Binge-r #146: Last Man on Earth + 20th Century Women
LAST MAN ON EARTH S1
Streaming Service: SBS on Demand
Availability: All 13 episodes now streaming, plus S2, S3, and S4
Good things do come to those who wait: four years after this inventive American comedy about making amends after you’ve survived the apocalypse first debuted, and the original Australian rights holder buried it, all four seasons of Last Man on Earth are available through SBS on Demand from later today. It’s the kind of belated victory, in the wake of extended deprivation, which the show specialises in applying to its protagonist, Phil Miller (Will Forte), an everyday schmuck first encountered returning to his hometown of Tucson, Arizona after driving across America in a failed attempt to find another survivor of the virus that has seemingly killed every other person on the planet.
The concept is science-fiction, but the execution is comic. The pilot episode is a standalone classic, as Phil’s fantasies and fears play out with absurdist stakes – he loots widely, simultaneously relaxes in and gets drunk from his margarita-filled kiddie pool, and debates God; he’s a cursed philosopher in flip-flops who uses a swimming pool as his toilet. If you’ve seen his 2010 movie MacGruber – which is perpetually silly and often hilarious – you’ll know that Forte renders ludicrous failings and the worst of implications into recognisable behaviour. There’s never a point where Phil becomes a mere instrument of the deft writing – he’s always running off the rails with an agreeable energy.
It’s not a spoiler to say that the monologues become dialogue, and the interaction that follows – after a few episodes there’s a small but skilful ensemble cast alongside Forte – mix excruciating embarrassment with a warm humanism. The urge to get along and start anew is strong, it’s just that Phil’s often selfish desires apply a spanner to the works. There’s something blackly funny about someone who made it through the end of humanity only to offend those he so eagerly sought out. This is the daft limits of existentialism, consistently funny and constantly sidestepping expectations with a nutty set-piece or tender admission. Don’t be the last person to watch Last Man on Earth.
NEWLY ADDED MOVIES
20th CENTURY WOMEN (Netflix, 2016, 119 minutes): Few recent movies have felt so richly alive in the moment, with characters full of possibilities so that their actions are both heartfelt and thrilling, as Mike Mills’ bittersweet comic-drama about a teenage boy’s coming of age that’s told through the perspective of the unofficial family raising him. The child is Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) and his divorced mother is Dorothea (a masterful Annette Bening), whose ramshackle home in 1979 Santa Barbara has tenants in punk photographer Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and former hippie William (Billy Crudup), along with Jamie’s best friend, Julie (Elle Fanning). With artful, incisive touches Mills pulls the focus from the cosmic to granular, creating a sense of personal history and passing the narrative back and forth between the characters, whose dynamic can be fractious as readily as it is supportive. The storytelling refuses to allow for definitive moments – you’re always aware that every scene is part of something more, that like a life itself these characters can’t be easily encapsulated.
New on Netflix: Mama (2013, 100 minutes) is the horror film that got Andy Muschietti the job of directing It – a menacing otherworldly mystery about maternal longing told with admirable (and scary) restraint; the latest edition of Shaft (2019, 112 minutes), with Samuel L Jackson as the iconic Blaxploitation private eye, is a tepid action-comedy mired in self-congratulation and familiar dialogue.
New on SBS on Demand: Marion Cotillard gives a piercingly vulnerable lead performance as a woman desperately trying to hold on to both her job and her mental stability in Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s Two Days, One Night (2014, 91 minutes), a compelling Belgian drama about a worker trying to persuade her colleagues to forego the bonuses they have accepted from their boss in exchange for her being retrenched.
New on Stan: A knowing battle for supremacy amongst supposed friends told with contemporary lifestyle obsessions and classic Hollywood allusions, A Simple Favour (2018, 117 minutes) is a fascinating and out there female thriller fronted by Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick; Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018, 123 minutes) is a violent, piecemeal, and unnecessary sequel that doesn’t bring back Emily Blunt’s essential lead character.
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