My Dinner with A-Holes
For younger people, people younger than 45, say, I suspect all I’d have to say about Roman Polanski’s new film Carnage is that it takes place entirely within two rooms of an apartment building and the hall, and they’d stay away in droves. You kids with your short attention spans and your facetime and your f*ckable iPads, that’s an immature and close-minded reason not to see a movie. But in this case, luckily, there are also plenty of others.
Based on the play God of Carnage, by French playwright Yasmina Reza, Carnage follows two sets of parents, played by John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster, and Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet, who meet to discuss a fight between their sons in a civilized manner. But as the day wears on, they become increasingly childish themselves! That’s… well, that’s pretty much it, really (feel free to make your own joke here about the guy creating an idealized vision of youthful innocence being Roman f*cking Polanski). It’s the kind of film that a certain sect of the older generation considers “classic drama,” that they’re going to try to sell to the rest of us, because people just don’t appreciate real stories without robots punchin’ each other anymore, gall durn it! Fair enough, but 12 Angry Men this ain’t. It’s important to make a distinction between a “scathing critique of contemporary society!” and characters obnoxiously bickering about contemporary issues in an unrealistic way.
Capitalist power couple (scarves! pearls!) Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet have arrived at the home of crunchy urban liberals (sweaters! leather jewelry!) John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster, and, spoiler alert, it turns out they don’t like each other too much! Now, if you’ve ever spent time with people you don’t like, you know that your natural inclination is to, you know, limit the amount of time you have to spend with them. Only the minute Waltz and Winslet actually leave, this movie would be over. Thus, the driving engine of the plot becomes one party getting so offended by something another says that they just have to stay another five minutes to give him what fer. Obviously this isn’t very realistic, but if your bag is listening to people argue extreme opposing positions on parenting, masculinity, nature vs. nurture, crime and punishment, relationships, cell phones, class-action lawsuits, pear cobbler, tort reform, modern art, death, and big pharma, I suppose you might be willing to suspend disbelief and enjoy the obvious plot structure as a kind of wacky farce. For me, seeing Jodie Foster get indignant about Christoph Waltz trivializing the plight of poor Africans just wasn’t much of a draw. I live on the internet. I see people argue stupidly about stupid shit all the time. One of them being John C. Reilly helps, but it doesn’t help that much.
What few plot turns there were not only unrealistic, but trite and predictable. Christoph Waltz is married to his Blackberry, you see, and his wife eventually gets fed up and dunks it in a tulip vase, and if you didn’t see that coming, you haven’t seen a rom-com in the last fifteen years. Even The Proposal had the decency to make the phone destroyer an eagle. Not only that, but when I quizzed my Frotcast co-hosts on what a character in a shitty movie might say right after he gets his Blackberry destroyed, Brendan nailed Christoph Waltz’ line in Carnage, “MY WHOLE LIFE WAS IN THERE!” verbatim, on the first try.
Other than a couple of chuckles and watching great actors chew scenery, I couldn’t understand the appeal of Carnage, and there are a LOT of plays like this. Actors argue about politics all David Mamety back and forth, and 60-year-old women in shawls eat. that. shit. up. I promise you. Then, about 30 minutes into the movie, I noticed a woman of about that age and demographic sitting at the opposite end of my row, who was talking to the screen as if it could hear her, and desperately valued her input. When Christoph Waltz answered his phone for the fifth time, she growled, “Ugh, I wanna kill this guy!” When Kate Winslet told Christoph Waltz, “Enough with the cell phone already, the here and now, god dammit!” She squealed with glee. Throughout, she’d say “Good Lord!” and “Oh!” to the onscreen action, and “Oh yeah, like that’s gonna help!” when John C. Reilly brought out the scotch.
And that’s when I realized. The draw of a movie like Carnage is that it’s basically Maury for middle-aged intellectuals. They get to see the same arguments they constantly have parroted back to them with their favorite glib retorts repeated (“EVERYONE’S ALWAYS ON THEIR DANG PHONES THESE DAYS! DON’T ANYONE TAKE THE TIME TO ENJOY THEIR SURROUNDINGS!?”), and they get to root along with whichever character’s on their side. (“Well I tell you what, Maury, I think that when you got a kid, you got a ponsiBILIty, you know what I’m sayin?”). So, I get it now. I don’t really want to watch it, but I get it.