Things go BAM!, SPLAT!, and KA-POW! numerous times in Super, but rarely as innocuously as a Batpunch. In the world of the Crimson Bolt, heads are bashed and bloodied, and sometimes enemies are blown up completely. The film, written and directed by Slither’s James Gunn, doesn’t shy from violence, but don’t assume it’s just another Kick-Ass: For all that movie’s love of guns and little-girl assassins, Super is like its darker, more twisted, utterly gleeful older sibling. Even the Crimson Bolt’s eager sidekick, Boltie, is angrier (if more sloppily lethal) than Kick-Ass’ Hit-Girl. “I could get claws like Wolverine,” Boltie gushes. “And then I could cut up people’s faces!”
The story of the Crimson Bolt (Rainn Wilson) is a familiar one, born of heartache. The film opens with our hero, at first simply known as Frank, admitting he’s had only two perfect moments in his life—his marriage to Sarah (Liv Tyler) being the first. But Sarah, a recovering addict, walked out on Frank for a dealer and all-around scumbag named Jacques (Kevin Bacon). What follows is pretty wrenching stuff: Frank begs God to bring Sarah back, blubbering as he questions why he was born so charmless and “idiotic.” (Later, in a calmer moment, Frank remarks, “People look stupid when they cry.”)
After this outpouring, Frank’s roof parts and giant red tentacles creep in, slicing his skull open so that the “finger of God” can touch his brain. (Yes, you see it all.) Frank doesn’t know what it means until he catches a PSA from the Holy Avenger (Nathan Fillion) warning kids to ignore the temptations of Satan and not slack off or give in to their horniness. A couple of visits to a comic-book store later, and Frank’s armed with examples of superheros without powers, as well as an unwanted friendship with a young clerk named Libby (Ellen Page). Libby first questions Frank’s interest in the Holy Avenger—“I have to warn you that this is pretty fucking stupid. I mean, unless you’re laughing at how gay it is. Then it’s awesome”—but once the Crimson Bolt becomes a hot news item, she catches on...and wants in. Boltie is born.
Super’s mix of humor and bloodletting is Pulp Fiction-perfect. “Shut up, crime!” is the Bolt’s catchphrase, and he dispenses advice to criminals like “Don’t deal drugs!” and “Don’t molest kids!” after he beats them to within an inch of their lives with a pipe wrench. Wilson, excepting a crying jag or two, is as deadpan as his character on The Office, Dwight Schrute. But while Page’s hyper (and amusingly ungraceful) Boltie just wants to bludgeon and kill the bad guys, Frank’s mission is to get Sarah back.
The film, like Kick-Ass, builds to a hyperviolent end, but Super doesn’t exchange its heart for shoot-outs and big explosions; it ends on melancholy note, lending the narrative a more realistic, if sinking, oomph. Its sentiment is surprising—almost as much as the first time Gunn counters a laugh with bloodied brains.
Happythankyoumoreplease Directed by Josh Radnor
According to the rules of grown-up cinema, Happythankyoumoreplease should be irritating as hell. There’s that title. There’s its oversaturation in sing-songy indie pop. And there’s the fact that this story about disaffected 20-somethings in New York is part Reality Bites, part Garden State, and part begging for the same eye-rolls its characters offer when it’s suggested there are things such as happiness and lasting love and success. The fact that it stars and was written and directed by first-timer Josh Radnor (How I Met Your Mother) doesn’t help its case—how many experienced auteurs could nail such a triptych, nevermind a newbie from TV?
Well, Radnor’s worked some magic. Happythankyoumoreplease is warm and tender; these shaggy-haired searchers are a bit more adult than their man/woman-child filmic counterparts. The most mature among them actually doesn’t have any hair at all: Annie (Malin Akerman) suffers from an auto-immune disorder that leaves her wrapping her bald head in elaborate scarves and employing false eyelashes for big nights. She claims that optimism is “fucking exhausting,” yet she’s almost always relentlessly cheery, particularly given her lot in life.
Her best friend Sam (Radnor) is the main focus here, a failing novelist who botches a big meeting with a publisher by oversleeping (“Why do I fear success?” he babbles to Annie as he scrambles to get ready) and then performing a good deed that turns into a not-so-good one: While on the train, he sees a young boy (Michael Algieri) get separated from his mother. Sam means to bring the child to a police station but is running late, so he ends up taking the kid to the meeting. And then...well, the boy won’t leave his side. It turns out he’s a foster child who doesn’t want to return to his latest family. So Sam keeps him, meaning to properly remedy the situation but becoming too wrapped up in his own issues—writing, meeting girls—to do anything about it.
Two other threads involve Annie’s quest for love, both with a bad-news old boyfriend and a guy (Tony Hale) who adores her but whom she has zero attraction to; and the somewhat turbulent relationship between Mary Catherine (Zoe Kazan) and Charlie (Pablo Schreiber). Charlie wants to move to L.A., but Mary Catherine loves New York—and she may have a more serious reason for not leaving the nest.
Annie, Mary Catherine, and Charlie are all likable enough, doing and saying things that don’t make you want to smack them. (In a film as potentially precious as this, that’s no small thing.) Sam is often a childish dick in comparison, staring open-mouthed and blankly when everyone in the world tries to explain why he shouldn’t keep the kid. Still, as Sam feeds the boy and encourages his considerable artistic talent, you know his heart’s in the right place—so, as with his friends, it’s difficult to stay too annoyed. In the end, Happythankyoumoreplease is about finding bliss that fits, and it’s pleasant to see that in the end, these characters find theirs without much attendant angst.