BINGE-R #3: The OA + Good Behaviour

BINGE-R #3: The OA + Good Behaviour

 The Glass Menagerie: Brit Marling as Prairie Johnson in Netflix’s  The OA

The Glass Menagerie: Brit Marling as Prairie Johnson in Netflix’s The OA

THE OA S1

Streaming Service: Netflix

Availability: All eight episodes now streaming

2016 is the year the independent filmmakers migrated to streaming services. The writer/directors Amy Seimetz and Lodge Kerrigan teamed up for the coolly compelling The Girlfriend Experience, a highlight on Stan, while mumblecore fixture Joe Swanberg delivered the anthology series Easy for Netflix. Last but certainly not least is the creative partnership of actor Brit Marling and director Zal Batmanglij, whose fantasy drama The OA is a binge-worthy metaphysical mystery that arrived on Netflix, like its protagonist, with little advance warning on Saturday.

The movies the American duo have previously written together and overseen, 2011’s Sound of My Voice and 2013’s The East, both felt like opening chapters in unfinished stories, and the extended streaming format suits their dense, uneasy narratives. The OA unfurls with an intimate feel for texture and transformation, mixing visual formats and classic texts. The series will draw some comparisons with fellow Netflix standout Stranger Things, but it also made me think of The Count of Monte Cristo.

When Prairie Johnson (Marling) turns up in a St Louis hospital in 2014 no-one knows where she’s been for seven years, or how the once blind teenager regained her sight. “We all died more times than I can count,” is the most helpful answer she can give to the police once her parents, Nancy and Abel (Alice Krige and Scott Wilson), take their adopted daughter home. Prairie, who calls herself “the OA”, has a distinct emotional equilibrium. There’s an otherworldly sense of removal, as if trauma has excised something from her, but also an indefatigable resolve.

That’s why her open-ended invitation to a group of locals to join her – they have to leave their front doors open, Prairie tells them in an echo of vampire lore, because “you have to invite me in” – attracts the likes of Steve (Patrick Gibson), a teenage drug dealer whose first encounter with her is shockingly unexpected. With her inexplicable rituals and self-possession, Prairie suggests the power to remake yourself. Tendril-like, subsequent episodes venture into the lives of her cohort, which includes Steve’s high school associates and a teacher, Betty (Phyllis Smith, a.k.a. the voice of Sadness from Inside Out).

In candle-lit sessions Prairie recounts her life story to her squad, and the fantastic tone of these memories balances personal history and myth, although I won’t recount because as Prairie tells an FBI therapist (Riz Ahmed) in episode four: “When I say it out loud it all falls apart.” The revelations lodged in The OA feel organically connected to Prairie, no matter how out there – and some of them are really out there – they are. Quantified by Batmanglij’s attentive direction, the everyday and the extraordinary are held uncomfortably close together here. If you invite it in you’ll probably be hooked.

 Dangerous Liaisons: Juan Diego Botto’s Javier and Michelle Dockery’s Letty in Stan’s  Good Behaviour

Dangerous Liaisons: Juan Diego Botto’s Javier and Michelle Dockery’s Letty in Stan’s Good Behaviour

GOOD BEHAVIOUR S1

Streaming Service: Stan

Availability: All 10 episodes now streaming

“Lady Mary plays a meth head.” That’s the honest tagline, not to mention the audience selling point, for Good Behaviour, Stan’s new American crime drama about a grifter and addict whose latest attempt to reform is complicated by an association with a hitman. Far from Downton Abbey, Michelle Dockery plays Letty Dobesh, a North Carolina parolee whose bad habits and prior incarceration have taken a mental (although not physical) toll. When a waitressing job goes bad she returns to ripping off luxury hotel rooms, which brings her into the orbit of Javier (Juan Diego Botto), a killer for hire whose latest scheme pricks Letty’s moribund conscience.

You can see why Dockery took the role. Letty has no end of showy scenes, whether tearfully begging her distant mother, Estelle (Lusia Strus), to let her see the son she lost custody of, trading philosophical observations with her parole officer, Christian (Terry Kinney), or facing down Javier with a loaded rifle. The problem is that there’s no connective tissue between these extremes, or a distinct sense of person or place. The initial episodes mostly unfold in anodyne luxury resorts, which are a suitably glossy backdrop for the attraction and manipulation that the very beautiful and frequently underdressed leads practice.

“Today I feel good,” declares a motivational recording that mocks Letty, and Good Behaviour makes nods to the assumption of roles and how we can be our best when we’re being someone else, which is Letty’s specialty. But like the junkie grit, that is just a dusting of prestige drama atop a trashy thriller that repeatedly exonerates Letty and Javier from their failings so that the audience can enjoy fantasy-like assignations. I have no problem with trash, but it needs to be better than this. I’d rather wait for the show where Lady Edith plays an autistic Czech safecracker.

 

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