Saturday 22 October 2022

I LOVE MY DAD - London Film Festival 2022

In a desperate attempt to be a part of his depressed, estranged son Franklin's life, Chuck (Patton Oswalt) pretends to be a beautiful young woman who connects with him over social media. As their online relationship progresses and Franklin (James Morosini) starts to feel a real connection with this fictional woman, Chuck uses his son's lifted spirits to reconnect with him and rebuild their father/son bond by offering romantic advice. Based on a story writer/director/star James Morosini assures us actually happened, I Love My Dad is cringe comedy at its finest.

As any millennial will attest, parents on social media are a complete liability, with embarrassing posts, photos and likes an everyday struggle to ignore. But it's rare to find a parent who would go to the lengths Chuck does here to stay a part of his son Franklin's life. Blocked on all socials and with his calls ignored after a lifetime of poor parenting, the well-meaning but emotionally stunted Chuck decides to catfish as a waitress from his local diner and start as conversation with his son online. Although at first sceptical of this random follow, the lonely and depressed Franklin soon finds himself forming a bond with her, not knowing it's really his dad he's quickly falling for.

It's been a while since the heyday of cringe comedy, with TV shows such as The Office, Extras and the various Alan Partridge shows pushing the boundaries of what's socially acceptable behaviour, and what's okay and (maybe) not okay to laugh at. Perhaps the obvious example for the big screen is Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat, using a faux-documentary format that heightened the feeling of awkwardness by putting the audience in a real world scenario. There was also a rich vein of exceedingly dark comedy in the American independent cinema of the late 00s, most notably by comedian turned director Bobcat Goldthwait who took some outlandish inter-personal concepts and made some of the finest black comedies of all time with a blend of pain, embarrassment and catharsis. I'm not going to say what Sleeping Dogs and World's Greatest Dad are about here, but if you know, you know what I'm talking about.

Directing from his own script and starring as Franklin, a semi-fictionalised version of himself, Morosini hooks us in from the off with a simple disclaimer, "This really happened. My dad asked me to tell you it didn't". Chuck isn't a bad person, just a bad father, whose own personal failings have kept him from building that close relationship with his son. He's a mess of a man slowly re-building his life after his divorce from Franklin's mother and starting a new relationship with girlfriend Erica (Rachel Dratch). Franklin, fresh out of a stint in therapy, only sees his relationship with Chuck as toxic, so cuts him out of his life as best he can. Desperate to talk to Franklin, Chuck uses a photograph of waitress Becca (Claudia Sulewski) and contacts him online posing as her, seemingly clueless as to how warped that is and how damaging to his already emotionally crippled son it might be.

In a smart storytelling move that pulls the rug from underneath us on more than one occasion, the fictional Becca appears in Franklin's fantasies as they talk, share stories and build a relationship online, leading to what is undoubtedly the film's most disturbing moment - a four-way sexting scene between the main characters, one of whom is fictional and one who doesn't know they're not the only ones involved. So cringe-inducing there's a distinct chance that the audience might turn themselves inside out from second-hand embarrassment, it's the film's crowning achievement and a masterclass in finding humour in the most disturbing of ideas and situations.

Despite the troubling, incestuous paths the film threatens to take, I Love My Dad is ultimately a tender, deeply moving film about strained paternal relationships and the importance of giving people another chance, god forbid they might try something as extreme as this. It's helped by the easy chemistry Oswalt and Morosini have together, with Oswalt arguably the best he's ever been, delivering a sympathetic character who just happens to have some mixed up ideas on how to fix his past mistakes. Full of dark, disturbing comedy you won't forget anytime soon, I Love My Dad is a twisted Mrs Doubtfire for the age of online dating.


I Love My Dad was part of the Laugh strand at this year's London Film Festival.

Wednesday 19 October 2022

SICK OF MYSELF - London Film Festival 2022

Plunged into an existential dilemma after she witnesses a woman mauled by a dog outside the cafe where she works, Signe (Thorp) finds herself indulging in the attention she suddenly receives from her friends, making sure she's okay after such a traumatic experience. But when the spotlight shifts to her artist boyfriend Thomas (Eirik Sæther) - a kleptomaniac whose work consists of furniture stolen from public buildings - Signe finds a way to regain the sympathy of her friends by buying a supply of dangerous pills on the black market that count ghastly skin growths among their side effects. Arriving hot on the heels of The Worst Person in the World and last year's Ninjababy (which also starred Kristine Kujath Thorp), Sick of Myself is the latest example of Norwegian cinema's exploration of narcissism.

