VIEWER'S DISCRETION: Broken teens topic of series; film looks at role-playing town
'THE END OF THE F***ING WORLD (NETFLIX)
You can stare at your TV forever and never see another show like "The End of the F***ing World," a heartbreaking, stunning adaptation of the graphic novel by Adams-based cartoonist Charles Forsman. There are shows that portray broken people, indeed, but it's rare that rather than focusing on the points of their trauma or the need to fix them, the show focuses on who they are, warts and all, and offers hope by way of their humanity.
Teenagers James (Alex Lawther) and Alyssa (Jessica Barden) are two broken people who make a connection that explodes into a whirlwind romance, sort of. James latches onto Alyssa because he thinks he's a psychopath and he wants her to be his first murder victim. The romance part is a slow-build as they give in to their connection quickly, but allow themselves to open up to each other slowly.
The whirlwind part is the road trip they embark on, a move both reckless and invigorating that teaches them to trust, even as it threatens the possibility that they can be together.
The challenge of the show is that, just like with real teenagers, it asks that you show both patience and fortitude in getting to know the characters, getting past the armor that they put up to stop you from seeing inside them. And isn't that the path to all empathy anyhow?
As James, Lawther is sweetly vulnerable and hesitatingly smart, but also distant and peculiar, and Barden's Alyssa is a marvel — annoying, brassy and confrontational in the foreground, thoughtful and brave in the background. Both are desperate to connect, but defiant in admitting they want connection.
In its vision of a dark world, "The End of the F***ing World" offers no false hope, no forced brightness. Its humor is derived from its darkness, and so are its solutions and its humanity. Its refusal to push illusions as a coping mechanism makes it a real got lemons/make lemonade portrayal of life, which seems true to me, and which makes it one of a kind. And it posits that even if you don't win in the long run, that moment of connection where you are free, that is worth it.
In his documentary "Marwencol," director Jeff Malmberg told the story of a man who creates imaginary landscapes with dolls fulfilling the community roles. For "Spettacolo," Malmberg, along with co-director Chris Shellan, focuses his eye on another community built from role-playing, but this one populated by real people.
In one Tuscan village for the last half-century, the villagers have transformed their piazza into a citizen-produced and performed play that's invited the outside world to come and be the audience. The villagers portray themselves in the play, which has become a way to overcome differences, percolate ideas, address what concerns them and churn over events to find meaning.
As the years have moved on, though, the play has become more of a challenge. Partly this is due to the aging participants and the inability to lure younger performers into their fold. If viewed as a community dialogue, it's disheartening that the future of that community doesn't want to participate. At the same time, it's sad that the older participants don't know how to engage the younger community members in the process.
Following the work behind what is feared to be their final production, "Spettacolo" examines how events in the world encroach on their effort as much as their personal dynamic. It's a fable for what's happening in many small, rural areas, where tourism becomes the dominant economic force of the future, where sections of the community drift away in search of something modern and meaningful that promises a real future. It's a quiet decay captured in an elegant, thoughtful film that unfolds with genuine poetry.
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