Danny asks Angel about all of the “action” he’s had in London which lists all of the things that are going to happen during the final sequence, including shooting a gun into the air and going “Aaaargh” a la Point Break. There’s another sequence where Angel is identifying potential threats on the street that turns out to be accurate, even though it’s portrayed as being paranoid.

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Jumping through the air while firing two guns. Life goal achieved.

The foreshadowing is also combined with Wright’s wonderful use of recontextualized repetition (apparently the Trope is called Ironic Echoing), with most of the lines in the first act being repeated, or repeated with a slight variation, in the second or third act, including “Get a look at his arse/horse,” which is one of my favorite uses of regional dialect wordplay. Yes, there are others. Probably. The point is, I find the way they compare harmless and dire situations in dialogue to be hilarious. They discuss catching a serial killer and a swan in almost the exact same tone, compare Angel’s initial hazing with his moment of broken spirit, and compare a firefight with solving a crossword. The last one brings me to all of the brick jokes.

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When you ride in on a white horse, everyone wants to take a look at it.

A brick joke is when you make a mediocre joke which later turns out to be the set-up for a bigger joke. If you want examples, Arrested Development is filled with them and I even pointed out that Bob Newhart once set-up the joke in one episode and paid it off in another series. This movie, similarly, sets up some goofy lines that later pay off into absolutely ridiculous scenes, ranging from the revelation that there IS an Aaron A. Aaronson living in the village (Angel thought that was a fake name to mock him) and that an armed farmer and his equally armed mother are the first people that Angel takes out when he comes back (having been told that everyone and his mother owns a gun in the countryside). Actually, most of the jokes that are made at Angel’s expense seem to later come true.

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Took me like 3 times to get this joke.

Similar to Shaun of the Dead, the movie does a lot of sharp, dramatic cuts accompanied by music to show Angel going through all of the boring parts of police work as opposed to the kind of action sequences that usually are associated with them. While Shaun of the Dead used it to draw comparisons between Shaun’s life and zombies, Hot Fuzz uses it to subvert the usual cop movie trait of ignoring the procedural parts of policework, which reminds us of Angel’s absolute rigidity about his policework. And that brings us to the big theme of the movie.

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Done to “Here Come the Fuzz” by Jon Spencer and the Elegant Trio.

All three of the Cornetto Trilogy films are about the dangers of perpetual adolescence. In Shaun of the Dead and The World’s End, it’s fairly obvious what the main characters are. Shaun’s given up on really living life and Gary has never done anything with his life. Nicholas Angel, however, is not an unsuccessful police officer, but an absolutely amazing one. He is dedicated to the law to an almost absurd degree and that’s the problem: he’s got nothing in his life except for his job.

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This is his “leisure” activity.

It’s a very different kind of immaturity from Shaun or Gary, because Angel is actually doing exactly what he wants to do: Be an amazing police officer. It’s just that, in pursuit of it, he has never learned how to do anything else or have a real connection with any other human. He is just his job, not a real person. In existentialist terms, I guess he’d be avoiding engaged agency (if this is wrong, please correct me, it’s been a while). So, his journey is to discover that there is more to life than just being the thing you thought you wanted to be when you were five. You also have to enjoy life and the movie points out that one of the best ways to do that is to be a little bit less uptight and a little more immature. Having never really been connected to anyone, at the end of the movie, Nicholas actually does have a successful relationship, it’s just not a romantic one.

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And clearly has gotten into gardening.

Just like in Shaun of the Dead and The World’s End, the main character is a reflection of the antagonist (Shaun: Zombies, Gary: Network), in this case the Neighborhood Watch Alliance, who, just as Nicholas is dedicated to policework to his own personal detriment, are dedicated to their cause of being “Village of the Year” to the detriment of the citizens. This is represented best by the fact that Nicholas constantly repeats idealisms like “the law is the law,” while the NWA constantly repeat “the greater good.” Both of these are unforgiving maxims, enforced with no regard to what might be more humane. They even show that most of the people that Nicholas arrested without considering being more lenient are subsequently murdered by the NWA. It’s a great way to highlight the protagonist’s flaws, by showing that a slightly more absurd version of the same flaw would lead to something horrifying. Granted, it’s also that Angel wants to be superlative through hard work and exceptionalism whereas the NWA wants to be superlative by eliminating all which would drag them down (and, for the record, based on how many fatal “accidents” people mention in the movie, they’re doing it more than Murder, She Wrote). Basically, Angel wants to make the trains on time, while the NWA will kill everyone that makes them late.

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The word “Fascism” is literally defined in the film. I’m sure that’s unrelated.

Similarly, Nicholas has wanted to maintain the same image of himself from when he was five and decided that he wanted to be a police officer. The town, likewise, appears frozen in the past, having a rustic aesthetic, even with an Apple computer from the 90s. They both have tried to maintain the image they had in the past, to the point that they strongly resist anything that would change it.

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The doctor still makes house calls. 

The music, too, deserves a nod, and it’s always wonderful to watch a director that understands that the soundtrack and the score are a big part of the film experience. Granted, as well as it’s done here, it does pale in comparison to Wright’s song use in Baby Driver and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Still, the songs are well used and they tie in thematically, something that adds a lot to the experience.

The movie really does blend style and substance perfectly, an amazing example of exactly what film can do as a medium. It’s not too artistic to be watchable without effort, but the more effort you put into watching it, the more it rewards you. Hell, until the third or fourth watching, I didn’t notice that almost everyone’s name in the village is actually a profession (Skinner, Cooper, Hatcher, Staker, Treacher, Blower, Draper, Wainwright, Cartwright), yet another way to mirror that Angel is just his job, while the fact that they’re all archaic professions reinforces the village’s frozen nature. I imagine the only reason “Butterman” isn’t a profession name is because Nick Frost named the character as a condition of doing the film.

Additionally, the posters in the background change throughout the film, indicating which characters replace the functions of others, or how the NWA is manipulating the population in subtle ways. There’s probably still stuff I’m missing. I even had to have someone point out to me that N.W.A. was also the band that did “Fuck tha Police,” a great hidden joke. Seriously, the amount of effort that must have gone into this movie is mind-boggling.

To summarize, I love this movie. Aside from maybe Ghostbusters, Pulp Fiction, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which I watch annually, this is the movie I’ve probably re-watched the most. Since it came on Netflix, I’ve probably watched it half a dozen times just when I want something fun on in the background. I’m glad that Edgar Wright has moved past the Cornetto Trilogy, but these films will always have a special place in my heart.

I’m going to do the rest of his films, but I think I’m going to make a special page just for these three reviews.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Continue reading Hot Fuzz: Real Maturity Requires Some Immaturity