Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Living In A Box - Paul King's Bunny & The Bull

Let's get one thing out of the way before I get stuck into this: I have no intention of making endless references to The Mighty Boosh when discussing Bunny & The Bull. Back in 2004, reviews that constantly compared Shaun of the Dead to Spaced were tedious and unfair. Movies have to succeed or fail on their own merits. This isn't a spin-off from a TV show. So all I want to say about The Mighty Boosh in relation to Bunny & The Bull is, yes, Paul King directed most of the episodes of that show and, yes, both Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt appear in extended cameos. OK? OK. Let's do Bunny & The Bull the favour of treating it as a free-standing entity. Moving on...

It's difficult to discuss exactly what Bunny & The Bull is, or even what it is about, without diminishing it somewhat. I'm not worried about straying into spoiler territory, it's just that I expect that Bunny & The Bull is likely to be different things to different people. Whilst King's movie is undoubtedly very, very funny in parts, I think it would be a stretch to call it a comedy. It's a buddy road movie where two friends travel across Europe in search of romance and adventure. Or maybe they never leave the confines of a cramped London flat. Or perhaps they never get any further than moving around the wounded psyche of repressed naif Stephen Turnbull, played by Edward Hogg.

And therein lies the true strength of Paul King's movie. Bunny & The Bull is a slippery film to nail down, which makes it far more interesting to me. No matter how much the film seems to be about friendship and love, there's a thinner, darker skein woven around it all weighted with loss and tragedy. It's fun and enjoyable and laugh-out-loud funny in places, but you can never quite escape the slightly disturbing, unsettling fug that hangs in front of it all like dirty net curtains. Having two apparently contradictory tones at play is a difficult trick to pull off, but King just about manages it.

Edward Hogg's wired, twitchy performance in the astonishing White Lightnin', which helped that little-seen gem snag Le Hitchcock d'Or Prix du Jury at this year's Dinard Festival of British Cinema, showed what a mesmerising screen presence he can be. In Bunny & The Bull, Hogg has to do most of the heavy lifting as the straight man to Simon Farnaby's reckless, lovable oaf Bunny, without the fall-back of intermittent goggle-eyed one-liners.

Stephen's memories take place in a beautifully-constructed environment of carefully-lit backdrops, miniature models and calculatedly ramshackle, dreamy sets. Once you get past the sheen of artifice and the gags and the distracting cameo appearances, there's a genuinely affecting movie tinged with hope hiding just beneath the surface.

Bunny & The Bull is released in the UK on Friday 27 November. I wish that cinemas still showed a cartoon before every movie, because showing the original Bunny and Bull in the Warner Brothers Looney Tunes short Bully for Bugs first would make for a damn fine double-bill.

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