Binge-r #119: You + Beirut

Binge-r #119: You + Beirut

Page Turner: Elizabeth Lail (Beck) and Penn Badgley (Joe) in  You

Page Turner: Elizabeth Lail (Beck) and Penn Badgley (Joe) in You


Streaming Service: Netflix

Availability: All 10 episodes now streaming

The creepiness of attraction is not subtle in the ludicrously engaging You. A few scenes after aspiring writer Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail), who goes by her surname, wanders through the New York bookstore managed by Joe Goldberg (Gossip Girl’s Penn Badgley), catching his eye and igniting his imagination, he’s gone from cyberstalking her to plain stalking. “You fall for the wrong men,” declares Joe in his relentless inner monologue, and while he sees himself as the honourable exception, it’s soon clear that he could be the biggest mistake of them all. When Joe holds a mallet in the basement of the bookshop there are echoes of Kathy Bates’ Annie in Misery, and soon he’s found a target: Beck’s toxic trust fund hipster hook-up Benji (Lou Taylor Pucci), whose infidelity is apparently spurred by the pressure of running an artisanal soda start-up.

Sera Gamble and Greg Berlanti’s adaptation of Caroline Kepnes’ 2014 novel is a small miracle in aggressively leveraged storytelling. It sometimes teeters but never falls as it balances the disturbing obsessiveness of Joe’s pursuit with a satire of Beck’s wealthy pals, all couched through the close, persuasive voice of his narration, which is addressed to Beck and serves to justify to Joe – and the audience – that his crimes are justified. It’s a psychological thriller disguised as a romantic-comedy, a genre that You subverts to reveal how dangerous desire is; when Joe is all nervous about their first date he prepares himself by reading Beck’s messages on her purloined phone.

The first two episodes are directed by Lee Toland Krieger (The Age of Adaline) and he gives the colours an amplified, burnt richness while the edge of the frame bleeds into opaque dreaminess. It could be a fantasy world, or just how young 20somethings – whether Joe or Beck – put themselves at the centre of a story they believe they’re creating. Even when they’re together Joe can’t stop imagining what Beck will become under his care – “I’ll be that guy,” he nobly promises himself, “the one who sees you” – and just after you start wondering why Beck hasn’t twigged to Joe’s menace you see the answer: because so many men in her world are a routine threat. The lingering hand and exaggerated encouragement of the professor supervising her thesis goes exactly where she expects it will.

The mechanics of the show are audacious and/or loopy, but black humour helps to make Joe’s plotting intriguing when it should be freaky – he’s not exactly a supervillain when it comes to the execution of his schemes. It adds twists and juicy new characters such as Beck’s infuriating tutorial rival Blythe (Hari Nef) at a soap-worthy clip, while adding in background for Joe that’s both wary and welcome and opening Beck up as a character more complex than Joe can imagine. When her voice takes over the narration at a, well, delicate point in the fourth episode I had to concede that You is a confounding pleasure. It shouldn’t work, but it really does.

Dealbreaker: Jon Hamm (Mason Skiles) in  Beirut

Dealbreaker: Jon Hamm (Mason Skiles) in Beirut


Beirut (Stan, 2018, 110 minutes): Jon Hamm finds the film role that he’s been waiting for in the wake of Mad Men with this geopolitical thriller about a negotiator who can make any bargain except one for his own acceptance. Hamm plays Mason Skiles, who in 1972 is a capable American diplomat whose secondment in cosmopolitan Beirut ends with a needless tragedy. When he returns in 1983, at the instigation of the U.S. government and a terrorist group that has kidnapped a senior American and will only barter with him, Mason is burnt out and mostly broken (although that magnificent jawline remains intact). With an ongoing civil war, Beirut looks as damaged as he is, and his colleagues, including Rosamund Pike’s CIA staffer Sandy Crowder, have little faith in him. Hamm’s despair is antagonistic and his portrayal is unburdened by easy redemption – both as a portrait of a desperate individual and a picture of nefarious political intrigue (including the Americans), Tony Gilroy’s screenplay and its pungent twists are coolly pessimistic. Director Brad Anderson (The Machinist) adroitly cuts between sun-drenched natural light and artificially lit interiors, creating a world that functions without reason that conversely motivates his star’s performance.

New on Netflix: Beirut’s Rosamund Pike is startlingly powerful in David Fincher’s Gone Girl (2014, 148 minutes), playing a missing wife to Ben Affleck’s suspect husband in a compelling thriller that reveals domesticity as a makeshift deception; Hello, My Name is Doris (2015, 90 minutes) gives Sally Field her best role in years as an ageing accounts clerk who finds renewal in a crush on a 20something colleague (Max Greenfield). Whimsy and reality are skilfully attuned.

>> Other Reading: Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma (2018, 135 minutes) is one of the best movies of the year – a daring and deeply composed act of cinematic memoir released by Netflix. I wrote in depth about the film’s masterful depiction of family life in 1970 Mexico City for The Monthly [full review here].

New on SBS on Demand: Also from Mexico, Amat Escalante’s The Untamed (2016, 94 minutes) is one of the best horror movies in recent years: a wild but conducive mix of sci-fi framing, otherworldly hunger, and destructive pleasure; Brooklyn (2015, 107 minutes) is a showcase for Saoirse Ronan, playing a homesick Irish immigrant in 1950s New York who with dedication and hope find a new life in a new world.

New on Stan: The Australian streaming service has been scooping up libraries: it’s just added the full James Bond collection, plus leading Disney franchises including Marvel’s many superheroes. If you want something critical of corporate mythmaking try The Founder (2016, 116 minutes), a biting biographical drama with a pernicious Michael Keaton as the businessman who took McDonald’s away from the McDonald brothers and into ubiquity.

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>> Check the complete BINGE-R archive: 146 series reviewed here, 110 movies reviewed here, and 24 lists compiled here.

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