The Swedish satires Get Up (2010) and Don’t Look Up (2007) may have taken one slight detour too many to land on UK shores. Both pictures feature Eva Mendes in performances that, given their naivete, manage to overdo it. Her superb supporting turn in Carlos, with it’s busy ensemble, the run-in with an unwelcome Spanish jail-bound relative and the bombastic bandages around her face, makes the usual Mendes character a far more compelling presence. In the needlessly straight-to-camera opening shots of Get Up, they literally anchor the film, and when she and Noah Wyle come together for some grandstanding about her “first job” as a nightclub dancer that nonetheless includes childbirth, it all plays perfectly. Mendes brings the star quality that lets Don’t Look Up, the film’s bigger, better companion piece, soar.
Watch a trailer for Don’t Look Up
All that said, Swedish director Göran Hugo Olsson’s debut has got the job done, and does so with gusto. The absurdity of the yellow Daily Mail sun-glasses and the Green Chainsaw are enacted with enough force that they threaten to dash the play through to its inevitable conclusion. For a teen prank gone horribly wrong, the film knows just what it is and, most especially, what it isn’t. Its lack of emotional subtlety is probably its downfall as the under-developed love affair it indulges in is at odds with the wave of sadness wailing all around it. O’Brien’s camera feels a few too many times to lean into the bulk of reality and slips the leash at times, jumping from one close-up to another and isolating Olsson’s gifted actors from the relatively non-existent backdrops.
The middle section that picks up with the O’Brien-Wyle pairing is fairly childlike in nature. It’s what any preteen will recognise as the glory days of primary school – the hugs and dance offs and the mini plays and folk songs sung around a campfire on a Friday night. Those feelings are, presumably, intended, but, instead, they cast the film’s most wholesome pieces as if from an ironic lens. The black sheep of the crew is a boy with a few wayward hairs and O’Brien shows a great deal of empathy for the trouble his poor girlfriend finds herself in (before she announces that she’s pregnant). Something at the core is setting in here, a kind of levity, but one that the film denies it in favour of the far more affectable redemptive tale.