Charlie Kaufman directs Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons and David Thewlis in this surreal romance where a young lady accompanies her new-ish boyfriend to an awkward Christmas dinner; she is thinking of ending things, he is also lost in thought.
I’m going to give myself a big smug pat on the back for figuring out the solution to the cranium twisting puzzle very early on. What’s left is pretty indulgent – impressed with itself for leaping through a series of hoops ITOET has built only for itself. Then avoiding a satisfying conclusion. You can’t deny the perfectly designed bleak imagination of Kaufman’s world. Whether lurching into horror or sentimentality he pulls at your intellect and gets a deep psychological response. Much like the similarly depressing but accomplished Anomalisa or Synecdoche, New York you can only marvel so much at a film that burns it own rule book, a rule book that no other movie or storyteller bothers to follow. I prefer Adaptation or Eternal Sunshine as they have strong seams of warmth, hope and accessibility. Not in any way to diminish Kaufman’s incomparable achievements in modern Hollywood but much his shtick of a mediocre sad sack whose life falls apart with reality warping results doesn’t sit well with someone who has carved out such a precious and precocious niche within the industry. Comparable to Stewart Lee in stand-up comedy, you are watching an unusually victorious inventive outlier continually bemoan his lot and life in general. It doesn’t ring true when you permanently operate with budgets and technicians at the level his last three releases have enjoyed. You can’t be the voice of the loser AND have this much creative freedom. I find that worldview from people with massive loyal followings disingenuous. For those of us who look forward to his movies but haven’t drunk the kool-aid, this film only really is “entertaining” when Thewlis is behaving boorishly or when the implied terror at an ice cream parlour lurks just out of shot. That maybe adds up to 30 minutes total of a very gloomy, overlong, unruly yet undeniably gorgeous product.
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