Tag Archives: comedy

Hesher (2010)

3 Oct

As Hollywood is generally chary of admitting the genuinely ugly into its ranks, the ability of its stars to ‘ugly up’ is a much cherished one. The paradox of fame is that the adulation brings with it a nagging urge to be viewed as a ‘serious artist’, a quest for authenticity and legitimacy that inevitably leads to a brief holiday from the glamorous trappings. And it often reaps dividends: Halle Berry, Julia Roberts, Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman all picked up Oscars for their ‘bravery’, resorting to unflattering prosthesis in Kidman’s case. Action alpha males Sylvester Stallone and Vin Diesel tried this tactic with less success in ‘Copland’ (1997) and ‘Find Me Guilty’ (2006); Sly developing an impressive gut and Diesel donning a conspicuous toupee for nought. Ironically, Natalie Portman goes the other way in ‘Hesher’, forsaking the high-camp paranoia that earned her the plaudits in ‘Black Swan’ (2010).

T.J. (Devin Brochu) and his father, Paul (Rainn Wilson), are struggling to come to terms with the death of their mother and wife (Monica Staggs). Paul is crippled by his grief, living in a pharmaceutical fog, meaning that T.J. is being raised by his ailing Grandmother (Piper Laurie). On one of his many lonely bike rides through the neighbourhood, T.J. encounters Hesher (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a pyromaniac misanthrope squatting in a derelict house. T.J. encounters Hesher on multiple occasions over the next few days as he tries to evade the attentions of the school bully, Dustin (Brandon Hill), and obsesses over Nicole (Natalie Portman), a decorous grocery store clerk who saves him from a beating at the hands of Dustin. Hesher slowly insinuates himself into T.J’s family life, providing some salutary life lessons in his brutally candid manner.

Spencer Susser’s debut feature channels the spirit of ‘Gummo’ (1997) and ‘Slacker’ (1991) in its blunt evocation of fringe culture, veering away from the whimsical explorations of suburban malaise that have deluged indie cinema – it hardly bears repeating that suburbia is not what it seems, and the awkward formality of the family meal is as trite now as it was in ‘American Beauty’ (1999). There is not a single moment when Susser’s wish to illustrate his abilities with a particular technique or stylistic flourish detracts from the naturalism; a trap so many young directors fall into. The screenplay – written by Susser and ‘Animal Kingdom’ creator David Michod – abandons the easy course in favour of a more nuanced, rewarding tack: Hesher could so easily have been a stoner caricature, but the character is imbued with such venom and menace as to negate any suggestion of that. Metallica’s music punctures the silence that holds sway over the violently banal backdrop; offering a portal into Hesher’s nihilistic mindset, the sudden bursts of ‘The Shortest Straw’ acting as his signature.

Levitt has developed from a fresh-faced sitcom star to one of the most accomplished actors of his generation, breaking away from his anodyne past and making difficult choices to amass a formidable body of work – we should relish him before he is lost to the franchise film for good. Levitt succeeds in delineating the character’s complexities, the rage and dislocation that fuels him, embodying the complexities of adolescence: the boorishness and hypersensitivity, the aggression and vulnerability. Brochu delivers the best breakthrough performance since Paul Dano in ‘L.I.E’ (2001), carrying the film with a poise that hints at a very bright future; while screen veteran Laurie is quietly devastating as the befuddled mater of her damaged clan. Wilson is mercifully lacking in affectation; while he can’t match Philip Seymour Hoffman when playing a wounded, ineffectual lump of a man, he exhibits laudable restraint. Portman proves to be the sole disappointment; she dons oversized glasses and frumpy clothes, but is never able to overcome her fame. She is never anything other than Natalie Portman, and as such her character’s battle between self-perception and reality carries little weight: a common problem for those striving to balance their public profile with creative contentment.