Once Signe ingests the dangerous pills - increasing the dose when it doesn't have the immediately gratifying effect she desires - and finds herself hospitalised, the film's darkly comic tone goes into overdrive, with Signe, bandaged head to toe, in orgasmic pleasure at the thought of queues lining up at her funeral to mourn her. A symptom of her narcissism, she has flights of fancy - some comedic, some horrific - that either way see the focus put on her and taken away from her equally self-indulgent boyfriend, just as his career as an artist/provocateur is on the rise. It's when the bandages come off that Signe's plan really comes together. Lying about the pills and claiming her appearance is the result of an undiagnosable illness, the patterns the lesions form on her face are oddly beautiful, turning her into something of an unconventional beauty icon, with photo shoots and modelling contracts on the horizon. Everything Signe could have wished for, but not without consequences.

Written and directed by Kristoffer Borgli, Sick of Myself is an entertainingly cynical comedy that dissects the idea of celebrity and performative sympathy in the modern social media age. Is Signe a bad person for wanting to indulge in her fifteen minutes of fame, and exploit the attention she's given due to her physical appearance? In short, yes. But, Sick of Myself goes some way to show she's not the only one, with the industry behind this exploitation using her "unconventional" look to sell a fashion line also coming under fire. It's bitingly funny, equally cruel, pushing us as an audience to ask if Signe is someone who should be sympathised with or laughed at for the lengths she feels she has to go to to be relevant. As a pretty young blonde woman, superficially she could have it all and has traditional society on her side. Her only failing is her personality - flaws, warts and all. But she can't bear to be average and is prepared to sacrifice her health to give her an edge.

As the shallow Signe, Kristine Kujath Thorp's performance is strong enough to let the audience switch between empathy and disgust as the inevitable monkey's paw aspects of the plot kicks in. Also great in 2021's Ninjababy as a reluctantly pregnant young woman (if you haven't seen that film, you'll want to after seeing her performance here), Thorp is an absolute star on the rise. Stomach churning make up effects or not, you can't take your eyes off her for a second.

After The Worst Person in the World and Ninjababy looked at modern women's relationships to love, men, and having children, Sick of Myself is a refreshingly acerbic against their more sombre tones, but is equally successful at probing these topics on a more fantastical stage than its Norwegian cinema counterparts. At once a critique of the fashion & beauty industry and celebrity status hunters, and a nauseating real world body horror, Sick of Myself is the most grotesque black comedy since Death Becomes Her, delivering a timely warning to the influencer generation of the perils of grasping for fame.



Sick of Myself was part of this year's London Film Festival. It will be released in the UK early next year.

Tuesday 18 October 2022

LINOLEUM - London Film Festival 2022

When Cameron, the host of a TV science show and wannabe astronaut meets his more successful doppelgänger, he's sent into an existential crisis that will affect his whole family. With his career and personal life in a mess, his only response is to build a rocket of his own and fulfilling his dream of journeying into space. A suburban sci-fi fantasy, Colin West's Linoleum was part of the cult strand at this year's London Film Festival.

Comedian and actor Jim Gaffigan stars as Cameron, the host of Above and Beyond, a Bill Nye the Science Guy-style local TV show that asks questions about the universe, relegated to a late night slot where none of his core audience can see it. His wife Erin (Rhea Seahorn) is unhappy in the marriage and wants a divorce, his teenage daughter (Katelyn Nacon) barely talks to him, and worst of all, a car has seemingly fallen from the sky carrying Cameron's more debonair, successful, astronaut lookalike. All of this serves to send him into an existential crisis that he might not recover from.

It's not unheard of that twisty-turny, timey-wimey sci-fi films end up sharing basic story elements. The biggest problem that Linoleum has is that, despite its attempts to offer something new, it all feels familiar. Sometimes uncomfortably so. The suburban dad mid-life crisis has been seen in everything from Kevin Spacey in American Beauty to Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold in the Vacation films, grimacing through the pain in order to maintain the air of normality in their life. That's forgivable to a point. What is less easy to forgive and, frankly, impossible to ignore is Linoleum's biggest problem... the Donnie Darko problem.

Wilfully poaching characters, story beats and entire scenes from Richard Kelly's 2001sci-fi classic, one of Linoleum's early scenes sees Darko's slo-mo arrival at school sequence (indelibly set to Tears for Fears' Head Over Heels) cloned almost shot for shot, with askew camera angles and staccato frame speeds. The film also features a Grandma Death-esque figure, mysteriously standing off in the distance observing the main characters without any real interaction. On the more egregiously blatant side of thievery (we're way beyond homage here), the main characters even have an unidentifiable jet engine land on their house. It's unthinkable that writer/director Colin West thought the comparisons could exist without comment.

