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March 12, 2019

SXSW 2019 Day 4: ‘Good Boys’ is the Most Innocent Filthy Comedy Ever, ‘NOS4A2’ is a Creepy and Emotional Adaptation, and ‘Extra Ordinary’ Puts the Natural in Supernatural

SXSW Day 4 Recap

Welcome to The SXSW Diaries, where we will be chronicling every single movie we see at the Austin-based film festival.)

Welcome to SXSW 2019 day four. In this edition: Extra Ordinary humorously explores the mundanity of the supernatural, NOS4A2 brings Joe Hill‘s novel to chilling life, and Good Boys is a perfectly innocent but somehow totally filthy comedy.

Extra Ordinary

What if the work of exorcising restless spirits was actually…well, kind of boring? That’s the fun hook at the center of Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman‘s supernatural comedy, which imagines a world where there are thousands of hauntings all around us – we just don’t notice that possessed pen or that unruly ghost trapped in that rock. At the center of this is all is Rose (Maeve Higgins), who inherited her ability to speak to the dead from her paranormal researcher father, who died during a freak exorcism. Afraid to embrace her calling, she teaches driving lessons and ignores the pleas from the citizens of her small Irish town to deal with the ghosts in their lives.

And then she meets a widower (Barry Ward) haunted by the ghost of his dead wife and whose teenage daughter is being targeted by a washed-up American rock star who has made a deal with the devil that involves a virgin being sacrificed to Hell. Wry, silly, and sweet comedy, punctuated by delicious spikes in violence and clever supernatural touches, ensues.

Extra Ordinary is a small film that embraces its reduced scale, delighting in how mundane its ghosts and demons really are. Elements that would be major set pieces in full-fledged horror films become intentionally dull, sometimes unpleasant rather than thrilling. In this world, the horror that would dominate another film is Just A Thing, and the characters deal with it accordingly. It all leads to a ritual involving a gate to hell and some very surprising reveals, including a climactic decision so funny and clever that I’m chuckling thinking about how the film stages it.

But while Higgins and Ward make for a wonderful duo with genuine chemistry, the presence of Will Forte as the American villain derails the movie at every turn. Forte is one of the funniest men alive, but he’s playing an SNL character in a film that is otherwise deliberately natural – it’s like Ron Burgundy walking into the U.K. version of The Office. It’s distracting and it’s bad and it makes his third of the story land with a leaden clunk.

Forte aside, Extra Ordinary is the kind of movie you hope to find at film festivals. Offbeat, unique, and thrilled to be trying something different. You’ll just wish they had cast someone else in that villain role.

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10

NOS4A2 teaser

NOS4A2

A psychic vampire who feeds on the souls of children while transporting their husks to an evil dimension of his own design called “Christmasland.” A teenager girl who can find lost objects by riding her dirtbike across a bridge that only she can see. A librarian who can answer any question by drawing tiles from her bag of Scrabble pieces. The world of Joe Hill’s novel NOS4A2 (the license plate on the villain’s car) is wild and impossible to explain. It should not make for an easy adaptation. It defies it, even.

And yet, showrunner and creator Jami O’Brien has wrangled Hill’s sprawling horror novel into something mysterious and creepy and hard-hitting, 2019’s first must-see new horror series. The pilot doesn’t pause to drop exposition (it demands you keep up and accept that this will all make sense) and that makes it feel special. It’s here to haunt you, both with monsters and with its depiction of a troubled family and a protagonist who can’t help but love the abuser in her life. It’s impossible to judge an entire season of television based on the first hour, but this is a sublime start.