‘Hesher’ offers us a Generation X fable: Hesher is a harbinger of T.J’s impending adulthood; a spectre of chaos; a spirit of mischief. There is a strange sort of heroism to Hesher’s stance; he knows all the shortcuts within his circumscribed realm, exuding a Zen-like calm as he unleashes carnage upon a world he despises; grasping its harsh logic and taking it as his credo. But Hesher doesn’t heal the family’s wounds and enrich their lives, which would no doubt have been the case if this were a mainstream take on guardian angel lore. Refreshingly devoid of sentiment or irony, ‘Hesher’ plays it straight; which is not to say there isn’t humour, it just isn’t allowed to consume the film’s serious core and undermine its intent. ‘Hesher’ offers a vibrant, visceral alternative to the slew of identikit indie films being churned out by the Sundance factory system.

 

Portman: shy, retiring wallflower

 

Submarine (2010)

19 Jul

Anyone familiar with cult British comedy will be aware of Richard Ayoade; he has made his name as a player in such shows as ‘The Mighty Boosh’, ‘Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace’, ‘Man to Man with Dean Learner’ and ‘The I.T. Crowd’, bringing his gawky charm and E.L. Wisty-esque otherworldliness to a succession of oddballs and outsiders. But TV comedy stars must always enter into the film world with great trepidation, as what makes them so effective in the thirty-minute format often doesn’t translate to the big screen – as Mitchell and Webb’s ‘Magicians’ (2007) is a disappointing testament to. Ayoade wisely opted to stay behind the camera for ‘Submarine’, amassing an impressive cast for this adaptation of Joe Dunthorne’s coming-of-age novel.

Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) is a bright but gauche teen living in Swansea in the 1980s. Struggling to fit in at school, he bullies his fellow students in an attempt to impress Jordana (Yasmin Paige), a callous, manipulative classmate who takes pleasure in toying with his emotions, but with whom he is determined to lose his virginity. Oliver’s home life is disrupted when Glen (Paddy Considine), the first love of his mother, Jill (Sally Hawkins), moves in next door, throwing the failings of her marriage into sharp relief. Oliver does his best to rouse his depressive intellectual father, Lloyd (Noah Taylor), and sabotage Glen’s attempts to woo Jill, becoming a go-between for his emotionally stunted parents.

‘Submarine’ makes for frustrating viewing, with Ayoade falling prey to First-Time Director’s Syndrome. The film is burdened by its influences – chiefly Wes Anderson – and struggles to strike the delicate balance of laughs and narrative progression that is crucial to any film comedy’s success. There is a sense that Ayoade is trying way too hard to prove his directorial chops, throwing into the mix every technique at his disposal – slow motion, multiple angles, numerous cuts, freeze frames, split screens, Scorsese-esque ‘Super 8’ segments and a constantly moving camera. It all becomes wearing and has the effect of detracting from the story. Alex Turner throws out a few subpar Arctic Monkeys offcuts, his star cache no doubt helping to market the film in the US.

On the plus side, ‘Submarine’s’ humour is more bittersweet then laugh-out-loud, its sophisticated tone a welcome departure from the crass ‘sex wager’ formula that proliferates the teen comedy genre. The script succeeds in depicting the causal cruelty and mob mentality of the playground; one of its most striking themes is how intellectual curiosity can bring with it a profound sense of insignificance, detailing the travails of the smart. There is a grim authenticity to the depiction of Oliver’s home life: a passive-aggressive minefield where his ultra-vigilant mother and over-analytical father quietly rue their failures and pile their neuroses onto his shoulders. All of which is helped in no small part by Erik Wilson’s downbeat photography, its washed-out palette conveying a wintery chill, and Roberts’ wry narration, which perfectly replicates the inner monologue of a teenage aesthete struggling to come to terms with sexual awakening and domestic upheaval.

