I caught Shaun of the Dead thanks to a friend’s recommendation, and my (then) growing interest in zombies, and thought that it was one of the funniest movies that I’ve ever seen. Then, I saw Hot Fuzz and was underwhelmed by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, or rather, the goofy plot that revolved around serial killers (with a cameo by one James Bond, Timothy Dalton). (I saw Paul, and marveled at the humor that poked fun at beliefs in higher powers that weren’t green, bug-eyed, and saucer flying, even as they challenged my own understandings of the universe.) But I had to come full circle. So, I shelled out $8 to check out the final element of the trinity of the Pegg/Frost/Simon Wright team-up about a one-night pub crawl that ends violently (with a cameo by another James Bond, Pierce Brosnan).
And I found a funny flick, with some interesting commentary on the way we deal with our pain and our expectations, and the way we organize what we believe.
Gary King (Pegg) was the man in high school, and on graduation night, he organizes his friends in a pub crawl of the twelve watering holes in Newton Haven. But they never finish the quest, and years later, it is literally all that King has left. So, he reunites his childhood blokes, Andy (Frost), Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steven (Paddy Considine), and Peter (Eddie Marsan), and drags them along for a recreation of what they were supposed to do that night, even as Oliver’s sister Sam (Rosamund Pike, Bond girl) ends up coming along.
But this isn’t just about completing the crawl, this is about saving the world from utter annihilation! Yes, this time, there are aliens, who are gradually replacing people with robots, all in the name of protecting us from ourselves and ordering the world in the way that is best for everything, globally. It’s funny, and definitely seems to channel V and Terminator, but it also has something to say about our ability to deal with adversity.
I want to write this again: the quest for twelve pubs in one night is literally all that King has left. He’s dealing with a bunch of stuff, but while the other guys have turned into responsible human beings, he’s a million-time loser. And an alcoholic. And a womanizer. And a good-for-nothing friend. He copes with his depression, his loneliness, his left-out-ness with drugs. His friends, his followers, didn’t have the stones to set him straight, and he never had anyone really care enough about him to try and get him help. Sure, he’s defiant and contains the “human spirit” in terms of the movie’s final third, but he’s a broken guy who has lived much of his life alone.
Is it funny? Sure. But it also shows us a more vulnerable side of what it’s like to really struggle (like Christian Bale’s druggie in The Fighter), and lose over and over again. When we don’t have anything to believe or hope in (and we know we ourselves aren’t enough to put all of our hope in), where can we turn? King turns to the bottom of the bottle because community, and faith, and love never really showed up for him in a major way.