sightseers

It’s about time for Tina to get a boyfriend. She’s in her mid thirties, lives at home with her crabby mother, and recently killed their beloved dog Poppy (the re-enactment of whose death is one the best sight gags in years). “It was an accident,” Tina assures her mother. “So were you!” Such is the twisted British comedy that makes Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers irresistible.

Tina and Chris, the new man in her life, set out on a RV trip through the English countryside.  It’s meant to serve as equal parts sex-o-rama and inspiration for a book Chris is working on, but it takes a dark turn when, after pulling out of a parking lot, he runs over a fat slob who litters like it’s an Olympic sport.  The couple gradually morphs from dorky, starcrossed lovers to murderers of anyone who cramps their style.  Wheatley revels in their transgressions, setting their clobbering of an academic amidst ancient ruins to a rousing arrangement of “Jerusalem.”  Like God Bless America, possibly last year’s best comedy, Sightsweers seems to preach, only semi-ironically, a positive psychology built on killing wankers; the big joke, of course, is that both murderous couples in these films are as ridiculous as the people they want to exterminate.

the-we-and-the-I

Pretty much the antithesis of Film Comment Selects’ opening film, the brooding, bleak Simon Killer, Michel Gondry’s latest movie is a paean to the South Bronx and its energetic youth. The We and the I begins concurrently with their summer vacation. Liberated at long last, hordes of kids rush from their public school first to the bodega across the street, where they’ve stored their cellphones in numbered brown bags, and then the bus home, which we’ll stay on board for the film’s duration. Plenty will “happen” on this ride – including embarrassments, romances, heartbreaks, and moral dilemmas – but the plot as such is of secondary interest to Gondry’s inventive anthropology of youth media culture.  The students rely completely on screens to connect to each other. Stories aren’t to be believed without YouTube evidence; flirtation needs to be both real-life and SMS-based; and, of course, a girl won’t agree just any date movie.  “Why would I see dat shit?” one asks a boy who asks her if she wants to see the new Vin Diesel vehicle. “You know I only like horra’n’comedy movies!” They dream in images. Gondry uses his signature homemade funhouse aesthetic to illustrate, in mini-DV, various characters’ fantasies, e.g. to become enough of a tycoon to do business drinks with Donald Trump.

The great joy of the film, though, is that these kids, far from wistful daydreamers, are livewires.  At a traffic jam, they promise the bus driver a slice if she lets them hop off to grab pizza.  Requesting anchovies and pineapple, she imparts some wisdom they seem to have already learned: “The Dalai Lama says you gotta be fearless in your food and your life.” Critical acclaim somehow evaded The We and the I during its bows at Toronto and the Director’s Fortnight at Cannes, but its last stop on the festival circuit, on the closing night of FCS, ought to be its most welcome.