Friday, November 23, 2018

Death, despite humour, doesn't become them

It seems films and television shows have a problem with death. I draw your attention to the much-hyped new Netflix series, The Kominsky Method, starring two of my favorite actors, Alan Arkin and Michael Douglas. I so much wanted to like this show and to most extent, I do. Still, it was a disappointment. The concept was to create a comedy, with a little drama thrown in, about the toughness of aging. Douglas plays a famous actor who runs an acting school, hence the title’s “Method.” And Arkin as Norman Newlander is a beyond rich and famous Hollywood agent, so on in his years he hardly makes an appearance at his sprawling offices. These are two comic actors. The problem is the series is more a downer than uplifting. Sure, there are many funny lines, most at each characters’ expense as they trade barbs back and forth. The problem is that the series relies too much on, well, aging, clich├ęs. There’s Norman’s wife’s death from cancer. And Kominsky dates with a student (Nancy Travis) where they first rendezvous at a hospital and then funeral. Then there’s Kominsky’s doctor’s visit in a genuinely funny scene with Danny DeVito as a urologist diagnosing his prostate issues. Much of the next episodes are devoted to Kominsky trying to successfully relieve himself. Yes, this is supposed to be funny, but it ends up being tiresome and gross. And the comedy that does exist isn’t enough to counter a general mood of melancholy. How about some new plot lines about aging that generally aren't explored? Like how condescending service people can be and how younger people incessantly address you as "sir" or "ma'am"………. Then there’s the British film, also on Netflix, called Burn Burn Burn (Chanya Button, 2015). It’s about three friends – Seph (Laura Carmichael – Lady Edith Crawley on Downton Abbey), Alex (Chloe Pirrie) and Dan (Jack Farthing). The story’s an inventive concept and again aims at humor with a poignant underpinning. Dan is dying from cancer and wants his friends Seph and Alex to take a road trip and visit some of the seminal places that had great meaning in his life. He instructs them where to go in a video released after his death. He virtually anticipates their every reaction to the places they visit, while reflecting on his commentary about what they mean to him and how life events have been shaped by all their lives, with some truths less than pleasant. The problem is that the plot becomes predictable and that when you dwell on death as much as Dan – and this story – it’s kind of a downer and not resurrected by the levities along the way.

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