Comedy, 100 Minutes, 2012
This celebration of things Simon Pegg [IMDB] (not Simon Pegg’s thing) starts with this 2012 dark comedy. Pegg plays Jack, an unstable author who’s spent the better part of a year researching Victorian serial killers for a new book. He began the project simply to lose the stigma of his unexpected success as a children’s author, but his obsession has led to intense paranoia. When his agent arranges a meeting with an American film producer, his already fragile grip on reality snaps.
Pegg carries the audience along the current of Jack’s madness in hilarious form. The darkness of his disheveled appearance and filthy surroundings counterpoint his manic energy. The film builds effective, yet ridiculous, tension over mundane events and details. Due to this, many of the early laughs are of the nervous sort, but are soon replaced with the loud, full-belly variety as Jack does more and more damage to himself in his efforts to overcome his fears.
The film maintains the continuity of Jack’s misadventures very well. His ill-conceived solutions nearly always create more problems, yet many of the ramifications don’t become apparent until significantly later. One of these culminates in an absolutely side-splitting reveal shortly after Jack convinces himself to face his deepest, most deep-set fear: the laundrette.
There are some questionable choices. Jack appears in nearly every scene, but the very few where we leave him simply aren’t worth the change in perspective. Staying with Jack throughout – in his head – would have allowed the audience to question the true reality of the situation. Sharing the point of view with others, however briefly, eliminates that possibility.
Similarly, there’s confusion about how Jack interfaces with the audience. We begin with a heavy, melodramatic narration perfectly suited to the Victorian mysteries that Jack has been working with. This transitions to pure monologue as Jack talks to himself while managing imaginary obstacles in his apartment. Later, a first-person inner monologue begins when he’s forced to leave his apartment. It’s not a fatal issue, but is noticeable.
Pegg carries the film ably, but enjoys the support of Amara Karan [IMDB] in the last act. She plays an attractive woman that first triggers new dimensions of his neuroses and later shares and adventure, of a sort, with him. Additionally, there is a wonderful animated sequence that gleefully celebrates Jack’s twisted, but sweet, sense of ethics and family.
Despite some structural flaws, this is engrossing and richly realized. Jack’s fears are ridiculous, yes, but they’re based in the common, everyday worries that everybody can relate with. Jack’s problems differ only in degree. Sure you may not obsessively carry a kitchen knife to deal with the assassins hiding in your toilet, but you definitely know the nagging fear of what could be behind the bathroom door at night.