Deadpan dads, that ‘Guy on the Couch’, and a psychopathic wife rising from the ‘dead’ – these are the guests who forgot to knock
This week sees the release of While We’re Young, Noah Baumbach’s follow up to Frances Ha. Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) play documentary makers in their early 40s who form an unlikely friendship with Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), a hipster couple in their mid 20s. They have a puppyish enthusiasm for everything quirky and out-of-date, be it keeping chickens or resisting the urge to fact-check on Google.
While Josh struggles to complete a project ten years in the making, Jamie not only pulls off a film of his own with ease but appears to be grooming Josh and Cornelia for his own gains. At the beginning of the film, Josh lectures to a class “documentary is all about me. And by me, I mean all of us”, a statement Jamie mocks by turning the documentarian into subject. But is Jamie the most annoying friend ever? We round up other relationships gone wrong on screen.
THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS (2001)
Gene Hackman plays the inglorious Royal Tenenbaum, once patriarch to a family of child prodigies, who returns for a most unwelcome visit, faking terminal illness to do so. His attempt to bluff his way back into his wife’s new partnership, his children’s screwball adult lives, and to make up for his terrible parenting makes for the kind of witty comedy of manners Wes Anderson has made his handwriting. It gets even better when his spectacular lie is discovered.
It would take extraordinary peace of mind to welcome home your estranged, chain-smoking father who is pretending he has cancer and doesn’t even know that you have a middle name. The Royal Tenenenbaums is a blue print to how not to make it up to your family.
THE DINNER GAME (1998)
In Francis Veber’s original French comedy, Pierre Brochant (Thierry Lhermitte) hosts a weekly dinner party where he and his mates invite the stupidest person they can find, and later vote for the most idiotic. He thinks he has found the ultimate loser in François Pignon (Jacques Villeret), a balding civil servant who makes matchstick models to get over his failed marriage. But Pierre injures himself and is stuck at home with François, whose every attempt to help leads from one hilarious disaster to another.
This is a tale of caution against judging a book by its cover. In the end, Pierre is a blubbering wreck and in need of the kindness of his prize buffoon. It is the exact opposite journey to While We’re Young (2014), where the supposedly cool kids turn out to be a lot less appealing than it would appear.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE FABULOUS STAINS (1982)
With no musical background, Corrine Burns (Diane Lane) forms a rock band to escape the pain of her mother’s death. They wind up on tour with a rising British punk band who mistake them for a couple of annoying chicks tagging along for the ride, but a serious makeover and radical approach to audience interaction gives them an overnight cult following.
Poor Ray Winstone. In Lou Adler’s feminist tale, he plays Jimmy, lead singer of The Looters and the chubby, growling face of modern patriarchy – an angsty white teenage boy who just wants his guaranteed place in the world order to be left well alone. At first he finds the girls irritating, then, after some success, alluring. But when their support act upstages his headline slot, his outrage gives way to revenge.
HALF BAKED (1998)
Thurgood (Dave Chappelle) leads a merry band of stoners who start selling medicinal marijuana to raise bail for their mate Kenny (Harland Williams), imprisoned for inadvertently killing a diabetic police horse with sweets, dodging rival drug dealers, befriending weed-loving rappers and of course, getting high. In their apartment, the smoke cloud is so thick, both physically and mentally, no one can quite remember who the guy permanently asleep on their couch is. It doesn’t stop them waking him up to share the green love.
John Stewart, Snoop Dog, Willie Nelson, Stephen Baldwin, Janeane Garofalo, Bob Saget – this film is bursting with cameos, and Steven Wright plays ‘Guy on the Couch’ whose voice you might recognise as the deadpan narrator in Reservoir Dogs (1992). Irritating he might be if his hosts weren’t too out of it to even care that he’s encroaching. As rents skyrocket in London, we are seriously considering finding a corner of some weedy living room somewhere and making it our own.