A great ensemble cast strives manfully to overcome the glib, comic cadence of the dialogue: Taylor and Hawkins play the saturnine marine biologist and frustrated actress with typical élan, Roberts and Paige have genuine chemistry, Considine provides an injection of broad humour as a leather-clad ‘mystic’ sporting a luxurious mullet, and executive producer Ben Stiller makes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance. But, alas, their efforts are undermined by Ayoade’s desire to ape the hyper-stylized, self-aware idioms of US indie cinema. One cannot escape the feeling that, in striving to deliver the desired look, the film loses some of its heart, the end result feeling like a hipster reimagining of ‘Gregory’s Girl’ (1981). All of which is a tremendous shame, as Ayoade clearly has talent as a director; if he can calm down and rein in some of his stylistic excesses, his next project could be something special.

That luxurious mullet.

Jack Goes Boating (2010)

25 Apr

Philip Seymour Hoffman has largely been able to resist the lure of the money that is thrown at Oscar winners in the wake of attaining the industry’s highest accolade. While most other recipients pick up lucrative endorsements and take substandard roles that trade on their status, Hoffman has continued to make interesting theatrical and cinematic work since ‘Capote’ (2005) turned him into the most unlikely, and one suspects reluctant, of A-listers. Sure, he appeared in ‘Mission: Impossible III’ (2006) and ‘The Boat That Rocked’ (2009), but thankfully those have been anomalies in a post-Oscar run that has earned him two further nods from the Academy.

Based on Robert Glaudini’s play, Hoffman stars and directs in this tale of Jack (Hoffman), a solitary reggae enthusiast who works as a limo driver for his uncle, Frank (Richard Petrocelli). Feeling sorry for his plight, Jack’s friend and work colleague, Clyde (John Ortiz), sets him up with Connie (Amy Ryan), an equally ill-at-ease work colleague of Clyde’s wife, Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega). While Jack and Connie struggle to overcome their social awkwardness, Clyde and Lucy’s marriage is beginning to crumble, with Jack caught in the middle. In an attempt to impress Connie, Jack takes cookery lessons and learns to swim in order to take Connie boating in the summer.

Hoffman clearly paid close attention and learned some valuable lessons while working with some of modern cinema’s visionaries, as his directorial debuts exhibits the same keen eye for pace and framing as the Coens, Sidney Lumet and Paul Thomas Anderson. The camerawork is dynamic without sliding into ostentation, while music both diegetic and non-diegetic is used to heighten the emotional impact of several key scenes. The film’s gentle, reflective progression mirrors the tentative development of Jack and Connie’s relationship; Mott Hupfel’s cinematography adding warmth and texture to the wintery setting in much the same way it did in ‘The Savages’ (2007).

Like ‘The Savages’, ‘Jack Goes Boating’ is steered by two captivating lead performances. Hoffman portrays a monosyllabic character that would have blended into the scenery in lesser hands, using an array of physical pointers – from his persistent nervous cough to his half-hearted adoption of a ‘Rasta’ look – to elucidate Jack’s nature. Jack is the latest in a long line of psychologically complex roles that have earned Hoffman the title of ‘Greatest Actor of his Generation’. Connie is an inherently eccentric character that Ryan’s charm prevents from being ‘kooky’: a designation which demands that actresses who fail to conform to accepted standards of beauty revert to ditzy theatrics. Ortiz and Vega reprise their roles in the play, portraying Jack and Connie’s support system with an aplomb borne of an exhaustive familiarity with and deep fondness for the characters. Ortiz and Hoffman’s interplay provides a refreshing change from the dynamic of most onscreen male friendships, openly expressing their feelings and providing emotional support for each other through their hardships.

‘Jacks Goes Boating’ is a romantic comedy with a grip on reality; a touching study of people struggling to find a place where they fit; a beautiful paean to shyness, and a moving essay on maladjustment. It features moments of Solondz-esque humour that elicit uneasy laughs, as well as showing the heart-warming landmarks of Jack and Connie’s budding love. The film dispenses with moralizing and pseudo-inspirational schmaltz to deliver its message: in a cutthroat world where sensitivity is an impediment, we must overcome the tiny obstacles that seem insurmountable in our heads and prevent us all from achieving so much, as these everyday triumphs are what define us in the end.

