Saturday, January 28, 2012

Carnage

Get a Room!
or
Who's Afraid of Nibbles the Hamster?

A schoolyard brawl between two kids escalates into a meeting between the parents that only proves the kids are amateurs at it in Roman Polanski's new film Carnage, based on the play by Yasmina Reza.  The meet-and-greet takes place at the New York apartment of Penelope and Michael Longstreet (Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly)— he's in hardware sales and she's an arts afficianado and rights activist, writing a book about African genocide—with Alan and Nancy Cowen (Christoph Waltz, Kate Winslet)—he's in lawyery and she frets.  It all starts well enough: cobbler is served and coffee offered, everyone's uncomfortable and on their best behavior.  But the niceties don't last any longer than the cobbler.  Penelope starts getting self-righteous, Michael, overly conciliatory, while Alan loses his laser-like focus from a series of interrupting cell-calls that from a client with a wonder-drug for high blood pressure that may have all sorts of side effects.

Then, Nancy...well, things go down-hill fast after Nancy...

It's basically a one-joke black-comedy that isn't remotely funny (the anti-punch-line comes at the end) turned up to 11 by an all-star cast and a director confined to a minimal set and probably going a little bit insane day by day.  Bear in mind that Polanski was probably giggling and encouraging extremism all through shooting, but all these terrific actors have their moments of masonry mastication—Foster coming off the worst, and Winslet the best, with Reilly and Waltz being alternately obnoxious and snaky.  Fairly soon, lines are drawn in tasteful carpets and there's a constant tying and untying of boundaries and bonds, that fall along lines of sex, politics and whatever the last subject talked about was. 

There are histrionics galore, and while there are no real baring of souls, there are all sorts of baring of inhibitions and not in the fun way.  These people seem to have absolutely no sense of decorum or restraint or any illusions that their opinions might not be the most pertinent to the proceedings.  It's all out there, vomited at projectile force and with no dolby/no squelch.  That would appear to be the comedy of it, but unfortunately it comes off a little forced and a little unrealistic.  It doesn't matter how set in their ways and high-strung these people are, at some point there is going to be re-assessment and back-pedaling, even if the trajectory is straight down-hill.

Not in this self-contained universe.  There is no tentativeness here, no sticking the toes in to test the waters, everybody belly-flops into the pool from the high-minded-board.  Even "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" is subtle by comparison, although there are some nice behavioral touches, like Penelope raising her level of discussion to an obviously uncomfortable volume to drown out Alan's phone-call.  Common sense is forgotten along with the kids argument and everything degenrates to a tag-team grudge match between and among the couples.

Ultimately, it's a bad night out that you want to forget about in the morning.

Carnage is a Rental.

3 comments:

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

I'm curious, is your final line about the film or about how the characters feel? I'm still a fan of this all the while after, even though most call it out on being very low-stakes, the fact that the issues assessed ARE so low-stakes makes sense for me in showing silly these people are.

Yojimbo_5 said...

Actually...it was how I, as a movie-goer, felt. Face it, though, it's a stellar cast at the top of their game with a director who knows EXACTLY what he's doing with it. Why, then, isn't it a better film? Sure, it's low-stakes—that IS the point—but, the characters come off, each, as one precipitously falling note, that, really, truly, not deeply, they're one-dimensional. Yes, they're shallow people, but, even the shallowest of us—I'm excluding you and me in "us," obviously—have more dimension than these four do, and that is the fault of the playwright and scenarist. These are not people she's creating and writing, but "labels" that she's chosen to animate, and then deconstruct to—oh, how gloriously ironic!—bullying, childish schoolyard behavior. Didn't feel sorry for these people...I didn't see them as such, so much as walking talking ideologies, without the hint of any depth...because the writer didn't know how to give it to them. And even the best of actors couldn't provide it. "The worst night of their life?" They obviously haven't lived...but then, I never saw the characters as being alive. You don't have to write shallow to create shallow.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

I can't argue with that response. I mean I LITERALLY have nothing to respond with, you sort of nail it on the head there, even though I still like it. Me: 0, You: 100

(PS, I (and a few people) sent you a series of emails regarding a quasi-blogging project. Read them from the earliest one onward, otherwise you might be confused.)