Director Kari Skogland (The Handmaid’s Tale) ably handles the scenes of horror – Charlie Manx (Zachary Quinto, wisely subdued for a guy playing a Christmas-obsessed psychic vampire who eats the souls of children) makes an unsettling first impression. But more importantly, she establishes Vic McQueen (an astonishingly good Ashleigh Cummings) as a protagonist worth our attention. A smart, artistic girl from a blue collar New England family, she struggles with being ashamed of her low-income family while defending them from more well-off fans. She struggles to love her father, even as he drinks to excess and levels abuse upon his wife. She struggles to love her mother, a realist who wants to protect her daughter from the harsh realities of life by rubbing her nose in it. The main draw here is Quinto playing a psychic vampire who hunts kids, but it’s Cummings who proves this series is going to have life, and that we’re going to stick around for the entire season.

During a post-screening Q&A, O’Brien revealed that the first season will cover the first third of Hill’s doorstop of a novel, so it remains unknown if the rest of episodes will maintain the quality of this first episode. But this is the kind of pilot that guarantees you’ll be watching until the finale, just in case it is as good as you think it could be. Come for the fantastical, offbeat horror (and pause on Manx’s map of America’s notable supernatural road stops, which includes references to Stephen King’s It and Hill’s own Locke and Key), but stay for Cummings’ complex and genuinely heartbreaking take on an under-seen side of teenage angst.

/Film Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Good Boys

Most raunchy comedies are about assholes who learn to be good people, bad folks who demean others for an hour until the plot demands they turn over a new leaf for the by-the-numbers climax. Good Boys is not that kind of comedy. Like Booksmart (another SXSW 2019 comedy that rewrites what a filthy comedy can be), Good Boys is a raunchy comedy obsessed with goodness, kindness, and forming a healthy view of the world. That it does this while also supplying all of the drug, sex, and shit jokes you could possibly imagine is a bonafide miracle. This is one of the crudest movies I’ve ever seen, but it accomplishes that without a vicious bone in its body.

Gene Stupnitsky‘s direction is fairly no-frills, but that may be the wise choice – it puts his cast front-and-center and just lets them shine. Jacob Tremblay, Brady Noon, and Keith L. Williams star as three 11-year old best friends, convinced they will be best buds for the rest of existence and that the “kissing party” they’ve been invited to will define their future marriages. Naturally, they can’t miss it. No way. But when they destroy a prized drone and face being grounded, they’re forced to do something beyond-the-pale: skip school so they can make the four mile journey to the mall to buy a new one.

And goodness, what a journey it is. These three innocents find their every moral tested, the ethics ingrained into them by their parents and teachers alike put on the line. These are very much model young men for 2019: they know you don’t kiss without consent and they know you don’t do drugs because it destroys communities! Their very goodness, amplified by their own naïveté, is both ridiculous and real. These are kids who treat an innocent kiss with the gravity of a longterm relationship, who view recreational drug use by responsible adults as the equivalent of murder. Anyone who grew up obeying the rules in school will understand this worldview, one these kids will grow out of but also one that will eventually help make them open-minded, decent adults. Good Boys focuses in on this very specific time, when a month feels like years and there’s nothing more life-destroying than a schoolyard nickname. Good Boys hits the requisite sweet notes, even when it’s utilizing sex dolls and dildos for riotous laughs.

And those laughs come hard and fast, almost non-stop from beginning to end. My stomach was genuinely sore when the credits rolled, the abdomen the victim of finding virtually every element of this film uproarious. While Stupnitsky fills the supporting cast with adults whose very presence inspires a chuckle, he wisely keeps the focus on the kids – Tremblay, Noon, and Williams stand out as very different kids while also making perfect sense as best friends. Most importantly, they’re just plain funny, dominating the screen like they’ve been doing this for decades. Call it talented child actors. Call it wise direction. Call it a script smart enough to deliver the just right brand of silliness. Or call it all three. That’s the most accurate.

Good Boys is the latest SXSW 2019 comedy to leave me blown away, and I’m noticing a trend. Like Booksmart, it’s a raunchy film about basic human goodness. Like The Art of Self-Defense, it’s a wild film about what being a man (or rather, a boy) is 2019 is all about. And like those movies, it balances it all while being impossibly funny.

/Film Rating: 8.5 out of 10

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