The much-vaunted nudity proved to be a letdown.

Another Year (2010)

11 Apr

With a minimum of fuss, Mike Leigh has become one of cinema’s most fascinating auteurs, crafting a rich and diverse body of work in the face of growing hostility towards distinctive independent voices. At a time when world cinema is becoming increasingly beholden to the trends emanating from the USA, Leigh’s uniquely British meditations on the tragedy and absurdity of everyday life manage to be artistically rewarding, critically lauded, commercially accessible and economically viable.

Divided into seasons, ‘Another Year’s’ premise is as slight as one would expect from Leigh, following a year in the life of Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen), a geologist and counsellor who have been together since meeting at university. Tom and Gerri hold regular get-togethers at their home, inviting an assortment of people who seem to be struggling to find their way – there is Mary (Lesley Manville), a manic, garrulous receptionist, Ken (Peter Wright), a hard-drinking, lugubrious old friend of Tom’s and Joe (Oliver Maltman), Tom and Gerri’s bachelor son.

‘Another Year’ focuses on people and predicaments that are so often neglected by mainstream cinema – the lives of those over the age of forty, particularly women, are often invisible to the film industry, and Leigh seeks to redress the balance. Overlapping, conversational dialogue combines with Dick Pope’s sterling cinematography to chart the year’s transition, with each season given a distinct mood. The scenes that occur between the major plot points in most other films take on a deeper significance here by dint of some stellar performances and Leigh’s mastery of establishing tone. The seemingly informal intent of Leigh’s directorial choices are in fact carefully crafted to impart something about the characters’ situation throughout – for instance, Tom and Gerri are together in the majority of shots, while Mary is seemingly stranded in the centre of the frame.

What sets Leigh apart from almost any other director is his approach to actors, giving them the latitude to construct a reality for their characters out of the detailed back stories he concocts; however minor the role. This strategy probably explains why his films are stacked with great performances from top to bottom, but also why the ‘Leigh grotesque’ has also become a fixture of his oeuvre. Indeed, it is one of the chief complaints of his work that the freedom he affords his cast often precludes him from reining them in; David Thewlis’s scenery chewing in ‘Naked’ (1993) being a case in point. Manville takes the mantle here, delivering a grandstanding turn that frequently errs on the wrong side of broad.

Manville’s theatrics are contrasted with a raft of assured contributions across the board. Broadbent and Sheen are the foundation which holds the various narrative strands together, lending depth and subtlety to the almost chocolate box depiction of wedded bliss, their inherent likeability preventing the minutiae of domestic routine from becoming repetitive. Leigh regulars Imelda Staunton and Phil Davis make brief appearances, while David Bradley is quietly devastating as Tom’s Brother and Peter Wight commits so fully to the role of the lonely, overweight, embittered mass of self-loathing that you will genuinely worry for his wellbeing. It speaks to Leigh’s standing amongst actors that he was able to get an actor of Staunton’s calibre to appear in two brief, insignificant scenes.

‘Another Year’ exults in the quirks of behaviour and intricacies of interaction, sticking to a few key locations and relying on the strength of the material and the ability of its cast – traits that put it amongst Leigh’s best work. This is as much a paean to fidelity and stability as an elegy to the ageing process, exploring the various ways in which people deal with the loss of their youth – Mary latching onto the vaguest male approbation, Ken complaining that ‘everything is for young people’, Tom and Gerri seeking solace in each other – with Leigh’s customary tragicomic eye. ‘Another Year’ profoundly states that ‘time is unkind’ and all we have to mitigate its impact is each other’s support.

Time is unkind.

Paul (2011)

28 Mar

Of all Britain’s recent comedic exports, Simon Pegg is the least likely to overstay his welcome, possessing a charm and likeability missing from Gervais, Brand, Cohen et al. Though the roles he has chosen since ‘Shaun of the Dead’ catapulted him to global prominence have been a mixed bag – not even he could invest the odious Toby Young with sympathy – his ability as a writer and versatility as a performer may well sustain him beyond the instant rush of celebrity he has enjoyed.

