Film & TV Dead To Me
HHH½ Streams from 3 May on Netflix
Reviewed by Guy Davis
ure, your typical white-bread, uppermiddle-class suburb may seem to have it all, but TV has been teaching us for a while that there are stories of desperation, despair and ennui behind the tasteful fañade. And the most engaging of these stories tend to be enlivened and enhanced by a healthy dash of bracingly black wit. Take the new ten-episode Netflix series Dead To Me, which uses the grieving process as an entry point to explore frustration, friendship and female fury in a funny and honest fashion. And as a bonus, it’s wrapped up in a platonic love story that’s built on a great big lie. When the widowed Jen (Christina Applegate) attends a support group meeting for those who’ve lost loved ones, she’s not really looking for a new best friend. But she finds one in Judy (Linda Cardellini), who muscles her way through Jen’s defences with a combination of dry, goofy humour and heartfelt sympathy. The simpatico pair’s friendship is tested, however, when it’s revealed Judy’s husband Steve (James Mars-
den, delivering a fun and nuanced depiction of entitled douchebaggery) isn’t quite as dead as Judy implied. A plausible explanation later, and the women’s relationship is back on the rails... but one revelation soon leads to another, then another, and that’s not even including the biggest, baddest secret the sweet but screwed-up Judy is keeping from Jen. Let’s be honest, Dead To Me hangs on a plot hook that’s kinda obvious but irresistible nonetheless. And while it’s sharp, insightful and engrossing, it does at times feel like a 90-minute screenplay that’s been padded out to fill ten half-hour episodes. But spending extra time with the dream team of Applegate and the never-better Cardellini is the pay-off for that added length — they’re such a terrific pairing, with complementary comedic chops and the dramatic skills to really illuminate some of the story’s darker and more complex turns. Together and individually, they breathe life into Dead To Me.
HHHH In selected cinemas 9 May
Reviewed by Anthony Carew
hen actor Thomas M Wright first read an excerpt from Erik Jensen’s biography of artist Adam Cullen, he wondered: “Why would anybody bother to write a book about this fuckin’ asshole?” And yet Wright soon found himself adapting Acute Misfortune as his debut directorial effort. Dramatically, Acute Misfortune is an arm wrestling two-hander, in which artist and writer grapple in an “unholy negotiation”. Jensen (played by Toby Wallace, last seen on the Romper Stomper TV show) is young and hungry, throwing himself wholly into a brief of his own making, alarm bells ringing not due to his ambition, but his blithe lack of concern for boundaries. He’s egged on, and dragged down, by Cullen (played brilliantly by Daniel Henshall), who’s more a study in the charismatic sociopath than the ‘Great Male Artist’. Across its taut 90 minutes, the downward spiral of this dance summons a horror movie’s sense of slowly mounting dread. As a willing collaborator in the fashioning of narrative, Cullen’s whole life becomes, in turn, a kind of
theatre; there’s a performative quality to his macho boasts, his endless dick-swinging, his gun-shooting. Rather than making art, Cullen is seen as being more invested in selling a persona, telling a story. “This’ll be good for the book,” Cullen says, both impishly and pragmatically, when he’s about to shoot up heroin in front of Jensen. There’s the obligatory self-destructive drugs and drunkenness, this yet another artist biopic where you know you’re following the subject towards oblivion, and an early grave. But Wright is out to poke at these familiar cliches, to prod at an Australian art world that venerated a man adorned with swastika tattoos. Acute Misfortune’s boxy framing makes the film feel like it’s pressing in on both subject and audience. As its artistic antagonist grows more erratic, horrible, and menacing in behaviour, Wright’s direction effectively imprisons the audience in the middle of a dysfunctional relationship, one thoughtfully addressing the contemporary conversation about conflating the artist and their work.