Netflix roundup: a cannibal, a road trip, and a man on the moon

Most of the conversation around film is driven by new releases, but most of us consume the majority of our movies through streaming services. This is the first in a recurring series of posts keeping you up to date on the recent releases on streaming services that you should be seeking out.

Raw

Raw is a French coming-of-age drama about power, fitting in, the search for personal identity, and the lengths the human appetite can go unfettered. Oh, and it’s about a vegetarian who starts eating her classmates.

The film centers on Justine (Garance Marillier), a meek freshman starting her first semester at veterinarian school. The school is portrayed less as a clinical institute of higher learning and more as a frat house. The first night brings a cruel hazing ritual inflicted on the new students, culminating in a sweaty, carnal party to initiate the newbies. Raw revels in candid depictions of the functions of the human body: Justine accidentally pees on herself, endures a painful bit of waxing, and walks in on a blowjob in her dorm room. The students, it seems, are just as animalistic as the creatures they’re caring for.

Justine gets some early advice from a doctor at the school: avoid all the early hazing rituals altogether. The authenticity of the advice, however, is blunted by the fact that the doctor is smoking a cigarette during the visit with Justine; no one should know better than to control their desire to smoke than a doctor, but even she is shown to be unable to control the urge. Justine is eventually forced to eat raw meat during initiation, and having never had it before, develops an insatiable urge to consume more.

The desire gets more intense and uncontrollable as Justine moves from animal meat to human flesh. Raw is patient with this change; it’s a slow build. But when the turn happens, there’s no going back. Justine goes full cannibal, and the film gleefully basks in the madness of her wild transformation. Raw is not for the faint-hearted (or weak-stomached).

This craziness unfolds in such a satisfying way in large part because of the ferocious energy brought to the screen by director Julia Ducournau. Ducournau brings a vibrant color palette to Raw, and an expert sense of pacing. Once Justine fully commits to her newfound desire, Ducournau ramps up the intensity with an abrasive, haunting score, and a deft bit of comedic timing.

It’s kind of strange to say that such a film, with an exciting directorial vision and a plot centered on graphic cannibalism, has a ‘yeah, duh,’ quality to it, but to a certain extent, it does. It’s a pretty straightforward allegory for desire unchecked and the need to fit in. It’s a story I’ve seen before, albeit never told in this way.

Still, I’ve seen few movies with the uninhibited energy that Raw possesses. I can’t wait to see what Ducournau has in store next.

3/4 stars

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond - Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton

Jim & Andy is Netflix original documentary chronicling the chaos on the set of the Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon. Kaufman was a legend for his absolute commitment to jokes, and Jim Carrey emulates that commitment in his portrayal of Kaufman. Commitment, though, soon bleeds into obsessiveness, as Carrey makes life difficult for everyone on set. The film boils down to an examination of the limits of performance, and whether the highly praised performance Carrey gives in Man on the Moon is worth the trauma he causes.

Much of the discussion I’ve seen surrounding Jim & Andy is about whether Carrey has completely lost it. He refuses to break character, refuses to follow Man on the Moon director Milos Forman’s desperate pleas for cooperation, and even verbally and physically assaults other cast members. He’s pretty far out there.

I came away from the film considering a more interesting question, though: does Carrey have it all figured out? In describing his behavior on set, he professes: “I don’t care what it looks like.” In describing his general outlook on life, he asserts: “I don’t want anything.” Rather than being crazy, perhaps Carrey is truly free.

This question would have been more interesting, though, had the movie taken a wider scope to more deeply examine it. Jim & Andy depends entirely on old footage from the Man on the Moon set, spliced by a current day interview with Carrey. It’s hard to discern the true impact of Carrey’s behavior, or get a holistic sense of his essence, without hearing from the people who worked with him on the film. It’s all told from his point of view.

The most fascinating part of all of this may be that the documentary itself is a performance. Does Carrey have it all figured out? Or is this formerly obsessive, currently zen figure we see on screen just another role he’s playing? Jim & Andy ends with the filmmakers snapping the clapperboard to signify the end of the take. As they do, Carrey looks up and flashes his trademark, toothy movie star smile. It suggests that, despite all the philosophizing, he might not be able to escape. He’s always performing.

3/4 stars

The Trip to Spain

The third installment in what is perhaps the most underappreciated film franchise running, The Trip to Spain once again finds comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, playing exaggerated versions of themselves, road tripping through a European country. This time they are traveling through Spain, ostensibly on assignment to write about the country’s local cuisine.

Of course, as with the two previous films, the ‘real’ reason Coogan and Brydon are on the road isn’t paid much mind. Instead, we get impressions galore, prompting many of the funniest exchanges in any film all year. And, as with the film’s predecessors, those impressions serve as reflections of the comedians’ deepest insecurities: Coogan trying to mask his loneliness by constantly trying new things and imparting wisdom, and Brydon trying to mask his regret for not taking more career opportunities with the comfort of a stable, if mundane, home life.

Early on the film, I found myself questioning why another installment in this franchise is necessary. Is this film really doing anything that The Trip or The Trip to Italy didn’t already accomplish? It quickly becomes clear, though, that there's a different dynamic at play in this trip. Coogan and Brydon no longer expect the trip to bring them new experiences or insight into the world, as they did with the previous trips. It’s merely a break from a life that has become too routine. Both comedians want something more, but won’t admit to themselves or each other that the time for change has passed them by.

And so the trip serves as a refuge from the narrowing path of their lives. There’s a deliberate use of repetition that imbues all the comedic exchanges with a sense of sadness: the two men repeatedly assert that where they are now, in their early 50s, is the sweet spot of their lives, even as they perform the same impressions they were doing nearly a decade prior. The Trip to Spain had some of the funniest moments in any movie from 2017, and some of the most melancholy. Few franchises can accomplish that feat.

3.5/4 stars