New films reviewed by Graham Young and Roz Laws.
Cert 18, 81 mins
One of the easiest things in life is to follow the herd and be swayed by the opinions of others.
And it’s for that reason that London-based publicists Freuds took it opon themselves to cancel the already announced, standard Birmingham press show for Sacha Baron Cohen’s new film, Brüno.
Far better, you could hear them thinking down Oxford Street way, was that I should have to see it with ‘real’ cinemagoers.
When they laugh, I’d be bound to forget my battle-hardened independence and think that the film really must be funny. Like Year One with knobs on, eh.
Thanks to a website called www. seefilmfirst.com there wasn’t a spare seat at Cineworld during a pre-release ‘talker’ screening designed to get people, er, talking.
This work is evidently so culturally important, I even had to sign a review embargo form and be prepared to prove my identity.
A man kindly advised everyone to switch off their phones, which at least prevented one of the great social evils of our time – flashing cinemagoers who send text messages during a film they’ve just paid more than £5 to see.
What followed next was a curious twist of the ‘yes/no game.
Every time the audience laughed from its collective false start, I was determined not to.
And, boy, did I not have to try very hard. In fact, my little anti-Brüno exercise was so easy I began to question the sanity of many people around me.
Some were laughing when absolutely nothing was happening on the screen. Which is quite a lot of the time, to be fair.
Given the (absolutely necessary) 18 certificate, you’d expect an individual adult to have lost his or her third-form tendency to snigger at anything remotely rude.
But no. Sacha Baron Cohen’s Candid Camera-style gags are designed to reignite infantile tendencies on a collective basis and, on this evidence, they work. As a 19-year-old Austrian fashionista called Brüno who travels west, Cohen seeks to make more fun of the kind of blinkered Americans who would never learn the lessons of their humiliation in his previous hit, the Oscar-nominated Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.
His 2006 character had an air of innocence and the script was reasonably well rounded in its targets.
Rude, crude and unlikely to improve your mood, Brüno is much less inspired.
It feels excessively oriented towards the easy fallback of sex, viz this online advice from the British Board of Film Classification: ‘The second (strong sex scene) shows Brüno comically miming fellatio and anilingus as he pretends to have oral sex with a deceased person with whom he is in contact through a medium’.
True, packed audiences this weekend will illustrate that some people are keen to see this type of guerilla filmmaking reach the mainstream.
Many others will be shocked and appalled. Not necessarily by the explicit content per se, but by the fact that Brüno does hit some of his nails right on the head – like the woman who will do anything to get her baby featured in a TV ad. Yep, there’s some funny people about in this mad old world of ours.
Whether they make you laugh, though, is another matter altogether.
The Private Lives Of Pippa Lee ****
Cert 15, 98mins
The title role is played by Robin Wright Penn, whose off-screen rollercoaster marriage to Oscar-winning Sean Penn must have given her some insight into her on-screen relationship dramas.
The couple have filed, then withdrawn, two divorce petitions in two years.
Pippa Lee’s early life, as portrayed in flashbacks featuring beautiful Blake Lively, is also pretty eventful.
But when we first meet her, Pippa is having a far more sedate time. She has calmed down and married a much older man, successful publisher Herb Lee (Alan Arkin).
He’s on the verge of retirement but has been forced to move into suburban sheltered accommodation after several heart attacks. But Pippa is bored in this new environment, trying to find new hobbies like pottery to pass the time.
Her interest is sparked by the arrival of Chris (Keanu Reeves), her neighbours’ son who moves back in with his parents after splitting from his wife.
Pippa finds herself turning to him when she discovers, to her huge shock, that she’s a sleepwalker who binge eats and smokes at night.
It’s portrayed as an age-gap relationship between an older woman and a younger man, which they pull off.
That must be particularly galling for poor Wright Penn, who at 43 is actually a year younger than Reeves.
The film boasts a good script and direction from Rebecca Miller, who’s adapted it from her novel.
The great supporting cast includes Winona Ryder, Maria Bello, Julianne Moore and Monica Bellucci – this is a particularly fine showcase for female talent.
The strong women are what helps to keep us watching in a film which, at times, threatens to stall.
The Private Lives Of Pippa Lee is only opening in a limited number of cinemas, but if you like well-crafted human dramas, it’s a film worth seeking out.