FINALLY: a comic book adaptation with nary a caped superhero in sight. Instead, we have Gemma Arterton in a vest and denim hotpants, reducing the male denizens of a rural backwater – and, frankly, most male viewers – to a state of sweaty-palmed lust. Arterton’s titular (pun intended) character, a successful London journalist, returns to the Dorset village of her youth to sell her family’s crumbling pile and set local hearts fluttering. Those include Roger Allam’s lascivious novelist, Dominic Cooper’s thick indie musician, and Luke Evans’s farmhand beefcake (her childhood boyfriend). A trail of scandal, gossip, and all manner of fruity goings on follows in her wake.
Based on Posy Simmonds’s graphic novel, which ran in the Guardian for a couple of years, this is fun stuff. The director is Stephen Frears, who displayed his touch for comic nuance with The Queen, and there’s plenty of smutty hilarity to enjoy, particularly from the brilliant Allam. The sun-dappled, chocolate-box vision of the English countryside may be calculated to please foreign audiences, but who cares? It’s a charming backdrop for a terrifically frivolous romp that’s as witty as it is cheeky, benefiting from a host of well-drawn, perfectly-acted characters. Arterton herself is right on the money, while a pair of tearaway teenagers (Jessica Barden and Charlotte Christie) have many of the best lines.
IN?LESS deft hands this could have been a real shocker. All the ingredients are there: a distinctly average guy, John (John C. Reilly), begins dating a stunning woman (Marisa Tomei) who is totally oblivious to the abnormality of her over-intimate, borderline Oedipal relationship with her son, Cyrus (Jonah Hill). It’s the definition of awkward.
Somehow, however, the film isn’t. Directors Jay and Mark Duplass cut their teeth establishing the “mumblecore” genre, which emphasizes improvisation and understatement. Thus Cyrus, arguably the first mainstream crossover for the genre, is kept on a tight reign and things are never allowed to become grotesque. What could have been trashy is instead an often-charming meditation on the nature of relationships.
That isn’t to say there aren’t laughs, or highly cringe-worthy moments. Everything’s achieved, however, with subtlety and nuance. It’s not for everyone, but fans of understated comedy and intelligent writing will find much to admire here.
ONCE upon a time theatrical whodunits were 10-a-penny. Now all we have is The Mousetrap, which has been running in the West End since roughly 1541, and the odd revival of genre deconstructions like Anthony Schaffer’s Sleuth and Deathtrap, which Ira Levin wrote in 1978. Deathtrap’s not nearly as good a play as Sleuth – it has nothing of any weight to say about anything at all, and could disappear in a cloud of smugness at its own witty ingenuity – but it’s highly entertaining none the less.
Simon Russell Beale is on fine fettle as Sidney Bruhl, a writer’s block-stricken author of – you guessed it – theatrical whodunits. After a student of his sends a sure-fire hit of a play he has written – and lets on that no one else has seen it, or even knows he’s written it – Bruhl spots an opportunity to off him, take credit for the success and extricate himself from the shame of living off his wife’s wealth.
Nothing, of course, is what it seems, with a plot constructed like a Russian doll, revealing level after level of façade. There are a couple of beautifully-realised leap-out-of-your-seat shocks and some good laughs – the latter thanks to Russell Beale’s typically virtuoso acting. Lord only knows what an actress of Clare Skinner’s calibre is doing in the underwritten dog of a part that is Bruhl’s wife, and she doesn’t manage to redeem it. There’s enough panache and theatrical brio here for an engaging hour and a half, but for real shocks and thrilling twists, I’d head to Ghost Stories at the Duke of York’s, a few doors down.