BINGE-R #56: Crashing + Friday Night Films
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All six episodes now streaming
Sometimes you just have to follow the talent to find a good show. One of the best series I’ve seen this year is Fleabag, a savage and revelatory comedy on Amazon from the English writer and actor Phoebe Waller-Bridge [full review here]. Crashing, which has just reached Netflix, is her prior project, which she also wrote and stars in (not to be confused with the American Crashing, a HBO comedy). You can consider it a dry run for Fleabag, as Crashing doesn’t run as deep or dark as its successor, but it’s still a biting ensemble comedy that could be described as the filthiest, funniest episode of Friends ever.
Here the 20somethings don’t live in an apartment buildings but a disused hospital – for cheap London rent they camp out in crumbling rooms as “property guardians”, and the shabby surrounds just might have leached into their outlooks. The catalyst is the arrival of Lulu (Waller-Bridge), the best friend of Anthony (Damien Molony), a chef whose uptight girlfriend, Kate (Louise Ford), is spectacularly unprepared for the connection between the two. The women have a terrific dynamic, where instead of being antagonistic Kate is uncomfortable with how friendly Lulu is. Passive-aggressive British awkwardness percolates through every encounter.
“Melody, what have I got to do?” asks Sam (Jonathan Bailey), a weapons grade douchebag hoping to hook up with his French neighbour (Julie Dray). “Drug me,” she curtly replies, and Waller-Bridge’s whip-crack exchanges are rifled through every episode. But just when you think you have a grip on the characters, they’ll reveal a different facet: Sam ends up in a possibly not platonic friendship with Fred (Amit Shah), a shy gay fellow dweller, while it takes several episodes to find out what Melody sees in Colin (Adrian Scarborough), Kate’s ageing and miserably divorced workmate.
The third episode puts them all around a makeshift dinner table, for a disastrous evening that ups the stakes because it breaks up the usual pairings, but there’s always a constantly uneasy back and forth between Lulu and Anthony, whose mutual flirting is both a badge of camaraderie and a not exactly covert come-on. There’s something competitive about the pair – which is all the more galling for Kate – which means a winner and a loser. That’s a welcome take on the sitcom romance, and typical of how Waller-Bridge can bend a genre to her needs without breaking it. She’s currently tied up shooting the Han Solo Star Wars spin-off, so consider Crashing a welcome stopgap until she gets back to her own glorious galaxy not so far away.
FRIDAY NIGHT FILMS
If you want a painfully honest romantic drama…
Drinking Buddies (Netflix, 2013, 90 minutes): Netflix is in the Joe Swanberg business, financing the American independent filmmaker’s spot-on 2016 anthology series Easy [full review here] and his recent feature Win it All [full review here]. Drinking Buddies may well be the film that tipped them off to the mumblecore movement’s ringleader, with Swanberg inverting the structure of the screen affair to catch the unfulfilled entanglements of a pair of friends and co-worker at a Chicago microbrewery. Both Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Swanberg regular Jake Johnson) are in relationships, but they circle each other in a way that is both suggestive and self-destructive, with Swanberg’s camera capturing the nuance with surreptitious precision. Wilde has never given a better performance – Kate’s flirtatious energy reveals a depth of feeling that is powerfully moving, as she furiously tries to find what she needs but can’t explain.
If you’re after a telling example of creativity amidst repression…
Tehran Taxi (Stan, 2015, 78 minutes): Tehran Taxi is remarkable for several reasons. Firstly, it shouldn’t exist: Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi has been banned from making movies in his homeland since 2010, but this is the third feature he’s covertly made and had smuggled out. Secondly, he brilliantly turns the surveillance on himself, presenting himself as a cab driver with three tiny cameras positioned in his car, so that the mix of professional performers and unaware amateurs creates a portrait of his country’s contradictions. Thirdly, it’s both fascinating and entertaining – the film is in turn a legal thriller, black comedy, and neo-realist journey. Panahi, a patient host, offers hope and driving tips, but the casually chilling ending makes clear the position he’s in.
If you prefer the masters of deadpan humour…
Broken Flowers (SBS on Demand, 2005, 101 minutes): You might think that Jim Jarmusch’s cosmic cool and Bill Murray’s acerbic commentary would be too much of a good thing, but they actually bring out the best of each other in this quiet and ultimately moving road movie. Murray plays Don Johnston, a one-time lothario who receives an anonymous letter telling him that a former love had his son two decades prior. Roused from his comfortable stasis he hits the road, and each encounter with an ex puts a delicious but different spin on his past as the likes of Sharon Stone, Jessica Lange and Tilda Swinton greet Don. Every song and piece of production design is precise, but the yearning for a second chance becomes heartfelt.
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