FILMS TO FIX YOUR PANDEMIC PROBLEM
WORDS BETH CUTTING
Is the seemingly perpetual state of lockdown taking its toll? Deprived of dopamine from dancing in the clubs? Lusting for new levels of love? Setting up a staycation? Fear not as F Word magazine's culture writer, Beth Cutting brings you a list of great films to fix your "pandemic problem".
We all want what's missing right now and let's face it, it's frustrating. So whether it's through providing you with a pinch of escapism, or a bucket load of relatability, we hope you enjoy these films as much as we do.
PANDEMIC PROBLEM 1: FORBIDDEN LOVE & LOSS
Romance was tough enough in 2019, swiping through the ever increasing number of dating apps, wondering if dates will dwindle due to the temptation of ‘over-casualness’. In 2019 there was too much free-spirited choice encouraging disregard, in the Covid era of 2020 we are forced to be fussy. It’s the all-or-nothing of times. You have a one person bubble, who do you choose?
The main characters from each movie select a lover against the approval of their respective family. ‘Harold & Maude’ and ‘Babyteeth’ were released almost 50 years apart but both similarly address themes of family disparity, love, and loss brought to surface via the introduction of a (seemingly) highly dysfunctional person.
But what is dysfunction really? It’s often wrapped in class divide, a person with no real home or job may be deemed dysfunctional but they may feel a stronger sense of themselves than the upper class liberal therapist father, for example. Parents in both films believe they are ‘better-than’, exuding an air of “because we have this, we are this”. Their reductive way of thinking gets challenged by new characters who have rejected societal pressures and let go of caring if they are judged.
Here are two of the best “my parents won’t approve” love stories and both happen to be provoked by a circumstantial looming sense of loss.
THE NEW: BABYTEETH (2020)
Director: Shannon Murphy
Cinematography: Andrew Commis
Screenplay: Rita Kalnejais
Starring: Eliza Scanlen, Toby Wallace, Ben Mendelsohn, Essie Davis,
Genre: Drama / Tragicomedy
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video
One sunny day at a train station in Australia twenty-something nomad Moses (Toby Wallace) asks teenage schoolgirl Milla (Eliza Scanlen) for some cash. Their first meeting is intensely intimate, they end up in a tangled embrace on the platform with Moses trying to stop her nose bleed. This interaction sets the tone perfectly for the rest of the film - one character openly bleeding out, the other naively trying to fix it with the wrong tools, neither character knows how much of each others affection or generosity to accept. Should Moses take the 50? The train doors shut, and the train leaves without them foreshadowing the sliding doors theme of missed opportunities.
Milla engages in the painful and stumbling dance of Moses's uncertainty as he confidently pairs his intense affection with sporadic bouts of absence. Moses proceeds to (similarly to Milla's terminal illness) highlight and cause cracks in Milla's family dynamic. The parents, Henry (Ben Mendelsohn) and Anna (Essie Davis) already struggling to deal with the situation alongside their own idiosyncrasies often resort to self-medicating, or scheduling in marital sex to gain an inch of control amidst the heartache. Milla occasionally seems more mature than her self-medicating parents, but then at others she is giddy and child like in her romance.
Moses, like a bad bambi, is unsteady on his own faux-confident journey which Milla's parents can see right through, his drug addict tendencies are clear to them, perhaps a reflection of their own relationship with drugs - it takes one to know one. And Moses similarly pigeonholes them right back. I wouldn’t even know which cast member I should applaud for their performance; all four are fraught with outstanding depth, we see the family dynamic coin flipped on its head, cashed in and refunded. Parents acting like children, children acting like parents, guests acting like they own the place, home owners feeling like outsiders. Often how terminal illness can make you feel in your own body.
The emotion of terminal illness ebbs and flows with hedonism and ascetic disparity. When they watch Milla and Moses rolling around on the floor outside Anna admits “This is the worst possible parenting I can imagine.” Parents don’t usually encourage the free-spirited energy Anna & Henry try to summon up in Babyteeth, but illness will do that to you eventually. Having a terminally ill child gives time and boundaries new meanings. The film is a lesson in how the Finlay family initially tries to reject every unwelcome dysfunction and clumsily tries to turn it into its own function.
We’re taken on a journey of perspective, you feel the pain of the parents, the heartbreak of Milla, but rarely the depth of Moses. He is there to deliver a message. His past is hinted at but his depth not addressed, his oddities either simply berated or enjoyed. It’s the subtlety and idiosyncrasies of this film that make it feel real, raw, and human.