All of which makes ‘Paul’ such a disappointing experience. British Sci-Fi nerds Graeme Willy (Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Nick Frost) travel to the nerd Mecca, Comic-Con, before setting off on a road trip taking in all the famous UFO hotspots. Graeme and Clive encounter Paul (voiced by Seth Rogan), an alien who has escaped from the military base where he was being held. Paul is tracked by Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman) under the instruction of The Big Man (Sigourney Weaver).

‘Paul’ peddles the usual insider references to the Spielberg/Lucas canon, the ironic veneration for the campy original ‘Star Trek’ series and the dissections of comic book culture found in countless Kevin Smith films. So, for example, the band in a biker bar plays the music from the Mos Eisley Cantina scene in ‘A New Hope’ and Paul claims to have been a creative consultant for ‘The X-Files’ and ‘E.T.’ – with a vocal cameo from Spielberg – which is fine if you’re aware of its significance, but means nothing to the casual viewer.

‘Paul’s’ concession to the mass audience is bucket loads of scatological humour, casual swearing and frequent allusions to the homoerotic nature of Graeme and Clive’s relationship. Pegg and Frost’s screenplay actively courts the Apatow audience, expunging much of the uniquely British flavour that made ‘Spaced’, ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and ‘Hot Fuzz’ so special. ‘Superbad’ director Greg Mottola fails to match the technical invention that Edgar Wright brought to previous Pegg/Frost vehicles – an integral part of what set them apart from anything else in the genre. The visual effects are passable, but would probably not pass muster in a less light-hearted context; it feels as though the actors are pitching their dialogue towards the space occupied by the alien, rather than interacting with it.

Pegg and Frost have the effortless chemistry that comes from years of friendship, but removed from their comfort zone, the dynamic fails to spark as it has in the past, their badinage dwarfed by the demands of the narrative and the scale of the project. Pegg and Frost play lovable man-children with their usual panache, but they seem trapped between the urge to joke around and the need to push the plot forwards, too in love with the subject matter to lampoon it with any conviction, embracing the archetypes rather than subverting them.

Rogan doesn’t diverge from the shtick that already feels tired by virtue of its sheer ubiquity, approximating the stoner idioms of the ‘the Dude’ from ‘The Big Lebowski’ – if aliens are as crass and irritating as this, we can be thankful they have never made contact. Bateman struggles to convey an air of menace, which makes sense by the end but hampers the film’s dramatic momentum. Elsewhere, Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio are Bateman’s bumbling sidekicks, while Kristen Wiig is the lightning rod for the film’s rationalist message as the Creationist who is enlightened by Paul and becomes Pegg’s love interest – listening to her learning profanity gets very boring very quickly.

The premise of ‘Paul’ was devised by Pegg and Frost on the set of ‘Shaun of the Dead’ as a means of alleviating boredom between takes, and its freeform origins are apparent on the screen; the narrative engine sputters along, locking into a pattern of pursuit and evasion, a set of ideas held together by the slenderest of threads, fleshed out by in-jokes referring to everything from ‘Mac and Me’ to ‘Capturing the Friedmans’. With the commercial failure of ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’, the time has come for the Wright/Pegg/Frost triumvirate to reunite and complete their ‘Cornetto Trilogy’.

ALF, 2011

American: The Bill Hicks Story (2009)

13 Oct

When he died from pancreatic cancer in 1994, Bill Hicks entered the pantheon of pop culture martyrs. These ephemeral beings that shone so bright, these fallen idols sacrificing body and soul for their art, form the basis for a Cult of Death that has becomes a lucrative industry. We all know the names of these saintly, ill-fated figures whose gifts were as much a blessing as a curse. Their work and, perhaps more importantly, their image looms large in the collective imagination. They have become shorthand for those seeking authenticity or distinction.

