Sunday, January 8, 2017

Fun

3.5/4

Starring: Renee Humphrey, Alicia Witt, William R. Moses, Leslie Hope, Ania Sull

Not Rated (Probable R for Strong Language including Explicit and Disturbing Sexual Dialogue, and for a Scene of Vicious Violence)

"Fun" is extremely disturbing, and that is perhaps the highest possible compliment that I can give it.  Rafal Zielinski's 1994 film is ironically titled; this is not a pleasant film to watch.  It's tough and unforgiving, but for those who venture in, the rewards are immense.

Hilary (Humphrey) and Bonnie (Witt) are two girls who in the space of a few hours, have become lifelong best friends.  Of course, their relationship is anything but healthy.  They meet by accident, but their personalities are such that when they meet, it's an instant connection.  They feed each other's mania, which escalates from the sharing of secrets to a brutal murder.

The film tells two stories.  One is Hilary and Bonnie meeting and the resulting events leading up to the killing.  The other, which is the meat of the film, takes place after they have been tried and convicted.  They are being interviewed by Jane (Hope), a social worker who knows their circumstances all too well, and John (Moses), a tabloid journalist who smells headlines.

That "Fun" was adapted from a play doesn't surprise me.  This movie is driven by acting and dialogue alone.  Zielinski doesn't shy away from visual flourishes or techniques, but he uses them rarely and only for good reason.  For one, they set the tone; the interviews are shown in black and white to enhance the clinical, sterile environment of prison (and the toll that being separated has on the girls) while the day of the killing is in color, which emphasizes the manic madness that led to the death of a woman guilty of nothing but misplaced trust.  I can't emphasize enough how truly disturbing the murder is.  Physically, it's not amped up at all.  But with careful editing, camerawork and acting, it's one of the most disturbing acts of violence I've ever seen on screen.  More disturbing than the opening scene of "Saving Private Ryan."

The film is about exploring the personalities of Hilary and Bonnie.  Neither one is a mentally stable individual.  Hilary is a victim of incest and as a result has a cynical and damaged personality.  Bonnie is too, or so she says, but she is anything but trustworthy.  Bonnie is in a constant state of mania; she is wall to wall energy and her thoughts and emotions come flying out of her with dizzying speed.  She's all impulse, desperately awaiting the next thrill.  Hilary, who craves emotional connection of some kind, stands no chance with this firecracker (a term I use with purpose).  Both actresses do exceptional work, but it's Witt who stands out.  I never truly bought that Hilary would get swept up in Bonnie's insanity, since she's so disaffected.  But that's actually a small quibble.  If there's any justice in Hollywood, then someone will see this movie and see that Witt is capable of far more than being a scream queen in "Urban Legend" and a walking plot device in that Al Pacino crapfest "88 Minutes."  This is Oscar worthy work.

Their co-stars, William R. Moses and Leslie Hope, are also effective, but by the nature of the production, they aren't nearly as important or memorable as Alicia Witt and Renee Humphrey.  Of the two, Hope is the better actress.  She's seen girls like Hilary and Bonnie and knows all their tricks.  She regards her quarry with cynicism and resignation.  John is not so lucky.  He's new to these kinds of people, and makes the mistake of growing to care about them.  Moses is the weakest of the cast, but he's still solid.

"Fun" has a tendency to get too talky, and while Zielinski's playing with the timeline pays off, it takes a while to get there.  It takes a while to become involved emotionally; in fact, it might work better with repeat viewings.  When or if I'll get the courage to watch it a second time, I don't know.

"Fun" never attracted a US distributor, which is a shame but not surprising.  The audience for it is small.  It is simply so disturbing that few people would ever see it, regardless of how many critics trumpet its laurels.  That it looks like it was made for pennies (and probably was) is another turn-off.  A copy of the film is going to be hard to find.  It may be available on YouTube (no promises that it's not a bait-and-switch) or you can buy a copy on Amazon for about 40 bucks.  Whichever you choose, it's well worth it.

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