The saving grace of this Darko mirroring is The Walking Dead's Katelyn Nacon as Gaffigan's daughter Nora, who takes on a sort of gender-swapped Donnie role, crossed with his girlfriend Gretchen. With respect to Gaffigan who gives his dual roles his all, Nacon is absolutely the shining star of this often baffling film, providing a confident, charming, yet still weird character who's easy to root for as she builds an unconventional relationship with new neighbour boy and son of Cameron's rival, Marc (Gabriel Rush). In what could have easily been a stock Manic Pixie character, she gives the film real heart in among the doppelgänger/time paradox shenanigans.

With a concept stretched to its absolute limit (it's no surprise to learn West expanded this from an earlier short film), despite first appearances as a semi-generic sci-fi brain muddler with obvious filmic influences, come the finale and a big reveal, Linoleum manages to impressively knit itself together to deliver something truly surprising and actually moving. It's just a shame that for the bulk of the film, Linoleum feels disappointingly derivative, like West fell asleep in front of an old cathode ray TV showing Donnie Darko, American Beauty and Bill Nye, and this is the script they wrote when they woke up.



Linoleum was part of this year's London Film Festival. It does not currently have a UK release date.

Friday 14 October 2022

AFTERSUN - London Film Festival 2022

Starring Paul Mescal and newcomer Frankie Corio as a father and daughter on holiday in Turkey, Aftersun is director Charlotte Wells's nostalgic ode to the special bond that exists between parent and child, and how memories of our past stay with us. Taking place sometime in the late '90s (the soundtrack - Bran Van 3000's Drinking in L.A., Los Del Rio's Macarena - and fashions quickly establishing that to anyone who remembers the era) over the course of a summer holiday at a resort in Turkey, Aftersun arrives at this year's LFF with huge festival hype after its debut at Cannes earlier this year.

Unlike his Normal People co-star Daisy Edgar-Jones who was quickly snapped up to star in everything from cannibal comedy horror Fresh to winsome literary adaptation Where the Crawdads Sing, aside from his appearance in the ensemble of last year's The Lost Daughter audiences have so far been kept waiting for the big screen bow of Mescal. Here, as 30 year old Calum, young father to 11 year old girl Sophie, he takes on a similarly brooding, almost tragically emotionally distant character. There's clearly some shared DNA between this and Connell in Normal People, but as much as that role showed us how nuanced and capable he was as a performer, Aftersun expands on that further, making Calum one of the most relatable and troubled father figures in recent memory.

The strength of the film undoubtedly lies in the bond between Calum and Sophie, so close in age that they're mistaken for sister and older brother by other holidaymakers. Amicably separated from Sophie's mother who has moved on to have a family with someone else, this holiday is Calum's opportunity to spend quality time with his daughter over the summer break before she returns to the normality of her life in Scotland, as well as find the serenity he desperately needs in his life. Despite the pent up issues he struggles to hide - presented through undisclosed injuries and disappearances that he can't explain to his daughter - Calum is immensely proud to have Sophie and wants to steer her in the right way in life, having honest discussions with her about drugs and the experiences she may have ahead of her as she grows up, but also giving plenty of room for her to be a kid (playing with the older teens, having a holiday romance with a boy from the arcades - solely based around their shared appreciation for a motorbike racing game), alongside the bonding sightseeing experiences they have together. Even then, when departing a tour bus, rather than following the crowd of tourists they break away from the pack for a momentary dance/tai chi break to cleanse their minds.

But it's with Sophie, the central character of the film played by Frankie Corio, that the film shows its true heart. With flashes of a modern day Sophie (the film is framed by the replaying of an old camcorded holiday video) suggesting how the memories of this formative experience has shaped her life, the younger iteration is a delight to be around. Curious and confident, she's full of childlike wonder at the world ahead of her, glimpsed through the lives of the teens at the resort and the father she adores. She's grown-up in the way 11 year old girls are in comparison to boys, but not opposed to doing kid stuff like getting a braid in her hair (a holiday institution, of course) or performing karaoke in front of the rest of the resort. Corio is excellent as the charming, adorably precocious Sophie, watching and reaching out to her father as the age difference between them seems to shrink as the story progresses and she understands more about life. And Mescal emerges as one of the most exciting actors of his generation, using his now trademark restraint to speak volumes.

Filled with so many flashes of sun-drenched joy and bittersweet moments, anchored by a beautifully melodic score from cellist/composer Oliver Coates, this is a fantastic debut for writer/director Charlotte Wells, that clearly draws from her own memories of the era. Aftersun is a deeply moving experience that will have you nostalgic for an easier, simpler time, asking you to pause and think back on your own experiences and how they've shaped your life.

This is something special.



Aftersun was part of this year's London Film Festival. It will be released in cinemas by Mubi on November 18th.