Peter Rabbit

Cast: James Corden, Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki, Daisy Ridley (voices), Rose Byrne, Domhnall Gleeson, Sam Neill

Director: Will Gluck

Writers: Rob Lieber, Will Gluck


Peter Rabbit, a modern adaptation of a beloved British children’s literary classic, is inevitably going to draw comparisons to Paddington. The latter is a charming, enjoyable film that was able to depict an updated version of the Michael Bond stories while retaining and respecting what people loved about them in the first place and that offers something for children and grown ups alike. Peter Rabbit is none of those things. Not only is this film entirely devoid of charm, wit, and wonder, it unapologetically flies in the face of everything that made the Beatrix Potter stories so appealing. The movie is so obnoxiously deaf to the quaint, pure, profusely British tone of the source material that those who made it ought to be ashamed that they had the audacity to attach this mockery to the same name. If there is one things that disgusts me about this clueless, insufferable travesty above all else, it is the thought of young children being taught that this abominable caricature is an accurate representation of what Potter’s original stories stood for.

Here Peter Rabbit is irritatingly voiced by James Corden (although it would be more accurate to say that the character is James Corden as James Corden as Peter Rabbit as James Corden). He plays Peter as a smart-talking, troublemaking rascal but comes across less as the Artful Dodger and more as Alex DeLarge, a nasty, deceptive, narcissistic sociopath committing juvenile acts with reckless abandon. We first meet him as he and his posse, made up of his sisters Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail (voiced by Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki and Daisy Ridley respectively) and their cousin Benjamin (Colin Moody), hatch a plan to sneak into Farmer McGregor’s (Sam Neill) garden to steal his vegetables. While there Peter cannot resist the urge to try and insert a carrot into the unsuspecting farmer’s exposed rear end, a prank that ends up triggering a fatal heart attack. McGregor dies and Peter, celebrating his victory without an inkling of remorse, invites all the woodland animals into the empty house before the unfortunate old man’s corpse is even cold to run rampant and feast on vegetables all day long.

Their revelry is brought to an end however by the arrival of Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson), the distant nephew who inherited McGregor’s estate not long after losing his job at Harrods. Thomas is a neurotic city boy who cannot abide chaos or messiness and hates everything about the countryside. His sole intention is to clean up the house, sell it, and use the profits to start his own toy shop to rival Harrods. He reinforces the estate’s security to keep intruders out, leading to an all out war between himself and the woodland creatures involving electric fences and dynamite. The neutral power in this war is Bea (Rose Byrne), presumably a surrogate for Beatrix Potter considering that she is an artist whose work evokes the watercolour illustrations of the books. She lives next door to the McGregor farm and simply adores Peter and all the other animals, but she soon develops a bit of a soft spot for Thomas as she gets to know him and they start spending time together. A jealous Peter thus devotes himself towards destroying Thomas and banishing him from the land.

I wish this film could have just been about Bea and Thomas because Byrne and Gleeson actually work really well together. Both actors try their utmost to bring some layer of appeal to this film and they almost succeed in the brief moments when they are alone together without this detestable CGI pest butting in to make everything about him. She is a compassionate, nurturing figure with a talent for seeing the best in everybody and he is a rigid, obsessive buffoon whose heart is gradually warmed by her presence. Both actors put real feeling and effort into their performances and their chemistry is undeniable. I daresay the two could even have made a half-decent film together about the lives of Beatrix Potter and her husband William Heelis were they not too young. Their quirky countryside love story however is trapped in a crass, abhorrent, shamelessly puerile farce with digital animals and there is nothing either actor can do to save it.

I shudder to think what Potter might have thought had she seen this incarnation of her most beloved character. Peter Rabbit, a mischievous but lovable creature, resilient and brave but also impulsive and childish, a boy who gets wiser as he grows older and learns from his mistakes, and a model of the Edwardian morals and sensibilities of Potter’s generation, is reduced here to an amalgamation of James Corden’s personality and 21st century millennial tropes. This is a Peter who twerks, sings a song written by the guy from Vampire Weekend (because James Corden can never not sing under any circumstances whatsoever), and makes leaves of lettuce rain as if he were a rapper in a strip club. He’s also utterly loathsome from start to finish; he is one of those characters who simply has to be the centre of attention no matter what, is unbearably full of himself, and is indiscriminately horrible to all around him, friend and foe alike. He manipulates and exploits his loved ones, looks out for his own interests above all else, and is incapable of empathy and reason. The final straw for me was the film’s infamous allergy scene, not because allergies are off limits in comedy, but because it’s the scene that truly shows this Peter for the irredeemable piece of trash that he is.

