Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5
USA, 2020. Likely Story, Projective Testing Service. Screenplay by Charlie Kaufman, based on the book by Iain Reid. Cinematography by Lukasz Zal. Produced by Stefanie Azpiazu, Anthony Bregman, Charlie Kaufman, Robert Salerno. Music by Jay Wadley. Production Design by Molly Hughes. Costume Design by Melissa Toth. Film Editing by Robert Frazen. Gotham Awards 2020. National Society of Film Critics Awards 2020. North Carolina Film Critics Awards 2020.
Charlie Kaufman once again adapts literature to the big screen, taking off a book’s original premise and venturing deep into the loopy, dreamlike recesses of his own imagination. A lengthy opening sequence sees Jesse Plemons driving himself and his girlfriend Jessie Buckley through falling snow to get to his parent’s house, whom she will be meeting for the first time. Their amicable, tense conversation is played out while her voiceover tells us that not only is she not sure about meeting the folks, she’s not sure about her relationship with Plemons itself, and is, as the title suggests, thinking about ending things. The dinner with the family is an increasingly troubling affair, his father (David Thewlis) and mother (Toni Collette) are welcoming but odd, and surreal, non-linear moments suggest that what we are watching is not a straightforward reality. The strangeness is upped a level when the couple leaves and is sidetracked on the way home, first by a stop at an ice cream snack bar and then by a visit to Plemons’ old high school, where we meet up with the elderly janitor whose scenes have been dropped randomly throughout the film up until this point. The seamless manner in which haunting, illogical images play out is impressive, as is the careful framing of intertextuality (namely the use of the musical Oklahoma), but there’s no denying that the one person having a great time in a Charlie Kaufman movie is Kaufman himself, who has a curiously funny but often obnoxious need to make sure that no one can keep up with the most obscure aspects of this story (and in this case, takes Iain Reid’s novel, one with its own elements of surrealism, and doubles down on its oddities almost as if to reassure himself that he’s the king of Uncomfortably Weird). The answer to “what’s going on” is eventually “who cares”, with Plemons and Buckley giving good but not particularly interesting performances, far outshined by Collette and Thewlis who are so much better but are underutilized.