We’ve all read the biographies and seen the sanitized Hollywood biopic and we think we know them; because so much of their lives reside in the public domain. They will never fall prey to the inducements that have halted many a promising artist; they will never grow stale, complacent or repetitive, they will never become grotesque parodies of their former selves.

Hicks’ brief life has been so thoroughly pored over that it seems inconceivable any new facts can emerge in ‘American’. Is it merely a hagiography, a public relations exercise endorsed by those who wish to brand him the Ultimate Outsider?

The most striking feature of ‘American’ is its visual style; various photographic techniques are used to create a unique backdrop, stylishly animating the content of the interviews. Still images are brought to life and localities recreated, given a depth of focus by raising the subject from the background, somewhat in the manner of a pop-up book. Consequently, ‘American’ has a vivid playfulness that sets it apart from the staid, humourless format of so many retrospectives, capturing the essence of Hicks’ sardonic worldview.

The most remarkable thing about Hicks’ upbringing is just how prosaic it was, he grew up in a comfortable suburban home with Southern Baptist parents. But Hicks was possessed of an inventive mind that saw how ripe for parody his home and school life was. He began to do stand-up at the age of fifteen; comedy was a means of escape, saving him from the drab respectability he dreaded. His lifelong love/hate relationship with Los Angeles began with a brief, frustrating move there, whereupon he succumbed to the loneliness and uncertainty that is the city’s default setting.

It was on his return to Houston that his work underwent a marked change, due in no small part to his entree into the world of heavy drinking and hallucinogenic drugs. His stage presence became more confrontational, his material darker, he started dressing in black and perfected the ‘Kinison scream’. As a consequence, some of his earlier fans deserted him and he was no longer asked to perform on TV. Ignored in his own country, Hicks was embraced by audiences in Canada and Britain, where his coruscating attacks on American foreign policy chimed with popular sentiment.

Of course, all of this is common knowledge to anyone who has read Cynthia True’s ‘American Scream’, or the panoply of other biographical works that have sprung up in the years since Hicks’ demise. ‘American’ presents no real new information, but it does offer a fascinating document of Hicks’ development as an artists and a person, charting his passage from a lovable teenage comic doing impressions of his dad to a prophet of doom kicking against the spiritual malaise of the hoi polloi, the hypocrisy of the religious establishment, the poltroonery of the political class and the cupidity of Corporate America. The home movie footage shows a different side to Hicks, outlining just how carefully cultivated his on-stage persona was, he is relaxed and personable, a world away from the ‘man in black’ he was renowned as.

Hicks’ credo was ‘love not fear’, something that is often forgotten by those who dismiss him as an ‘angry’ comic. There was always a motive behind his ire, something that set him apart from contemporaries like Sam Kinison. Fanciful as it may sound, Hicks’ ultimate ambition was to share what he’d learned from his drug experiences, which he believed had set something free and put him on the path to nirvana. The mystical bent of his later material is informed by his drug experiences, providing a perspective that is aeons ahead of the blandly observational shtick that prevailed on the circuit. This insight instilled in him a state of oneness with the universe, but put him at odds with audiences seeking more pedestrian fare.

He saw through the reactionary bluster of the Reagan/Bush years, with its adoration for the military-industrial complex and veneration of flag and fatherland. He wanted his audiences to be able to see that they were being misled, imploring them to evolve with him. But his call went unheeded; America rejected his vision; he was viewed as a renegade for speaking out against the first Gulf War.

Like Richard Pryor before him, Hicks refused to be browbeaten, to adapt to the demands of television executives and movie producers. He explored subjects comedians usually shied away from or dealt with in a facile manner. He travelled to the darkest recesses of the subconscious, challenging preconceptions with purity and profundity.

Was Bill Hicks ahead of his time? He’s still ahead of his time.

We need Bill Hicks more now than ever. Heaven only knows what he would have made of the madness that has ensued in his absence.

‘American’ is the definitive portrait of man whose impact on the development of comedy is incalculable.

