I went on Netflix to watch Hillbilly Elegy, and freaked out. That’s because I had completely forgotten about this new Charlie Kaufman movie that came out. That’s what happens when we’re in lockdown and movie theatres are closed.
Kaufman is the genius behind Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, one of the best movies ever made. He did Adaptation, which is brilliant, as well as Being John Malkovich and Synecdoche, New York with Philip Seymour Hoffman. Now he’s got the new version of Hoffman — the incredible Jesse Plemons (if you didn’t see him in Game Night, watch that immediately).
In this film, Kaufman gives us more about a man living in torment, and trying to salvage a relationship. We see that woman, played by Jessie Buckley (who was terrific in the disappointing Wild Rose last year). She brings warmth to the role, and on the car ride in a snowstorm, her narrated thoughts say that she’s thinking about ending things with this guy. Sure, he’s smart, he listens to her, and…he seems to even be listening to her thoughts. Yet there she is, going to meet his parents.
My wife was bored with their conversations, but I was enjoying it. They’d touch on philosophical things, art, film criticism (we see a book of movie critic Pauline Kael in his childhood home), and she even rattles off an interesting, long poem (included at the end of this review). She’s a poet, painter, and teacher. The parents are played by David Thewlis and Toni Collette. They’re hysterical. At one point, when she talks about romance, and how romantic the movie Forget Paris was (Billy Crystal and Debra Winger, who had absolutely no chemistry together). That would be funny enough, but hearing him add, “But that Billy Crystal is a Nancy” just made me laugh harder. And Collette has a bizarre laugh and facial expressions, and steals the show with this weird character. After the great performance she gave us in The Sixth Sense, she continues to impress with roles in Knives Out and Hereditary, it’s about time she starts getting mentioned with the best actresses working today.
As if the dinner conversation wasn’t weird enough, the parents seem to go from middle age, to old age, to the mom laying on her deathbed. Lucy (Buckley) is the only one that seems to notice all this weird stuff, including a photo on the wall that is of her, as a child. Jake (Plemons) gets rather angry at things, and the movie kind of goes off the rails at this point. If you’re thinking that at some point, it will all make sense – sorry, it never really will.
When they finally leave the farm house (after we hear about pigs being eaten alive by maggots, and other funky tales), they stop in the worsening snowstorm for ice cream, in a scene that feels like something out of the Twilight Zone. Then there’s a trip to his old school, where we see an elderly janitor.
Even though the self-loathing stuff I think Kaufman was going for doesn’t really work…I was never bored watching this (although at well over two hours, most people will be). I guess listening to people debate a John Cassavetes movie (A Woman Under the Influence) has a certain bit of interest to me. They talk about things even more contemporary than an early ‘70s movie, when they debate the rape controversy that came up about “Baby It’s Cold Outside.”
The Ian Reid novel, of which this is an adaptation, probably does a better job of being…less tedious and being more intriguing with the premise of a man thinking of the woman he didn’t have the courage to speak to at a trivia contest while she was in college.
I had more fun watching my wife growing increasingly frustrated with this story. At one point she said, “This is ‘My Dinner With Andre’ in a car, with snow.”
I laughed at a scene in which a song from Oklahoma! comes on the radio. Lucy says, “I didn’t know you liked musicals.” Jake responds, “I don’t, but…I like Oklahoma…” and he then rattles off about 25 other musicals he also likes, ending with “But only those.”
How can stuff like that not be entertaining?
There was a lovely dancing scene in the halls of his old school, but my wife laughed at how ridiculous it was, since it was so confusing as to what was really going on at that moment and why. I just couldn’t stop thinking about the dumpster that had hundreds of ice creams thrown away. What a waste!
That doesn’t mean I can recommend the film, though. It was a bit too bleak and abstract. The philosophical meanderings also got old. I just kept thinking my wife was going to say, “This movie is called ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’ and I’m thinking of ending this movie.” Instead, her final comment was simply, “This is pretentious $*&@ !”
And, it’s hard to argue with her on that point. But hey, Olive Platt plays an animated pig, so…there’s that.
2 stars out of 5.
Bonedog by Eva H.D.
Coming home is terrible
Whether the dogs lick your face or not;
Whether you have a wife or just a wife-shaped loneliness waiting for you.
Coming home is terribly lonely, so that you think
Of the oppressive barometric pressure back where you have just come from
With fondness, because everything’s worse
Once you’re home.
You think of the vermin clinging to the grass stalks,
Long hours on the road,
Roadside assistance and ice creams, and the peculiar shapes of
Certain clouds and silences with longing because you did not want to return.
Coming home is just awful.
And the home-style silences and clouds
Contribute to nothing but the general malaise.
Clouds, such as they are, are in fact suspect
And made from a different material than those you left behind.
You yourself were cut from a different cloudy cloth
Ill-met by moonlight
Unhappy to be back
Slack in all the wrong spots
Seamy suit of clothes
You return home
The Earth’s gravitational pull
An effort now redoubled
Dragging your shoelaces loose and your shoulders
Etching deeper the stanza of worry on your forehead.
You return home deepened,
A parched well linked to tomorrow by a frail strand of…
You sigh into the onslaught of identical days.
One might as well, at a time…
The sun goes up and down
Like a tired whore
The weather immobile
Like a broken limb
While you just keep getting older
Nothing moves but the shifting tides of salt in your body.
Your vision blears
You carry your weather with you
The big blue whale
A skeletal darkness
You come back with X-ray vision.
Your eyes have become a hunger.
You come home with your mutant gifts to a house of bone.
Everything you see now, all of it: