17 August 2014 | bob the moo
Really great one-take satire of the 1950's American ideal
Just in case Mad Men hasn't already filled you in on this, the cookie cutter image of the wholesome and perfect 1950's America of adverts, Fallout and many other films, games, TV shows and references, may not quite exist. It is something we have seen before in films such as Revolutionary Road, where the wholesome and happy veneer is seen to be just that – a veneer. In this film we do not quite get that exposed so much as played with, in a film that is comical but yet really darkly engaging. A housewife comes home from a neighborhood party that her husband has ducked due to "illness"; she is bubbly but it is soon clear she has worries over his ability to be the husband she sees in other couples. As she chats about the life, he gets irate, soon turning to violence while she remains very much focused on the ideal they need to achieve.
Narratively I really loved the pacing of the film as well as what it did. The plot sees the couple retain the 1950's veneer while also letting it totally fall down to reveal darker stresses. The domestic abuse will get the attention but this is a film that smartly does make this the only issue being raised, and although the woman is being victimized, she is allowed to remain in the comedic side of the film and keep control of her situation. It does mock the scenario where such violence is accepted as normal to the point that even the woman treats a slap like a harsh word being said as opposed to a strike (which is what it is). I liked very much that the film escalated this to the point where it was comical, but yet at the same time never let us not feel tense about it. On the flip side we see a man who is meant to be providing for his family; it is clear he is ashamed at his lack of employment and empowerment, but he cannot do anything about it – thus he takes it out on his wife. The film doesn't "show his side" on this, but it is clear that he is also a victim of the veneer that he has to have.
The delivery of the film in one take is daring but also a risk worth taking because it is so effective. The film opens with a static camera and it only starts its movement as Kenneth rises – the position of the camera as he advances it adds to the tension and this continues throughout. The one-take effect also means we don't have edits in and around rooms – so while we wait outside of a room it adds to the tension, not knowing fully what goes on and fearing what might be. The work of the cast should be noted too, as this is a demanding film, especially for Riesgraf – yes, Beth Riesgraf, a woman who I love more and more. For years her Parker was one of the best parts of Leverage and since then she has supported shorts like this and internet fare such as Caper; here she gives a great performance, consistently staying in character and getting the tone right, with good 1950's energy and present regardless. Baybak may have less in the showy department to do but he has to deliver a violent man without losing the viewer totally, which he does well – while his actions cannot be defended, he prevents that they cannot be understood in terms of their root cause.
It is a very dark satire, but it is really well done as it nicely captures the sense of time and place in the 1950's ideal, and then maintains this while destroying it – that the film does it all in one consistent take is really all the more impressive and, more than just an impressive feat, adds to the tension of the film.