‘Wild Tales’ Review: Argentinian Comedy with a Wild Side

'Wild Tales'

Movie Rating:

4

Generally speaking, there are two types of laughter that any comedian or filmmaker can pull from an audience. The first is a goofy, joyous, thoughtless laughter. The second is the kind of laughter that sticks in your throat and hurts because it comes from a deeply uncomfortable truth. With the Oscar-nominated ‘Wild Tales’, writer/director Damian Szifron proves himself to be a master at eliciting that second, troubling brand of laughter. His anthology film is as nasty as it is hilarious, and a pretty damn impressive achievement as a result.

The tone is set with an opening sketch that’s the shortest of Szifron’s six demented and disconnected stories. A planeful of passengers discover that they’ve all done something horrible to the pilot just before he crashes the plane into his parents’ house. It’s a sick joke, but a good one and the sticky laughs keep coming from there. The second story sees a waitress find a food-based punishment for a man who wronged her father. The third takes a tale of road rage to absurd scatological, bloody and explosive extremes. The fourth sees a demolition expert get crowd-pleasing revenge against the DMV. The fifth follows a wealthy family’s attempt to conceal a crime through fraught financial negotiations. And then the final tale wraps things up with the most troublesomely dysfunctional wedding since Lars Von Trier took a crack at staging the ceremony. As with all anthology movies, some shorts soar higher than others, but thankfully Szifron’s delightfully warped sense of morality and humor glues it all together tightly enough that even the weakest entries have their cracked charms.

As you’ve probably worked out by now, the film’s greatest strength is its tone. The humor falls somewhere between detached Coen brothers cool, Tarantino-ian excess, and biting ‘South Park’ satire. Though Szifron’s shooting style varies slightly to suit each sort, for the most part the colors are eye-gougingly vibrant and the camerawork is sumptuously stylized. His movie almost feels like a live action cartoon, yet the performances spring from pained realism. That’s appropriate for the film, which shoots for satirical exaggeration and painful truth in equal measure.

For example, there are moments in the wedding finale that feel so uncomfortably real you’ll want to slink down under your seat and hide. But just as often, that wedding insanity feels almost slapstick. That’s a tricky balance that Szifron and his talented cast pull off with ease. You care deeply for these characters until the situations get so absurd that you have no choice but to laugh. If there’s a thesis here beyond a desire to take the piss out of stupid selfish human impulses, then it’s the concept that no bad deed goes unpunished. That’s a simple message to be sure, but with a movie this wild and stylized, that’s probably a good thing. As the great Roger Ebert once said, the key to appreciating a good movie isn’t judging what it’s about, but how it’s about what it’s about.

‘Wild Tales’ is certainly a joyously cynical romp, yet not a perfect movie. Anthology pictures are inherently a bit frustrating. They offer none of the closure of conventional film structure and their stop-and-start storytelling inevitably leads to seat-shifting. That’s just a necessary evil of this type of filmmaking. Even if Damian Szifron had attempted to weave the tales together into a ‘Magnolia’-style tapestry, it likely would have come with its own set of problems. The most overtly political shorts tend to be the weakest as well, with Szifron’s sermons about the evils of the elite popping the fun and unpredictability of flick’s wildest passages.

Still, the fact that this is such an episodic and inconsistent movie is almost part of the fun. The ways these wild tales unfold can’t really be predicted even once you’ve grown accustomed to Szifron’s perverse sense of logic. It’s a movie where even the gentlest moments come with a sense of dread, because any viewer paying attention will realize that the filmmakers are using that momentary comfort to set up a sick twist.

For those who love their humor as dark as their coffee, ‘Wild Tales’ is a nasty little comedic treat. They say that comedies can’t get nominated for Oscars, humor doesn’t translate across subtitle-bound borders, and anthology movies never satisfy. Thankfully, Damian Szifron managed to prove every single one of those clichés wrong with one big, beautiful, crazy comedy. ‘Wild Tales’ demands to be seen, and I can’t wait until Szifron gets a chance to pull off this trick again. Twisted imaginations like his deserve to be cherished by equally offbeat weirdoes everywhere.

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