daniel cohen looks at Roman Polanski’s new comedy/drama …
Plot: When two sets of parents meet to discuss an altercation their children had, the discussion slowly explodes into loud arguments, and even begins to pit husband and wife against each other.
Just to be clear, this is not about the Spider-Man villain Carnage. It’s the new Roman Polanski film, which consists of four characters, one setting, and a lot of humorous shouting matches. This is a really funny movie, but it’s not your typical ‘Laugh Out Loud’ style comedy. It’s more of the chuckle to yourself brand of humor, and Polanski provides the perfect tone all the way through.
As the situation slowly escalates from being a simple awkward conversation, to all out yelling by the end, the tone remains consistent. This is a comedy. Yes, these people are certainly going through some problems that are not to be taken lightly, but it’s still funny. These are normal people who for whatever reason self-destruct on this particular day under these particular circumstances. They aren’t completely screwed up with deep emotional problems, they are just really flawed.
The film is paced perfectly. Things escalate at the precise moments. What’s so fascinating to me is that this whole thing could have easily ended in the first two minutes as the Christoph Waltz/Kate Winslet couple are about to leave. But for some reason, their stay is extended, and things just happen. That’s what I love about this movie. It gets to a point where it’s so contentious and cut throat, but I can’t even pin point where the bomb went off, so to speak…it just happens.
But as great as the script and direction are in terms of setting the right tone, this wouldn’t work at all if you don’t have four great actors at the helm. Jodie Foster plays Penelope, the opinionated writer. Her husband is the jokey Michael, played by John C. Reilly. With the other couple, we get Christoph Waltz, the workaholic Alan, and his wife, the uptight Nancy (Kate Winslet). Yeah, with this cast, we aren’t messing around. What’s so great about watching these characters interact, is that as an audience member, you can side with who you think is right, or less insane. Everybody will gravitate towards a different personality as we are all different.
Jodie Foster’s character is the real antagonist, though. While I said at the beginning that these characters are all generally normal human beings, Foster’s Penelope is probably closest to being a crazy person. The other three characters all have moments of levelheadedness, but it’s her who always seems volatile and unreasonable. And as much as I love Foster’s performance, especially her conflict with Waltz who’s the perfect foil for her, the character was a little much. And that’s my biggest criticism. Foster pushes it a little too far at times, to the point where I can’t even understand some of her ramblings. I think the director wanted you to loathe and feel sympathy for everyone, but I didn’t empathize with her at all … I hated her.
The two performances that stood out were Winslet and Waltz. Winslet might be the best actress working in Hollywood today. She plays this matter of fact/uptight personality to perfection, but is seamlessly able to switch gears later in the film. And Waltz is hysterical, but not in the John C. Reilly kind of way. He is so annoyed by having to be dragged to this little parent conclave, when he desperately wants to get back to work. His looks throughout the film are priceless. Both these characters are probably the ones who I gravitated to towards the most, until the very end, when Winslet’s Nancy goes a little bit over the line.
Unfortunately, Reilly’s character didn’t really do much for me. He’s very good in the film, but he’s the one person that I ironically found the least funny.
Carnage is an odd film, as it deals with a lot of emotional baggage, yet I left the theater in a chipper mood. It’s a perfect length, and just a blast to watch these four actors go at it for 80 minutes.
Rating: 8 out of 10 (Great)