THE CLASSIC: HAROLD AND MAUDE (1971)
Director: Hal Ashby
Cinematography: John A. Alonzo
Screenplay: Colin Higgins
Starring: Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon
Genre: Dark Comedy Drama
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video
It’s upperclass Northern California in the 70s and Harold (Bud Court) is a sick looking adolescent with an obsession with death and an uptight socialite mother. Nothing his painfully serene mother tries can snap him out of his suicidal tendencies.
Cue Maude (Ruth Gordon), a 79 year old woman he admires for her mutual intrigue of anything morbid but hers is edged with a fun, anarchic, joie de vivre attitude. Maude doesn’t care what anyone thinks and that is what enchants Harold. Maude is the opposite to the type of people he is surrounded by in his mansion, and in some ways the opposite to him himself.
Harold remains strong willed around uptight characters who adhere to social constraints, but much more open to suggestions from free spirited Maude. This classic parental battle with stubborn children, one that could be caused by the need to rebel, a cry for attention, or just a simple testament to Harold for knowing what he likes and sticking to it. Harold's mother’s aim in life is keeping composure - the total opposite of the parenting style in Babyteeth.
In both movies the outlawed characters who are most devoted to rejecting societal pressures are the ones who teach us the most.
There are hints about the depth of Maude’s tragic past that are never fully explored, all we know is that now she knows herself well and how to self-express and embrace the present. Gordon delivers the sometimes cheesy script with a winning combination of energetic bluntness, a satirical eagerness. It’s tonally perfect, as is the Cat Stevens soundtrack.
PANDEMIC PROBLEM 2: CRAVING A RAVING
Letting go and dancing creates a dopamine release - which is science for saying we miss nightclubs and festivals. Nothing beats the opportunity to expel energy and tension whilst bonding with your favourite people, with the best music…anything feels possible.
These two films take us on a journey from the 70s when the Hacienda opened in 24 Hour Party People up until the 90s rave scene in Scotland. Watching the two films in unison offers up very different perspectives from music lovers and scenesters with the same common goal; to conquer the night out.
Live your night club cravings through these two movies. They journey through some of the best nostalgic-ridden musical micro-climates and the rise and falls of friendships as well as the Haçienda.
THE NEW: BEATS (2019)
Director: Brian Welsh
Cinematography: Benjamin Kračun
Screenplay: Brian Welsh and Kieran Hurley
Starring: Cristian Ortega & Lorn Macdonald
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video
Your first rave can be seen as a right of passage, an exploration, you find yourself and loose yourself in the center of an unknown temporary euphoria. Spanner (Lorn Macdonald) and Johnno (Cristian Ortega) are leaving school in 90s Scotland, living on a couple of nameless suburban estates; Johnno resides in a stiffly conventional new build and Spanner on a council estate seemingly run by outlawed adolescents, including his deadbeat older brother. The beginnings of a class divide sadly creep up on them as Johnno has sufficient (but somewhat repressed) parental support for his future, yet Spanner is usually greeted at the door by his corrupt scumbag sibling. Before the two friends are ready to accept their inevitable division of futures they want a big blow out.
Beats is charming with it’s blunt Scottish confidence, one that doesn’t remain cool. The combination of Johnno's endearing dumbness and Spanner's dangerous determination as they desperately clamour around the bad parts of town for an invite, emboldened by news of a one-off illegal rave, makes for an amusing watch. It’s the agony and ecstasy of a coming-of-age bromance with a potential friendship finale on the cards.
They are seduced by the anticipation and idealism of the night, the feeling that anything is possible, you could nocturnally be socially accepted into a scene you never thought you’d be a part of. And thus we are swept along a path of adolescent discovery. Whilst chasing a cool kid persona there are slow and steady realisations that the ‘in crowd’ and the all nighter is not all it’s cracked up to be.
After all raves are like sex - the first time is normally met with the greatest anticipation and mystery which dissolve quickly. And all we are left with is the confusing combination of disappointment paired with a taste for more. A little like a take away but unlike a mad party, the movie left no disappointment, just pure excitement to see what future cult movie director Brian Welsh creates next.
THE CLASSIC: 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE (2002)
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Cinematography: Robby Müller
Screenplay: Frank Cottrell Boyce
Starring: Steve Coogan, Shirley Henderson, Paddy Considine, Lennie James, John Simm, Rob Brydon, Peter Kay, Simon Pegg, Ralf Little, Sean Harris
Genre: Comedy / Docudrama
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video
It’s Manchester 1976 and the subpar television presenter Antony H Wilson (Steve Coogan) is on the verge of founding Factory Records and opening the Haçienda. It’s based on a true story so naturally it’s a much more rewarding watch if you’re familiar with the Sex Pistols, Happy Mondays, New Order and Joy Division; especially as some of the tropes and storylines the audience is assumed to understand. It’s shot like part documentary, but the narrative can be confusing at first and it takes a bit of time to snap out of thinking you’re watching Alan Partridge.