FRANCES HA (2012)
Noah Baumbach previously explored how irritating the puppy dog energy of today’s bright young things can be to people settling into their thirties in the dinner party scene in his last film Frances Ha, starring his now-partner Greta Gerwig. She plays the blissfully unaware hipster to perfection, parodying polite dinner conversation and inviting herself to stay at her new acquaintances’ apartment in Paris.
Just like Jamie and Darby, Frances's youth and enthusiasm jars with her older friends because it forces them to accept that they are now the grown-ups hosting dinner parties. She also reminds them that, despite outward pretentions, youth is irritating and self-involved – traits they probably had themselves.
WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE (1995)
Heather Matarazzo portrays Dawn, a brilliantly awkward 12-year-old who is bullied at school for being a lesbian by the cheerleaders and tormented at home by her parents, caught between her sickly sweet little sister Missy (Daria Kalinina) and over-achieving older brother Mark (Matthew Faber). She falls hopelessly in love with the hottest boy in school (Eric Mabius), only to be preyed upon with rape threats by junior thug Brandon (Brendan Sexton).
Director Todd Solondz reminds us that we have all been the unwanted guest in our own lives during those excruciating years of early adolescence. At her parents’ 18th wedding anniversary party, the scenes of festivity are offset by Dawn’s lonely face looking out from the window, ignored by all around her and too inhibited by herself to do much about it.
THE GUEST (2014)
A polite, handsome soldier (Dan Stevens) turns up on the doorstep of a bereaved veteran family, claiming to have been with their son when he died. Welcomed in to stay in the dead man’s room, he slots a little too easily into the place of surrogate son, but a series of accidental deaths eventually alert the family to the evil behind this blue-eyed killer as the bodies pile up in glorious Funhouse style.
As far as friendships-turn-sour go, it couldn’t get any worse than this. Jamie might appear sinister bad guy as he broods over the New York skyline in the final act, but the only thing he can claim to have murdered is Josh’s delicate and over-inflated ego.
THE SKELETON TWINS (2014)
SNL wunderkinds Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader play Maggie and Milo, estranged twins living very separate lives are forced to confront their relationship when Milo moves in with Maggie and her all-hetero husband (Luke Wilson). Although Milo is the last person Maggie wants on her couch as she tries to settle into married suburban life, the bond that pre-dates their birth reignites with all kinds of the screwball sweetness of sibling relationships.
Another film that proves that annoying people can be wonderful human beings underneath, and nowhere is this more true than your family. Like While We’re Young, this film also examines the way that life in your 30s and 40s might not be all you hoped for in your 20s.
GONE GIRL (2014)
In David Fincher’s version of Gillian Flynn’s pageturner thriller, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) is horrified to be subject to investigation and media scrutiny for his wife’s murder when she disappears, but if only that was the worst of it. Amy (Rosamund Pike) is alive and kicking, and as it turns out, has been spinning a web of lies to ensnare him since the day they met.
The true horror of Nick’s situation is not realised until the final scene when Amy has successfully framed Nick and returns to exert total control over their married life, to which he must submit under pain of conviction for her disappearing. Like Josh in While We Were Young, Nick feels betrayed by someone he loved, albeit to a far greater degree.
Diane Després (Anne Dorval) is doing whatever she needs to to earn a living after her husband’s death, even if it means tarting up a little for work. When her teenage son (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) faces a tougher sentence at his young offenders’ unit, she brings him back to be home-schooled. Their stormy relationship begins to find balance when Kyla (Suzanne Clément), a neighbour and school teacher who agrees to tutor Steve, who is herself on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
The young folk of While We’re Young are irritatingly over-achieving – Steve has the opposite problem, and his violent outbursts test his mother’s love to the limit. Yet, just as Josh is taken on an inadvertent journey of self-acceptance, in helping Steve, Die and Kyla address issues of their own. This is the fifth by 25-year-old film prodigée director Xavier Dolan, exactly the kind of kid Adam Driver’s Jamie sets out to portray.