Get a Room!
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.