OCTOBER 20 — By now the Coen brothers brand is synonymous with the term “black comedy.” Even though they’ve made plenty of films with dark humour even before Fargo became their mainstream crossover hit (just look at their debut Blood Simple, cult favourite Raising Arizona or their Palme d’Or winner Barton Fink), it’s really with Fargo that people began to make the connection and when No Country For Old Men won big at the Oscars, it became even more widespread.
Every now and then a Coen-esque film will surface, like Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which even stars Frances McDormand (aka Mrs Joel Coen) and Suburbicon, or going further back, Palookaville, A Simple Plan and Welcome To Collinwood (by the Russo brothers, of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Infinity War fame), but never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect to encounter two new Coen-esque movies in Malaysian cinemas in the same week!
And that’s exactly what happened to me last week, as a curious trip to the cinema first unearthed the Hindi movie Andhadhun and just a few days later, comedy auteur Paul Feig (of Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy fame) surprised me with the unexpectedly Coen-esque A Simple Favor.
These are still playing in some cinemas here, so if the Coens are your thing, and you’re intrigued by what I wrote about them here, do give them a look.
I went in to see this because of director Sriram Raghavan, and because I quite liked his previous films Badlapur (a pretty decent “unofficial” remake of the Korean film I Saw The Devil) and Agent Vinod.
His interest in making gritty (for Bollywood standards) crime films made me see him maybe as the new Ram Gopal Varma. All that changed when the lights came on after I saw Andhadhun.
This jet-black crime comedy (an adaptation of a French short film called L’Accordeur), about a pianist who pretends to be blind witnessing a crime and is caught in a jam between keeping his mouth shut or dishing out the details about the crime, has convinced me that this guy might just be Bollywood’s answer to the Coen brothers.
Before I get carried away though, please take note that this is still a Hindi movie, so there are still songs galore, but they’re more tastefully and “logically” placed here, usually as fantasies of the hero or as performance pieces in the restaurant he works in.
That is a quirk of the Indian market demand that many of us will never be able to get to grips with, and that’s okay.
Where this film really takes flight and distinguishes itself from most other Bollywood flicks is in its naughtily cruel heart and sometimes even the sadistic fun it has with the characters.
In particular, it is after the film’s intermission that the spirit of the Coen brothers really makes its presence felt, most definitely in the character played by Tabu (still oh-so-gorgeous after all these years) and a new set of characters that comes into play to kick things into higher gear.
The twists and turns of events (which ridiculously pile up one after another, and will definitely remind you of the shenanigans in Burn After Reading) are just too many and too fun for me to spoil for you.
All I can and will say is, if you’re looking for something fresh, fun and naughty, then Andhadhun is just the movie for you, even if you’re not a Bollywood fan.
A Simple Favor
I’ve always loved Paul Feig. His TV series Freaks and Geeks will forever be my favourite TV series of all time, and his mainstream comedy hits like Bridesmaids and The Heat are always fun to watch again and again, and again.
The guy just knows how to tell a joke. And even when he’s adapting a Gone Girl-like novel for A Simple Favor, his penchant for comedy still shines brightly through.
I know the moment I mentioned Gone Girl, images of a missing, presumed dead woman will come to mind, and here that dead woman is played by Blake Lively and the Ben Affleck character is slightly changed so that it becomes that of the best friend, played by Anna Kendrick.
There’s still the husband of course, played by one of our own, Henry Golding, but this movie belongs to Blake and Anna, and dearest Mr Feig gives them plenty of opportunities to have naughty fun, trying to outsmart each other once the circumstances become clearer and clearer.
Where Feig slightly differs from the Coen playbook is in his decision to adopt a more Charade-like look and feel to the proceedings. Close your eyes, substitute that film’s Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn with Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick, and the cat and mouse games in A Simple Favor will start to make even more sense as the whole thing plays like a smooth and slick 60s era tribute to Hitchcock, which is really where the Coens found their inspiration for their comic dark arts anyway.
It’s not perfect, but like Feig’s other comedy hits, it’s a lot of fun.
*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.