Directed by: Ricky Gervais. Do you ever get the impression that sometimes, Netflix functions less to conveniently connect hungry viewers with quality artworks that they can’t find anywhere else, and more to churn out stuff for busy, tired, apathetic viewers to look at while they unwind from their day, in search of some thing that they haven’t seen before that doesn’t look too bad? Because, like probably everybody who saw this while scrolling through Netflix, I never consciously thought that this had a high likelihood of being great. I guess I just saw Ricky Gervais, who has a mixed track record, but The Office was so good that my goodwill is still extending to the new shit he does, and Eric Bana, one of my favourite actors who I’ve never seen in a comedy before, and I thought…maybe this will be good? Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen worse. And if you’re in that laconic, hypnotized state, passively and uncritically absorbing everything that the computer screen is showing you, then this thing passes for a decent way to kill a couple hours—it’s got some funny moments, it has some comedically selfish human beings, it has a handsome serious actor (Bana) doing an exaggerated parody of an arrogant local news celebrity. And the basic story is a pretty great setup for a dumb comedy, one that starts small and gets bigger and bigger and bigger, and the plot is actually one of the best things about it (and I see now that it was based on a French movie with the same plot…).
I guess watching it, and knowing that Ricky Gervais had a strong authorial hand—writing and directing—I was watching for some flaws I suspected were coming. I’ve seen enough of his material, between his shows and his standup, and enough of his interviews, including the famous awards-show speeches, and the brilliant Talking Funny, that I think I have a pretty good sense of his personality, a little bit of the “real” Ricky. And though it seems obvious on hindsight, it really took a long time for me to understand that the core of where his humour originates is a pretty pronounced dislike for the average audience member. It was hard to see at first, because in The Office, he plays the worst example of a dumb member of “the public”, and the sweet-hearted Martin Freeman is the “straight man.” In Extras, he was the straight man, and the entire rest of the world were totally stupid—even when he wasn’t afraid to poke fun at himself, it was obvious that he was the smart one, and everyone else was totally dumb. And again, we didn’t notice because he was making fun of celebrities—what fun! And in this movie, the structure of it (which again, is an adaptation) allows you to forget that part of his personality, until he reminds you. That sweet Latino couple who save the other two by putting them up in their attic—have you ever seen a less believable relationship than that? They exist purely to sit passively and support Ricky’s character, and the film (Ricky’s film) hates them for it—the central premise of the story only works if they can fool the average idiot into believing a few vague generalizations based on media cliches, and the film loves showing us how that Latino couple are those idiots. I guess I can’t remember any specific examples, but go judge for yourself. I think that Ricky hates people, he doesn’t understand people, and he doesn’t care—and this explains why every romantic relationship that he writes for himself is really unbelievable. If the romantic resolution to Extras was a bit clunky and unbelievable, the resolution to this, that Kelly MacDonald, with about five fucking seconds of screentime, had a crush on him the whole time (only in your own movies, dude!), and they live happily ever after, is just…fucked. As much of a crime it is to drag the amazing talent of Kelly MacDonald into this and barely use her, at least the movie gives Vera Farmiga some great stuff to chew on, and I was really impressed to see her stealing every scene they put her in. I remember her doing a great job with a pretty menial role in The Departed (again, Scorsese isn’t known for his strong female roles), but I had no idea she could do comedy too. Honestly, if they did one of those Bridesmaids movies with Vera, I’d be there on opening night. So, the lesson here: Ricky Gervais is overrated and probably hates people, great dramatic actors often make great comic actors, and check out more French comedy I guess.