Sunday, January 28, 2018

Paddington 2

Paddington 2 is a stand-alone sequel to Paddington Bear, a successful live-action film featuring an endearing CGI bear produced in 2014.  The 2017 version is an ingenious adventure film, broadly comic, and featuring a star-turn by Hugh Grant.  Grant plays the villain, always the juiciest role in a movie like this and he gets to vamp like Peter Sellers in various baroque disguises.  The movie has a deep bench of venerable and picturesque British character actors and there's nothing not to like in the picture.  I am constitutionally disinclined to enjoy films of this sort and Paddington 2 didn't entirely win me over -- but it's a heart-warming spectacle filled with elaborate set pieces and moves along at a bracing clip.

In essence, the movie is a riff on themes time-honored in British cinema and is particularly indebted to Alfred Hitchcock -- although, of course, the tone is quite different (with this correlation -- Hitchcock liked to pair British gentility with crime and, all of his films, are full of visual gags).  As in Hitchcock, the film's plot is the venerable mechanism of the double chase with an innocent character (in this case, Paddington Bear) accused of a crime that he didn't commit; the innocent character must retrieve the MacGuffin (that is, the object of the chase) from the bad guy to clear his name while being pursued by the law.  In Paddington 2, the little bear wants to give his grandmother an antique pop-up book showing the famous sites of London.  the pop-up book is the MacGuffin - it actually contains the key-code to a fabulous treasure.  A washed-up actor knows about the code in the book, steals it from the antique store, and frames Paddington Bear.  The Bear who has offended the Judge (it's a gag about a haircut) finds himself before a hostile Bench and is sent to prison.  In prison, Paddington Bear's basic decency and his naïve, reflexive good manners wins him friends.  Ultimately, he escapes and, after an elaborate train chase, wrests the MacGuffin from the villain who is, then, captured and sent to prison himself.  This allows the film to end with a lavish production number set in the prison in which Hugh Grant shows himself to be a consummate song-and-dance man. (Grant is fantastic and whenever he is on-screen the film soars).  The film's themes are that unfailing courtesy always wins the day and that people should be kind to one another -- there is an implicit pro-immigrant moral (Paddington, a Peruvian bear is, after all, the ultimate stranger in London.)   The film sets up a number of exciting and funny visual gags and, sometimes, seems to harken back to old silent film routines -- there's a complicated sequence involving a heavy bucket, ladder, and pulley that reminds me of scenes in Laurel and Hardy and Buster Keaton films.  About every ten minutes, the plot will pause for some kind of spectacular set piece and, from time to time, the merry calypso music accompanying the character's antics will be actually embodied in a Trinidadian combo that shows up in the oddest places.  All of the human actors are excellent -- other than Hugh Grant, Sarah Hawkins (who is in The Shape of Water) stands out and, in fact, has a thrilling aquatic scene.  In every respect, this is a good movie -- morally, with respect to production values, on the basis of acting, and with a sound, if somewhat hyper-active, narrative.  I must admit I was slightly bored by the proceedings, however, because ultimately everything in the movie is familiar to the viewer -- there are no real surprises and the film's tone is predictably light-weight, jolly, and sentimental.  I suppose the film approaches being the ideal movie for children -- and, therefore, an ideal movie for adults.  But, in the end the picture struck me as a bit too much, as trying too hard -- all the Victorian burnished gears and screws, the steam trains, the vertical shots of Dickensian prisons:  it reminded me inevitable of Scorsese's Hugo (2011), a film that you can immensely admire without really liking. 


  1. A pro immigrant fable or allegory I suggested. A utopian world will be brought about through the incorporation of immigrants but only through the (positively lit) sissification of men (depicted in the prison sequence) and through the defeat of the aristocratic values of English culture embodied in the prototypical form of Shakespearean actor by Hugh Grant. I’m not sure what this all means exactly but it is most likely inadvertent.

  2. One of the writers of the screenplay, Simon Farnaby, plays the vice deputy security guard of Saint Paul’s Cathedral. He recounts how the most beautiful nun he ever saw snuck off from the others and destroyed a statue of an angel. That nun was Grant in disguise, looking for the next clue note to play on a calliope to reveal the treasure. Farnaby as Barry the vice deputy security guard relishes the chance to describe Grant in nun-drag. This seemed an odd misstep for me but this doesn’t seemed to be played to be especially comic nor is the benign sissification of the inmates represented as funny. Maybe if we were all sissies we would exist in harmony.

  3. Simon Farnaby’s first film part was a ventriloquist in “Fat Slags,” something very blue to google. I guess he spent a month living in a bearsuit to achieve versimiltide. My dad thought the immigration sequences referred to Arpaio’s tent city. Feverish backwash. A truly wonderful film.