Friday, 22 July 2011

Favourite Films: #24, American Psycho

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“Do you like Huey Lewis and The News?

Their early work was a little too new wave for my tastes, but when Sports came out in '83, I think they really came into their own, commercially and artistically. The whole album has a clear, crisp sound, and a new sheen of consummate professionalism that really gives the songs a big boost. He's been compared to Elvis Costello, but I think Huey has a far much more bitter, cynical sense of humor.

In '87, Huey released this, Fore, their most accomplished album. I think their undisputed masterpiece is "Hip to be Square", a song so catchy, most people probably don't listen to the lyrics. But they should, because it's not just about the pleasures of conformity, and the importance of trends, it's also a personal statement about the band itself.”
Patrick Bateman

As Christian Bale’s Bateman gives this speech, he’s pulling on a plastic overcoat and dancing around the apartment. He delivers the final lines using the axe in his hands for emphasis. Immediately afterward, he drives this axe repeatedly into the skull of the (half-)listener.

It’s a brilliant, singular performance. I’m not really one to talk about actors, because it’s not my craft and – like with music – marvelling at someone’s ability isn’t something that gives me particular pleasure. But this isn’t a Oscar-begging tour de force in subtlety and observation, it’s a comedy performance. Watching the scene in isolation isn’t miles from watching a stand-up comedian. The focus is on timing and little expressions; on being funny.

And that’s the thing about American Psycho. It’s many other things - a satire that doesn’t embarrass itself too much, a strong character piece, a comment on how little people care about what others are doing, occasionally even horrifying - but mostly it’s just funny. It’s certainly structured like one, with set-pieces like the business card scene getting the big laughs, while little moments catch you for a wry smile in between. I can’t help treating it like any other comedy: it’s the kind of film that you quote to the people you watched it with for days afterwards. Listening to Hip to be Square to put me in the right mindset to write this still makes me laugh.

It’s a chuckle-a-thon, about a successful businessman who slaughters homeless people and prostitutes to the soundtrack of bland ‘80s pop. That pleases me even conceptually, just writing that down. It’s not like the film invented that idea, though, and maybe I should be siding with Bret Easton Ellis, who doesn’t think his (absolutely brilliant) book ever needed to be adapted and that director Harron ‘didn’t get it’, basically.

But I say: pshaw, Bret. We’re all friends here, and Mary Harron got one bit totally right: she turned the volume up on the comedy. It’s a little broader (more black comedy than black comedy) but that just helps makes it funnier. Any of the weaknesses of the adaptation are drowned out as a result. Even the difficult ending: though the film is far too smart to present it as a twist, it goes from being an intriguing ambiguity to a messy distraction.

But what it does ‘get’ is this: when you can laugh at a naked Christian Bale (phwoar, incidentally) flexing his muscles in the mirror during a sex scene, then running down a hallway with only a pair of white trainers and a whirring chainsaw to protect his modesty, what does that even matter?

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Videogames, film, music, comics: feed them into the Alex-Spencer machine and out come neat little articles. Like the ones you're looking at here.