Film Reviews: Bohemian Artist, Or Disaster Underpants

July 18, 2023

 

By BRUCE DENNILL

 

Bohemian Rhapsody / Directed by Bryan Singer / 13DL

The Disaster Artist / Directed by James Franco / 16LNS

The Lost City Of Z / Directed by James Gray / 13V

Fun Mom Dinner / Directed by Alethea Jones / 16DL

Captain Underpants / Directed by David Soren / PG

Equity / Directed by Meera Menon / 16L

 

For all of the for-and-against railing that accompanied the theatrical release of Bohemian Rhapsody, it’s a story about some entertainers (with a particular focus on the most entertaining member of their group), and it entertains, so regardless of artistic merit and historical accuracy, it’s worth a watch. Being that the film is executive produced by two living members of Queen – Brian May and Roger Taylor – while the story whirls mostly around the creative, controversial dervish that was Freddie Mercury, it’s ridiculous to expect a perfectly balanced narrative, and you don’t get one. The bulk of the excess that came with being, for a time, the world’s biggest rock band is only hinted at, and the huge complexity of Mercury’s life – struggling with fame and sexuality; living with Aids when the disease was least understood and most feared; trying to achieve the massively aspirational goals he set for himself – is merely suggested. But there is enough here, and well enough presented, especially if you are a fan of the band and know their material already, to underline how extraordinary it was for Queen to form, develop and ultimately explode into the public consciousness, where they remain firmly entrenched. Rami Malek won an Oscar for playing Mercury, and on balance, that’s probably a good call – the shortfalls in his performance are more the fault of the script that the actor. And the evocation of the era in which the soundtrack to many viewers’ lives was written and recorded adds nostalgia, making the severe editing of the full Queen story still more reasonable. The film is flawed – fine. But it occasionally soars, too.

 

Making a film that pays tribute to a truly awful film is an exercise that is risky at best and foolhardy at worst. But when, as was the case with the source material, the new film is built on a passion for a calling (however unconventional it may be), there is always a chance that such love and dedication will shine through the wilful weirdness. Writer-director Tommy Wiseau’s The Room is a marker for well-intentioned garbage made in pursuit of achieving Hollywood success. The Disaster Artist explores Wiseau’s drive and desire to create his opus, as well as his utter lack of skill or finesse when it came to actually making the movie, as well as the ultimate – and unexpected – acceptance of his work as not only valid but, in some ways, important. It’s hardly surprising that The Disaster Artist became a vehicle for director and star James Franco. Though far more successful and better-known than Wiseau, he share’s his older colleague’s penchant for basing progress on feeling rather than planning, and has often made career choices that have, if not set him back, certainly interrupted his momentum as an up-and-coming leading man. This film is as goofily absurd as The Room in many ways, but the perspective from which it is pitched is unfailingly affectionate, which adds a great deal of poignancy and heart to proceedings. It’s impossible to not question the whole Hollywood ideal when seeing both how the pressure to succeed affects a person and how success is often measured in questionable ways. But in this tribute to a ham-handed maverick, there is warmth and gentle humour, with the necessary cynicism more implied than messily getting in the way.

 

Charlie Hunnam is an interesting actor, not interested in taking the easy route to a higher profile (he turned down the role of Christian Grey for this one) and, as a result, not yet quite an A-list leading man, despite his good looks and undeniable presence. These qualities are reflected in the character of Percy Fawcett, a Victorian explorer who firmly believed the remains of an ancient civilisation could be found in the depth of the Amazon rainforest, despite the scepticism of the scientific community of which he was a part and whose opinions were in some ways needed to validate his efforts. Determined and resourceful, Fawcett repeatedly found ways to mount expeditions to South America to prove his suspicions, though such enterprises always included the navigation of relationships with a number of other important people in his life, including his wife (Sienna Miller), son (Tom Holland) and assistant (Robert Pattinson). There is much of the air of mystery and adventure that comes with the exploration of exotic destinations, but the pacing of The Lost City Of Z lets it down, with the piece feeling needlessly drawn-out, and without sufficient stirring spikes to reinvigorate it along the way. The period is beautifully recalled in terms of the costumes and other details, but in the end, the “Z” in the title might signify sleepiness for some viewers…

 

The sort of behaviour associated with sorority and fraternity situations at American universities is not something to be proud of, and it’s not particularly funny either, unless you’re the sort of person who delights in others being belittled. There are a whole range of films that explore that space, and a growing number of projects – perhaps most famously The Hangover – that have an older group, usually guys, indulging in the same sort of shenanigans. Occasionally, it’s women that are falling off the collective wagon, and sometimes the results are genuinely funny, as was the case in Bridesmaids. More often, though, in films centred on groups of either gender, the lack of sophistication in the writing, humour and overall concept leaves audiences wondering why they chose to sit through the film in question at all. This is the situation in Fun Mom Dinner, with the relative lack of concept – four women who are bored or stuck in a rut in some way get together for a meal, which degenerates into a night of debauchery – being the beginning of the end. There is formidable talent in the cast, including Toni Collette and Molly Shannon, but the scenarios everyone is placed in are so consistently uninspiring that nobody is given a chance to shine.

 

Scatological humour is almost always a turn-off in films – a lazy way to get a reaction, if not a laugh. It makes more sense, though, when the film’s protagonists are a couple of young boys, best friends whose infectious joy is triggered by the silly jokes they tell each other. In this digitally animated release, it is their laughter that gets them into trouble, when their nasty headmaster (voiced by Ed Helms) threatens to put them in different classes because of their constant giggling. Another aspect of the boy’s friendship is the richness of their collective imagination and the stories they make up together, and when their efforts to block the headmaster’s plan morph into the apparent realisation of one of their comic-book storylines, they find themselves having to manage a number of stressful situations as some genuine hilarity ensues. There is not as much layering to the script of Captain Underpants as there is in many big-budget animated projects, but along with much gleeful daftness, there are some pearls of parody and bits of satire, and the combination makes the piece enjoyable family viewing.

 

There are some wider themes at work in Wall Street thriller Equity, but being able to focus fully on those requires not being distracted by a poor understanding of the minutia of the plot, with its trader lingo and acronyms slung around willy-nilly and an apparent assumption that all viewers will understand enough to want to emotionally invest in the film. Beyond that, it is a solid effort, its protagonist a powerful woman (Anna Gunn) rather than the Gordon Gecko male stereotype. However sharp she is, though, she still finds many avenues blocked because of her gender. Sympathy for her situation is leavened, however, by her being every bit as avaricious and ruthless as her strutting counterparts. It’s unlikely that too many people will feel bad watching a nasty person hit a rough patch, but there is enough intrigue and pace to make the film worth watching, if not truly compelling.

 

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