But after a while Coogan nails the ironic sincerity and we’re taken on a fascinating exploration of the financial struggle and bankruptcy Wilson went through to give people everything musically iconic: the bands, the fights, the fun, the bad television but the good music. As he famously said “some people make money, some make history.”
It feels nostalgic and only slightly glorifies the era, which is rare for this kind of film. It could have delved deeper into some of the iconic struggles - for example that of Ian Curtis - but instead the film takes up time on the relentless (but still pretty funny) joke that Wilson is a nocturnal legend but by day, a downtrodden television presenter interviewing farmers with memory loss.
Yet it’s in the flaws of the film that also come the beauty of its spirit, the authentic nostalgia, made believable by inserted stock footage and countless celebrity cameos. It evokes such a strong sense of one particular mythomaniac moment in Tony Wilson's legendary anarchic time.
End your indulgence in that era by listening to St Anthony: An Ode to Anthony H Wilson by Mike Garry & Joe Duddell.
PANDEMIC PROBLEM 3: STUCK IN THE UK
It’s never been a more confusing time to book a holiday; health concerns, hotel lock downs, potential post trip isolation to add garnish to your post holiday blues. So we do what us Brits know best, Cornwall, the Lake District, some kind of peaks. And we pray for sun.
These two recommendations are fundamentally different tales of exploration and execution. But they have a few things in common: confusing relationships, questions of sexuality, beautiful locations turned bleak by the Great British weather.
THE NEW: MAKE UP (2020)
Director: Claire Oakley
Cinematography: Nick Cooke
Screenplay: Claire Oakley
Starring: Mollie Windsor
Where to watch: Curzon Home Cinema
Ruth (Mollie Windsor) ventures away from home on her own in the middle of a bleak night and arrives at a caravan park in Cornwall. We learn quickly Mollie has moved to finally live with her boyfriend of three years. There’s a sense of apprehensive independence hanging in the air, Mollie doesn’t know herself and her emotions well yet, but she is proud of a three year relationship as it makes her feel emotionally advanced. She wears the years like a badge of honour, no matter what bleakness comes with it, she’s on a mission to mature.
This coming-of-age seeps into her subconscious; it’s not a dialogue heavy film, she’s not a dialogue heavy teen - most of us aren’t, but we learn the depths of Ruth through a series of vignettes that we don’t know how to feel about. Are they flash backs, flash forwards, provocative fantasies or paranoid predictions?
This movie haunts your current self and taunts your inner adolescent self. Claire Oakley makes us constantly on edge and the genre itself feels like a metaphor of Ruth's nervously fluid sexuality. The future often appears to promise horror; but then optimism also hangs in the air - coming to terms with your sexuality at a young age can feel like all these things.
THE CULT CLASSIC: WITHNAIL & I (1987)
Director: Bruce Robinson
Cinematography: Peter Hannan
Screenplay: Bruce Robinson
Starring: Richard E. Grant, Paul McGann
Genre: Comedy / Drama
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video
Another trip in England that doesn’t live up to expectations. Trips give us the sense that anything is possible, it’s just a shame that it works both ways - anything can go wrong. Spontaneity doesn’t always pan out well especially on this journey of best two friends, Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and Marwood (Paul McGann), who constantly need 40% proof spirits to keep up their diminishing spirits.
I need to get it off my chest - I didn’t get the hype about this movie at first; two self-entitled, irresponsible frenzied wannabe actors go on holiday to the British countryside and don’t know how to fend for themselves. Maybe it’s the ‘useless man’ narrative that I found particularly frustrating, but on second review I see an intense exploration of masculinity, friendship and sexuality. Maybe I was in an already defeatist mood on the first watch to indulge in anymore pessimism. It takes a reasonably good mood to enjoy the dialogue which, when it isn’t verging on racism, sexism and a dash of #metoo, is undeniably genius.
Being a camp thespian confuses their 80s gender norms and without acting gigs, booze and the convenience of London, who are they? On this soul searching trip they become increasingly tactile, admit to needing each other, openly speak about their insecurely narcissistic emotions.
