Check Yourself Before You Trainwreck Yourself

Trainwreck

I loved Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck. It was painfully funny, genuinely moving, and featured an almost unrecognisable Tilda Swinton. There is so much to love and yet… and yet… Before I went to see Trainwreck someone mentioned that perhaps the film had a surprising number of jokes about race and sexuality for a romantic comedy about a straight white couple.

Just like that the seed was planted.

I have a confession to make. I am privileged. I took the quiz on CheckMyPrivilege.com and scored 170 earning myself the title of “Shitlord”. I am a white able-bodied heterosexual cis-male atheist who was born in a prosperous Western country and as time goes by I learn more and more how lucky that makes me. This means that I do often having to stop and think about aspects of media that would otherwise pass me by. The main result of this has been an exploration of feminism and learning to understand all sorts of new phrases like “patriarchy”, “the male gaze”, and “victim blaming”. It makes certain types of film a lot harder to enjoy but ultimately is a good thing.

Trainwreck is arguably a huge feminist success story. In the lead role is a woman who enjoys sex, has a decent job, and talks to other women about subjects other than men. Good stuff. We have a winner. Let’s move along now. Oh crap there’s still racism and homophobia to deal with.

Trainwreck 2

With my mind tainted by the idea that Trainwreck might not be completely kosher I couldn’t watch the film without each joke about race or sexuality sticking out. I kept a tally and reached a count of 16 jokes in total that boiled down to either “Ha! You’re gay!” or “Ha! You’re black!”. As I said before this is made all the more jarring considering the film was about a white woman falling in love with a white man. That’s not to say the cast is entirely white; Schumer’s love interest, played by Bill Hader, has a best friend who just happens to be black (and LeBron James) but the race jokes still find their way in.

Just to be clear I am not saying Trainwreck is ground zero for all racist and homophobic comedy. I’m not even saying that Trainwreck is either homophobic or racist. What am I saying then? I guess I am asking questions; I am wondering whether a comedy can exist that not only shows feminist qualities but does so without turning race or sexuality into cheap jokes. Does comedy need a target to be funny? Can you have a joke without someone being the butt? Amy Schumer is an excellent comedian and writer and has created a film bursting at the seams with jokes that will make you weep. Could it have done without those 16 jokes? I’d say so. Am I being over-sensitive? Perhaps.

Go and see Trainwreck and judge for yourself. It really is a magnificent comedy.

Madame Bovary – LFF Review

Madame Bovary

Growing up in a convent Emma (Mia Wasikowska) was always a little different from the other girls. Whatever she was supposed to be doing Emma would be doing her own way and dreaming of the day she could leave. Madame Bovary starts with Emma getting her wish and marrying country doctor Charles Bovary (Henry Lloyd-Hughes). In theory by becoming Madame Bovary Emma is setting off to live her dream life of luxury and excitement but the reality is much less glamorous. Charles turns out to live a simple life in a modest house with a single servant. He is a kind man but dull and unambitious. While Emma yearns for the bustle of the city Charles is quite content to live out his quiet life in the countryside. Left alone in the house for most of the day Emma soon finds herself becoming less the grateful wife and succumbing to the dual temptations of material goods and extramarital romance.

Emma’s life is lived through the visitors she receives at her house and one of the more frequent faces she sees is Monsieur Lheureux (Rhys Ifans). Lheureux is a merchant who offers to sell Emma her every heart’s desire. From furniture to clothes and from jewellery to silverware there is nothing that Lheureux will not supply the Bovary couple and he happily allows Emma to rack up a mountain of debt. Another face who regularly pops by is Leon Dupuis (Ezra Miller) a young aspiring adventurer. Leon takes a shine to Emma and though she rejects his romantic advances he reawakens her sense of adventure and before the story is told Emma has taken her fair share of lovers. From a humble upbringing Emma learns to live a life of decadence and self-indulgence at the expense of her mild-mannered husband. Naturally Emma can only spend money she doesn’t have, and toy with the hearts of many, for so long before her life starts to unravel around her.

Madame Bovary 2

Much like the titular character Madame Bovary is beautifully presented but mostly empty on the inside. The costume and set designs are sumptuous, detailed, and presumably accurate and the film as a whole is greatly aesthetically pleasing. The acting, led by the always impressive Mia Wasikowska, is top-notch and everyone involved throws themselves into their roles with gusto. The ingredients are all there but the end result is somehow unsatisfying. While being a relatively enjoyable film Madame Bovary never quite manages to find its stride and events seem to plod on rather than move forward. Even when the situation becomes dire for our protagonist it is hard to sympathise because not one of the characters are especially sympathetic.

Emma is a selfish young woman who comes across as spoiled and ungrateful, Lheureux is a greedy, manipulative, and selfish man, and Emma’s various lovers are heartless and weak in equal measure. The only character who might stir up sympathy in the audience is poor Charles Bovary but the wet small town doctor is portrayed as pathetic enough to not really warrant our support. With nobody to root for the stakes never rise and the outcome of the film is difficult to care about. Despite the best efforts from a quality cast the script from Felipe Marino and director Sophie Barthes doesn’t put enough meat on the bones of the story. Though enjoyable enough I just didn’t care about what was going down on-screen.

Madame Bovary is a lack-lustre period drama that is less than the sum of its parts. While I must admit to being unfamiliar with the source text this adaptation leaves solid performances lost in a bland melodrama.

Madame Bovary has no UK release date yet.

BFI LFF 2014

We Need to Talk About Kevin – LFF Review

Adapted from Lionel Shriver’s hit novel, We Need to Talk About Kevin focusses on Eva (Tilda Swinton) as she struggles with memories of her son from hell and deals with the aftermath of his violent actions. From birth, Kevin (Ezra Miller, Jasper Newell and more) favours his father (John C. Reilly) and treats his mother with extreme disdain. If you’ve ever wanted to see a toddler express pure contempt, this is your film.

In the film’s opening sequence the ratcheting sound of a garden sprinkler sets the tone for the film. Resembling the ticking of a clock gathering pace as the camera slowly moves towards an open patio with curtain billowing, it creates a sense of tension and embeds the idea of the film building towards a devastating climax. This simple shot had me unsettled from the very beginning and the film didn’t relent until the credits rolled and I could escape from its hold. We Need to Talk About Kevin is a powerful beast.

Poor Eva has a traumatic time throughout, unable to earn the love of her son and later, unable to escape the crimes he has committed. In the earlier scenes flashes of red are scattered throughout, be it a red kettle in the kitchen or a stripe along the wall. In the present day the red becomes overwhelming, from a wall of tomato soup or paint thrown over Eva’s house. Numerous times we watch Eva trying to wash the red stuff away, never able to get the blood spilled by her son off her hands. Lynne Ramsay’s use of colour may not be subtle but it is beyond effective. As a director Ramsay does not glorify the violence in the scenes, instead emphasising the emotional turmoil as expressed by her excellent cast.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is a fantastic film, brilliantly put together by Lynne Ramsay and with perfect performances from Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller. Be warned though, it will either put you off having children or if it’s too late, prevent you from teaching them archery or buying them a guinea pig.

We Need to Talk About Kevin screens again today at 14:45 in the London Film Festival and is in UK cinemas this Friday 21st October 2011.