BINGE-R #76: The End of the F***ing World + Babylon Berlin + Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
THE END OF THE F***ING WORLD S1
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All eight episodes now streaming
I’m recommending this bleak but eventually wrenching teenage drama, but in doing so I have to break a streaming rule: you need to watch the first four episodes of The End of the F***ing World to judge it properly. That seems a great deal when there are only eight parts in total, but given that each goes for little more than a razor sharp 20 minutes it’s a reasonable investment. The end of the third episode takes everything that’s been set up to date – a nihilistic nuzzling between self-diagnosed high school psychopath James (Alex Lawther) and disaffected classmate Alyssa (Jessica Barden) – and turns it upside down to take effect with the fourth episode.
When they’re first together, on a spur of the moment decision by Alyssa, the duo have the deadest glances going. That makes sense once you sample Alyssa’s home life, and James casually mentions that he plans to kill her because he wants to move on from animals. So far, so bleak. In adapting Charles Forsman’s graphic novel, writer Charlie Covell cuts between awkward interactions and interior monologues so that public bile and private anger provide pitch black sarcasm. Once the pair steal James’ gormless father’s car and hit the road, you expect a modern day Badlands, complete with snarky memes and quick kills.
But the spilling of blood doesn’t escalate the narrative, it erases it. And while Alyssa and James are on the run from the police, specifically a pair of detectives (played by Gemma Whelan and Wunmi Mosaku) with their own entanglement, they start to slow down and experience genuine emotions. However mordant the expression, each starts to open up to the other and you realise that their headline flaws could just be human imperfections that festered due to lack of care. Unsettling moments come with a reckoning of past trauma. “People can’t be causes,” Alyssa eventually realises, “they’re just more questions.”
Anyone who has pondered parental impact on adolescent lives will get the burden that these teenagers realise they’re under, and there’s something genuinely haphazard and touching in where they end up as a couple. Barden, in particular, excels moving from piqued passion to pathos to sudden vitriol. The End of the F***ing World begins like looking through binoculars backwards, so that everything is distant, before you flip them around and it’s all in close-up. The craziness, you realise, comes with real heart.
In Brief: BABYLON BERLIN S1 (Netflix): I am just four episodes into this mammoth German production (there are 16 in total, each approximately 45 minutes), but it’s already audaciously compelling. Set in 1929 Berlin, a canvas that allows for nightclubs, revolutionaries, a crumbling society and carnivorous decadence, this period drama matches a detailed police mystery to immersion in the still torn social fabric – accentuated by exquisite production design, this is a period piece that feels the opposite of dated. It’s full of vulnerable characters – Wold War One’s impact, with Germany on the losing side, is constantly felt – beginning with a police detective secretly addicted to morphine, Gereon Rath (Volker Bruch), tracking a blackmailer’s film, but the best quality is the steady sting of transformative moments. History’s unfurling feels up for grabs.
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (Netflix, 2016, 87 minutes): Popstar is the very funny conclusion of what skit makers and musicians The Lonely Island – Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone – have been doing for the last decade: sending up the celebrity-pop business with such accuracy that their satire looks and sounds like a disastrous documentary. With shades of Spinal Tap and Zoolander, this mockumentary charts the rise, fall and redemption of Conner4Real (Samberg), a pop star who has outgrown the group he formed with his childhood friends and whose solo career founders after his creative hubris comes unstuck. From Conner’s excessive entourage (scarf caddy is my favourite) to his cheerfully disingenuous English girlfriend, Ashley (Imogen Poots), the film, directed by supporting cast members Schaffer and Taccone, is non-stop digs punctuated by scarily catchy tunes and note perfect cameos. Take a bow, Seal.
New on Netflix: Keanu Reeves as the solemn hitman who just can’t stop killing his numerous adversaries in bloody and detailed ways in John Wick 2 (2017, 122 minutes); Mud (2012, 130 minutes), the modern update of The Adventure of Tom Sawyer that relaunched Matthew McConaughey’s career.
New on SBS On Demand: Steven Soderbergh’s still telling debut feature, Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989, 100 minutes), with James Spader and Andie MacDowell; one of the great Australian films of this century, Phil Noyce’s Stolen Generation thriller Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002, 90 minutes).
New on Stan: The illusion of freedom, and their struggle against it, becomes apparent to three Arab women in contemporary Tel Aviv in the vital drama In Between (2016, 99 minutes); Martin Scorsese’s masterful study of urban alienation Taxi Driver (1976, 114 minutes), with Robert De Niro as the unhinged nightcrawler.
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