Peter Rabbit is just an awful, awful film. It has an attractive duo in Byrne and Gleeson and there is the occasional laugh, but the pros don’t even begin to make up for the cons. For every decent joke, there are five that range from obvious to crude to stupid. Even then, I feel I could have gone along with more of those jokes were Peter himself not so excruciatingly horrible. Anytime I feel like I’m about to be drawn in by Bea and Thomas, Peter rears his ugly CGI head in and kills the moment dead. Never before have I wanted to punch a rabbit in the face so badly. The film is gaudy, low-brow and obnoxious and is nothing less than an insult to Potter’s memory. There is one scene in the film where we see a flashback recounting the deaths of Peter’s parents which adopts the style of Potter’s illustrations and matches her tone. It is the only scene in the entire film that I liked and, by showing me just a glimpse of what this movie could have been, it made me accordingly hate the rest of the movie even more. The adults who grew up with Potter’s timeless works and the children who have yet to be introduced all deserve better than this.

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Bad Neighbours 2

Cast: Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Chloë Grace Moretz, Dave Franco, Ike Barinholtz

Director: Nicholas Stoller

Writers: Andrew J. Cohen, Brendan O’Brien, Nicholas Stoller, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg


This is a film that I was really dreading. After the horrid, sordid experience that was Dirty Grandpa, I was in no mood to see another Zac Efron offering in his campaign to prove that he’s no longer the squeaky-clean Disney kid from High School Musical. While I thought the original Bad Neighbours had its moments, I felt that it lacked direction and discipline in its humour and that some of its gross-out elements came across as crass rather than funny. There was certainly potential for good comedy in the film but I only ever saw flashes of it in the semi-improvisational riffs between the actors. Since the cast had no solid writing or clear direction to work with, most of these riffs amounted to little more than the exhaustive throwing around of random gags. I was not looking forward to the prospect of watching two more hours of the same. Even if had enjoyed the first film, I still would’ve been concerned by the thought that I can probably count the number of successful comedy sequels that I’ve seen on one hand.

Some time has gone by since the events of Bad Neighbours and now Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne) have decided to sell their home. However the prospective buyers decide to put their house on escrow for 30 days, meaning that they can drop by for a surprise inspection at any time and can opt to drop out of the deal if they find any problems. Meanwhile college freshman Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz) has just joined the Phi Lamda sorority only to find that they are forbidden to throw their own parties on campus. Instead they must attend frat parties, which end up being perverse and depraved affairs marked by female objectification and sexual harassment. Therefore Shelby teams up with Beth (Kiersey Clemons) and Nora (Beanie Feldstein) to form their own sorority. The girls look at the house next door to the Radners where they meet Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) who, having recently been asked by his friend to move out of his apartment, agrees to help the sorority in exchange for residence. Afterwards it isn’t long before Kappa Nu’s parties start to aggravate the Radners and the two houses go to war with one another.

In short, this film is pretty much the same as its predecessor. Same gross-out humour, same ad-libbed banter between actors, and same abundance of shirtless scenes for Seth Rogen and Zac Efron. This time however the premise is gender-reversed. If you’re a fan of the original film then this is all good news. To me however it meant more drawn out riffing that doesn’t really go anywhere, more crass jokes that aren’t as funny as the filmmakers think they are, and more directionless humour that only manages to hit the mark on occasion. These films seem to think that cussing, vulgarity and slapstick alone are enough to generate laughs and so little of the humour is actually derived from either the characters or the plot. This time around however the film does introduce an unexpectedly sound feminist perspective as it outlines some of the sexism, both casual and perverse, that young women often undergo. It’s not exactly Mustang but it’s still more than I expected from this film.

For some viewers the cast alone may be enough to make this film work. Those who enjoy watching Seth Rogen quip the odd one-liner, make a whole bunch of weed jokes and show off his chubby physique will not be left wanting. Rose Byrne rarely ever disappoints and it is refreshing that the film allows the wife to be just as bad as the husband rather than a joyless stick in the mud. Zac Efron is by all means a charismatic and talented actor but, for whatever reason, he continues to make these trashy, red band comedies where he’s expected to do little more than spout expletives and provide eye candy. The girls in this film do have a bit more going for them than the guys did in the previous film in terms of character but that isn’t really saying much. Moretz does have her moments but she can do so much better than this film.

It’s simple really. If you liked Bad Neighbours and want more of the same then there is no reason why you shouldn’t enjoy the sequel. If the former did nothing for you however then the latter has very little to offer. I’d probably rate this film a little higher than I would the original but I certainly wouldn’t call it a good film. Most of the jokes fell flat for me, the parts that some viewers might find uproarious were quite simply vulgar to me, and there was little the cast could do to save any of it. When I think back to Dirty Grandpa however and just imagine what this film could have been, I’m relieved that the film never tried to be more than a silly, coarse, unapologetic comedy. While I still don’t think it’s good, I also don’t think it’s without comedic merit. If crudeness, slapstick and shamelessness is what you’re looking for, then by all means enjoy.

★★