Director: Richard Shepard
Stars: Logan Browning, Allison Williams, Steven Weber
I’ve not been well this week, but with flashes of a renewed attention span, I have picked this title at random out of the trash bags of new content heaped onto Netflix on a weekly basis. The Perfection is a riotous misnomer for this scattershot ‘erotic horror’ flick, both intentionally and unintentionally hilarious. A twisting, deliciously dippy tale of rival classical musicians, Shanghai viral outbreaks, home invasions and more.
Charlotte (Allison Williams), a prodigal cellist whose career has detoured into caring for her sick mother, is released from her burden (an opening that recalls Guadagnino’s Suspiria set up, though honestly at quite a remove). She travels to Shanghai, where she is encouraged into friendship with Lizzie (Logan Browning); the equal of her talents. The two very quickly become an item and go travelling together. A bus journey from hell accelerates the picture into altogether stranger territories, before a mid-picture gimmick upends the narrative, sending us into hysterical free fall.
Not a note of this sits right from the off, as the film struggles through about six different false starts, deploying various fonts, flashbacks, and a barrage of clumsy set-up dialogue in order to get us into the meat of the story, all the while feeling rushed and befuddled. Tattoos and scars are shown off to camera to build intrigue with the subtlety of a toddler dropping rocks into puddles. But then, it becomes clear that subtlety isn’t anyone’s concern here.
Charlotte and Lizzie’s awkward introduction to one another comes when they are corralled together by Steven Weber’s self-described taskmaster Anton. There’s a comic stiffness to these moments that nobody seems able to hurdle; something that gives way to cringe-worthy naffness when Lizzie starts oversharing during a children’s audition scene about an adulterous couple she’s been spying on. As with much of the opening stretch, Shepard botches the amp-up. The 90 minute running time comes to feel like an imposed curfew and many first half sequences feel damaged because of it. The Perfection clunks harder than Bohemian Rhapsody as it barrels down its bumpy roads and blind alleys. Needless to say, it tries getting sexy way before it feels organic. Charlotte and Lizzie’s flirtation amounts to a montage intercut with their first bump’n’grind.
Things look pretty slick. The Perfection is lensed by Crazy Rich Asians cinematographer Vanja Cernjul. When its looking to get saucy or mysterious, there’s a visual pizazz that compliments these faltering narrative fireworks. It isn’t so much that The Perfection devolves into melodramatic nuttiness; that’s its play from the get-go. So you have to ask yourself are you in the mood for contending with the openly bonkers? The thing is, despite early doors clumsiness, once you’re given an inkling of just how nuts this is going to get, The Perfection snowballs into a hugely enjoyable riot of bad taste.
The chief draws here are the film’s leads; the excellent Browning (Dear White People) and Williams (Get Out). Browning seems the most clued in to the amount of crazy required of her, and throws her all into zingers like “I can’t move; if I move I’ll shit!” or “I’ve got the bitch!”. Williams has been here before thanks to (the far superior) Get Out. Between the two of them there’s a game attempt to make this work as a piece that’s just so… extra.
There are potential discussions nestled within, particularly regarding prejudice toward the disabled in elite social circles that pride themselves on perfectionism and uniformity. But such conversations are clearly not the intention. Trashy thrills are of paramount concern, and on that score the finale of The Perfection certainly delivers. By this time Shepard is counting on you having surrendered to the wilful madness of his picture.
As things come into delirious focus, surrendering becomes easier. The clumsiness of the early execution becomes somewhat forgivable when your movie thrives, really, on its WTF punchline(s) alone. True, once the effect of these dissipates, you’re left with a messy heap of a movie; entertaining in spite of and because of its flaws in the moment, but little more than a curiosity or brief water-cooler talking point in the aftermath. But it’s also defiantly odd, brimming with gumption and sozzled in genre weirdness. And I can’t help but respect those attributes. I kinda like it.
Now will someone add a new definition for “wristing” to the Urban Dictionary?