MPI // 2009 // 101 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // April 7th, 2011
"There's a place downstairs where we can dine like nineteenth century cobblers."
A cornucopia of up-and-coming British comedic talent comes together for Bunny and the Bull, the feature film debut from writer/director Paul King. Famed for his work on BBC cult hit The Mighty Boosh, King transcends his TV roots to create a Kaufman-esque gem.
Stephen Turnbull (Edward Hogg) lives a life dominated by strict routine, a routine that has meant he hasn't had to leave his apartment in months. When he discovers his home is infested with mice, his orderly life is turned upside down, causing him to recall the road trip that led to his current situation.
Stephen's mind goes back to how his friend, Bunny (Simon Farnaby), talked him into a tour of Europe, which saw the friends fall into a series of unbelievable situations with a host of bizarre characters. As Stephen's memories come flooding back, he quickly begins to lose track of what is real and what isn't. Souvenirs of the trip trigger new memories, as Stephen relives the entire adventure in the confines of his apartment.
It's made clear very early on that the works of both Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman are an influence on writer/director Paul King's Bunny and the Bull. The film: part comedy, part romance, part mystery, plays with narrative structures to create a reality bending experience that is almost certain to play well to lovers of cult cinema.
As Stephen relives the fateful road trip in his mind, we see the events unfold onscreen -- albeit through a skewed melding of his memories with the immediate surroundings of his self-imposed isolation. As the film progresses, Stephen is seen to increasingly confuse his present reality with the previous year's adventure. In practice, this most closely mirrors the visuals from the dream sequences of Gondry's The Science of Sleep, where a number of contrasting styles are employed. Often it is the most mundane household item that triggers -- and consequently shapes -- Stephen's memories; as such we have buildings made of cardboard boxes, toy cars populating the roads, and bulls built from an assortment of cogs and springs. These same items might just as easily act as a doorway between the film's two levels of reality.
It would have been very easy for King to simply hide behind the film's dreamlike visuals, leaving it a beautiful but hollow affair, but thankfully he ensures the visuals are mere icing on the cake. King has crafted an emotionally complex narrative, which is hinged on the relationship between the fragile Stephen and the hedonistic, borderline abusive Bunny. The two are the very definition of an odd couple, but their friendship makes perfect sense. Bunny's carefree nature allows Stephen to experience adventure and excitement, while in turn Stephen is able to occasionally remind Bunny of the consequences of his lifestyle, grounding his character just a little. While Bunny may shout the loudest, it is Stephen who makes for the far more interesting character, and it is through his insecure outlook that we witness events unfolding. Bunny and the Bull is never in a rush to reveal too much, and King shows an assured hand in how and when we learn the real reason behind Stephen locking himself away from the outside world. Until the big reveal -- and hidden amongst the film's wonderful sense of humor -- there are small moments that explore Stephen's emotional state, and which act as the film's real hook. It may be a surprise to many that Bunny and the Bull isn't just interested in making you laugh. Although its visuals are the most immediately striking aspect of the film, Bunny and the Bull has far more depth, and its emotional core is honest and touching.
King has assembled a cast of oddball characters who, when allied with the film's tone and emotional undercurrent, are reminiscent of several of Charlie Kaufman's screenplays, with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind being the most obvious, and accurate, comparison as it uses ones memory as the device that shapes the story. Thankfully King ensures that Bunny and the Bull is no mere copy, as he marries these elements to a very British comedic sensibility; his film also offers a very different storyline, despite its structure being similar to the aforementioned film. Fans of The Mighty Boosh, whom I wouldn't necessarily count myself among, should find themselves in tune with the film's humor from the off. A sequence featuring Boosh main man Julian Barratt as a vagrant who insists on drinking milk from a dog's teat being very much in keeping with King's TV roots. That said: King has reined in some of the more bizarre elements of that show to allow his feature debut more universal appeal, all done without watering down his vision. That's quite some achievement. Comparisons to Withnail and I are not far wide of the mark, and like Bruce Robinson's cult classic, Bunny and the Bull sparkles with its dialogue. Much like the rest of the film, the dialogue finds much of its inspiration in marrying the mundanity of everyday life with moments of the ridiculous. It's also full of profanity, with the recurring line, "Are you fucking my face?," likely to be quoted endlessly by those who fall for the movie's charms.
The cast is full of faces that should be familiar to anyone with more than a passing interest in British comedy. Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt (The Mighty Boosh) both make brief, but memorable appearances, as does Richard Ayoade (The IT Crowd). Taking the film's lead, however, is the less well-known Edward Hogg (Brothers of the Head) as Stephen Turnbull. Hogg's performance is note-perfect, and ensures the audience is always on his side; despite this the fragility that Hogg lends the character often sees us laughing at his meekness. Simon Farnaby (Your Highness) plays Bunny, and matches Hogg stride for stride. Farnaby's role is more knowingly humorous, leaving open the possibility of jokes falling flat if the actor had overplayed his part. Thankfully this isn't the case, and Farnaby ably carries the majority of the film's comedy. Joining up with Stephen and Bunny on their trip is the loud, vulgar, but still sweet Eloisa, played by Veronica Echegui.
The film is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer, which impresses with its color palette and good levels of detail. Often colors will appear a little unnatural, but this is more to do with the visual style employed than any technical failings. Blacks are strong throughout. The 5.1 soundtrack also scores well, with clear dialogue and the film's quirky score sitting well in a balanced mix. Extras are a little sparse, with only a 13-minute "Behind the Scenes" featurette, and a series of interviews with the cast and director. Both are fine, in so far as they offer us a glimpse at the creativity behind the film, but there's not enough here to really satisfy.
A genuine surprise, Bunny and the Bull is proof that the British film industry can still knock out creative (and entertaining) pictures, and marks Paul King out as a talent to keep an eye on.
As with drinking milk from a dog's teat, Bunny and the Bull won't be for everyone; its structure will confuse some as much as its offbeat humor alienates others.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated