Tag: Paddy Considine

Funny Cow

funcowThe damp misery of England’s summer-less north isn’t the first place you’d look for a few laughs. But that’s where this tale about an aspiring standup comedian is set.  However, its illustration of domestic woe might catch you off guard as this story is more a survival tale than a celebration of feel-good laughs—for a movie about a standup comedian, it’s relentlessly glum. 

Maxine Peake (The Theory of Everything), plays the titular role of Funny Cow (we never discover her real name) as the film traces her life story from childhood giggler to fully-fledged standup comedian.  Brought up at the hands of an alcoholic mother and a violent dad, she copes with the horrors of her upbringing the best way she knows how—by defiantly laughing in the face of her abusers. As with her belligerently cheeky disposition, this film is an exercise in resilience and offers very little in the way of the comic relief.

That’s not to say it is entirely bereft of lighter moments. Her affair with the ironically named Angus (Paddy Considine) applies a dry-witted eloquence to proceedings. His response to her backstory — “Why is it all the beautiful people are fucked up and all the wankers bestride the earth untouched” — so eloquently summarises most of the film’s broken characters. But despite offering some light at the end of the tunnel, even Angus eventually succumbs to the film’s oppressive mood.

Oh, and fair warning, Funny Cow’s standup routine, although historically authentic to the working men’s clubs of the time, provides the kind of questionable racism that might make some viewers uncomfortable.

But these quibbles aside, the film still has plenty to admire. Beautifully shot in all its bleak squalor, the cleverly considered narrative structure quite brilliantly reveals her life through fractured flashbacks. Some laser guided fourth-wall breaking, coupled with Peake’s superb performance, hammers home some of the film’s more salient themes. And if you can get through its depressing demeanour, Funny Cow does deliver a powerfully told tale of domestic survival that tugs on the heart-strings.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

Advertisements

The Death of Stalin

deathofstalin

Scottish writer/director Armando Iannucci (Veep, The Thick of It) has taken his politically-charged brand of comedy to the big screen and adapted Fabien Nury’s absurdist satirical comic, which parodies events surrounding the demise of one of the world’s most ruthless dictators.

In what feels like a blend of Guy Ritchie’s gangster caper Snatch and Christopher Morris’s topically awkward black comedy about incompetent British jihadists (Four Lions), The Death of Stalin depicts the tyrant’s final days and the ensuing political scramble to fill the power vacuum. In the best traditions of British farcical humour, the film follows a Soviet committee of bumbling buffoons with knives drawn and ready to plunge into the back of their respective comrades … all for the betterment of the Soviet Union, of course.   

In particular, Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) and Lavrenti Beria (brilliantly played by Simon Russell Beale) duke it out in a bloody political game of chess.  What is astonishing are many of the details, which feel engineered for comedic effect, but are factually true—right down to the fumbling committee unable to find a doctor available to treat the ailing Stalin, because they had all been imprisoned or executed.

Sure, cinematic liberties have bent history a little out of shape, with events condensed and players shuffled, most likely to accommodate the impressive cast.  Molotov (Michael Palin), for example, had resigned prior to the events unfolding in this film. Such tweaks will most likely irk historians … me? Nah, I’ll take Palin over some slight inaccuracies any day.

Although, those who can fully appreciate the gravity of Stalin’s murderous regime might find something a little off with having a laugh at the expense of those who suffered. There’s a nagging sense of something sour in your popcorn, a whiff of guilt at every chuckle. One could argue that such humour is at the very heart of what it means to be a “black comedy” and ultimately, it will be to personal taste if the subject matter spoils it for you.  Shame, because there are some moments of genuine comedic gold here.

Read the full review for the NZ Herald here.