The hostile humour of CARLOS SPILLS THE BEANS

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Rating: ★★★

With all the dysfunction of the Royal Tenenbaums but none of their artistic genius, the Boyles are a belligerent clan of bullies, who’ve turned on one of their own. Steve (Joey Capone) is a cook at the restaurant bearing the family name, and still being blamed for a kitchen fire that actually led to a handsome insurance payout. Passed over for the managerial responsibility he’s long dreamt of, his familial anxiety is such that he can’t get it up any more, and he’s slowly starting to lose his waitress girlfriend Joyce (C.C. Sheffield).

This sense of lowly self-doubt seems riddled in the Boyle family DNA. When restaurant manager Matthew (co-writer/director Brian McGuire) has to fire one of the waitstaff for gobbing in a customer’s food, his thundering dismissal is aquiver with self-validatory indignation. In the film’s funniest scene, he bellows the story of their now dead father, who “probably sold his ass a couple of times” and picked pockets to get the money on which he bet the farm and built the family business. But you can’t polish a turd. The descendant Boyles are a progeny made vulgar by wealth not of their pedigree. When Matthew proclaims that “Boyles are winners!” it’s with all the conviction of a wobbly self-help mantra.

Groomed like a Nazi and berating the kitchen staff like one, Matthew and most of the characters who populate the film are canted caricatures; live action Quentin Blake illustrations brought to grotesque life. If Matthew’s casual, unthinking racism is cruelly funny, it’s also contemptuously de-humanizing. The film has a high laugh ratio, but more often than not, it’s a hollow kind of uncomfortable laughter.

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McGuire seems somewhat aware of this, his camera gliding along panel-like frames with the larkiness of a Beastie Boys music video. Great looking frames they are too. Cinematographer Robert Murphy gets the best out of the central location, the chandeliers, exposed brickwork and warm wood panelling of Boyle’s restaurant offering dozens of interesting angles. It seems like a great place to kick back with a few cocktails, even if the same can’t be said of the clientele.

If Todd Solondz gets away with this same kind of sadistic shtick time and again, it’s because he foregrounds the hopeless improbability of his pariahs’ aspirations – however misguided. Their useless yearning is always heartfelt, but Steve’s desperate need for acceptance from a brood who routinely belittle him is never substantiated . Repeatedly he tells us that Boyle’s means everything to him (he even adopts a policy of not dating employees and dumps Joyce because of it), but we’re never exactly sure why. He’s a good cook with a great-looking girl, and with a family this repulsive, you’d think he’d break free the first chance he got.

That chance goes down the toilet when the new hire, Victor (played to fawning perfection by Bret Roberts) worms his way into the Boyles’ good graces and shacks up with Joyce. A good looking but gormless sycophant whose time spent with the family is a logical extension of his humanitarian work abroad, Victor gets himself invited to the annual “Little Dick Memorial Dinner” by seeing virtue where there is none. To Victor, the Boyles’ snide squabbling is an expression of deep affection for one another, and in her call girl come-ons, Mrs Boyle is hospitable to a fault. As Steve entertains a childish game of one-upmanship to win back family favour and the woman he loves, the increasingly hostile humour is directly proportionate to that which is plainly inappropriate. For those who like to squirm in their seats while laughing, this will tickle the funny bone.

First published by Vérité Film Magazine on September 27, 2013

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