Four Lions (2010)

15 Sep

If you’d witnessed the media furor surrounding ‘Four Lions’ and were sufficiently credulous, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the film is an exercise in bad taste akin to Pasolini’s ‘120 Days of Sodom’. In reality, the opprobrium heaped on the film came from those sections of the media that have had it in for Morris since his infamous ‘Brass Eye Special’ and were going to condemn it as a matter of course. Ironically, they did significantly less fact checking than Morris chose to in preparation for the film before writing their histrionic headlines.

‘Four Lions’ tells the story of a group of Muslim men in a Northern English town whose disenchantment fuels violent dreams of Jihad, but whose romantic notions of Holy War are disabused in a series of hopelessly botched plots and misadventures. Omar (Riz Ahmed) and Waj (Kayvan Novak) travel to Pakistan to prepare for the imminent Clash of Civilizations, much to the consternation of Barry (Nigel Lindsay) who, left to his own devices, hatches his own schemes and recruits wannabe rapper Hassan (Arsher Ali) to their ‘cell’. Meanwhile, Fessel (Adheel Akhtar) stockpiles peroxide in the garage of the house he shares with his unhinged father. It transpires that it was all bought from the same shop, but Fessel used a variety of ‘voices’ and ‘disguises’ to protect his identity. Fessel refuses to blow himself up, as it would upset his father, but instead trains crows strapped with explosives to fly at selected targets. With their training excursion to Pakistan ending calamitously, Omar and Waj return to the UK to put their most ambitious plan into action; to attack the London marathon.

‘Four Lions’ features a host of credible, understated performances from an able ensemble cast. Nigel Lindsay is spectacular as the truculent recent convert whose belligerence belies his piety. Riz Ahmed is the heart of the film, embodying the forces pulling young Muslims in opposing directions, the dichotomy of a generation born into Western liberalism but confronted by a burgeoning militancy in their midst. Kayvan Novak and Adheel Akhtar provide much of levity; their characters are not required to be much more than dim-witted and deluded, but they invest their roles with enough tragedy to prevent them from slipping into caricature.

Aesthetically, the film has a downbeat, unvarnished quality to it, mirroring the grimness of the characters’ surroundings, but also serving to ground them in reality and not allow the viewer to take what they see too lightly by piling on the usual facile trappings of the film comedy.

Nobody can claim that ‘Four Lions’ isn’t meticulously researched; Morris spent three years travelling across Britain, interviewing Imams, experts and ordinary Muslims to fully understand the subject he was about to tackle. Morris’s commitment to neutrality and authenticity is evident throughout; neither setting out to portray the central characters as helpless victims or a monolithic bunch of shrieking fanatics.

This approach is typified by the portrayal of Omar’s brother, who considers himself a moderate and decries violence, yet follows many of the less progressive edicts of Islam pertaining to the treatment of women. This refusal to either lionize or condemn, to coldly observe what transpires; adds extra resonance to the humour and makes the final moments all the more potent. By giving the lead characters an inner life and a diversity of reasons for acting as they do, Morris turns something that could have been crass and exploitative – Carry on Caliphate, if you will – into a thoughtful, uproarious and strangely touching take on the absurdities of faith and friendship.

Morris has made a career of going where other comedians fear to tread, an agent provocateur incurring the wrath of our ‘moral guardians’ for holding a mirror up to their hubris and hypocrisy. His latest offering is so special because it takes a difficult subject and broadens our understanding of it without ever becoming didactic.

In the same way that Morris’s ‘Brass Eye’ special wasn’t ‘making fun of paedophilia’, but was in fact a clever dissection of media hysteria and political opportunism, ‘Four Lions’ is more about provincial malaise than suicide bombers. It succeeds where so many ‘serious’ films about terrorism have failed because it understands its subject and has a firm grasp of what it wants to say about them, getting under the skin of people who hold such abhorrent views to such an extent that it goes a long way to demystifying them.

Not sure where Morris is here.