Withnail's strong sense of entitlement is hanging on by a dwindling trust fund thread, they ‘act’ like they deserve the world. They demand it. And no one really gives in, if they were in London people might nervously succumb to the bravado because it’s commonplace for names and intimidation to float from pub to pub, yet that stuff doesn’t get you a free tea cake in Cumbria. Watching during a pandemic their anxieties ring true; wondering where our next pay check is coming from, feeling trapped with family members we don’t like, wanting to drink the time away, practicing how not to cook and ultimately learning things you didn’t like about the people you were locked down with.
Marwood's melancholy is situational but for Withnail it’s personal, it’s in his alcohol spiked blood, and tensions rise when success comes knocking on Marwood's door and this doesn’t match Withnail's craving to be a forever flailing pub goer running on gin and self-pity.
PANDEMIC PROBLEM 4: FRIENDSHIP REALISATIONS
Lockdown flung us into the throes of whoever is nearest. It doesn’t matter if they weren’t previously our dearest. We’ve been stuck inside with new flatmates, distant family members, annoying pets. What binds us all together is the struggle and crave for normality, the anxieties of a pandemic, the claustrophobia of staying in constantly. Even as things are easing into a ‘new normal’ we still want what’s missing. The number of friends we have been able to see during lockdown has been so limited.
We have been forced into local friendships not based on how much we have in common, but based on how close they are to our lockdown bubble. Then there are the realisations that if you haven’t missed someone during lockdown,you probably will reassess how essential their friendship is to you in the future. These two films explore unlikely friendships, the intentions and meaning they create.
THE NEW: PEANUT BUTTER FALCON (2019)
Director: Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz
Cinematography: Nigel Bluck
Screenplay: Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Zack Gottsagen, Dakota Johnson
Genre: Adventure, Comedy
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video
The beginning of this friendship is met with resistance; Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) is a grumpy fisherman on North Carolina's Outer Banks with a twisted lust for life, getting his kicks from riling up his enemies. Zac (Zack Gottsagen) is a 22 year old with Down syndrome stuck inside an assisted living facility - his dreams of becoming a Wrestler dwindling by the day.
Zac decides to strip to his underwear in the middle of the night, grease up, and escape through the bars of his bedroom window. Tyler tries to project his tough persona onto him but it doesn’t work with Zac because he doesn’t understand social cues or alpha intimidation.
How Tyler finds Zac is commentary on Zac’s personality— vulnerable, lost, out of his depth, but hopeful, determined and intrigued by the world with endless warmth. Zac is disarmingly honest and painfully positive. He lights up things in Tyler that Tyler didn’t know existed. It’s the reason it’s a friendship based on the right stuff. Two people inconveniently drawn together who can’t help but bond due to enjoying each others company. It’s a friendly love story of perspective I urge you to watch.
THE CLASSIC: ME WITHOUT YOU (2001)
Director: Sandra Goldbacher
Cinematography: Denis Crossan
Screenplay: Sandra Goldbacher, Laurence Coriat
Starring: Anna Friel, Michelle Williams
Genre: Drama / Coming-of-age
Where to watch: BFI Player
It’s London 1974 and adolescents Marina (Anna Friel) and Holly (Michelle Williams) are sealing their ‘forever friendship’ into a box of memories and then...chuck it in a pond. We begin to wonder - is their friendship destined to sink or swim? Holly is from a devoted but strict Jewish upbringing, Marina, deemed ‘cool’ from a young age, is from a broken home who’s parents have given up on any kind of conventional parenting. Unlike Peanut Butter Falcon we quickly realise it’s a companionship based on all the wrong things, they constantly crave what each other have. Marina envies the consistent commitment of Hollys routine; Holly envies the liberated sense of freedom she experiences at Marinas house.
It’s a classic case of the insecure narcissist and the empath dressed up in gendered, competitive cliche of “she’s better than” or “prettier than”. Marina needs attention and constant reassurance, Holly is happy (for now) to lurk in her charismatic shadow. Holly’s an easily persuaded enabler without much backbone and Marina controlling, and manipulative who comes across as having all the fun. And to be fair, it’s really fun to watch. It’s the female gaze but from an internal perspective. It’s not based on a common caring for each others well-being but for one to be admired, and the other to win approval.
It’s commonly hard to know where to draw the lines with (particularly) female friendship, you bath together, laugh together but then they find yourselves in a painful predicament if you ever share too much. Their codependency clashing with their competitiveness fuels a lot of the fire but mix in a shared love interest and their explosive narrative comes to a head.
Expectations from friendships can be hard to navigate at the best of times- let alone during a pandemic of selective bubbles; Peanut Butter Falcon and Me Without You show opposing odes to friendship, one laced with convenience and obsession, the other from a place of inconvenient but undeniable, enduring love.
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