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Chunky Monkey (2003)

Contains moments of inoffensive material

Directed by:

Greg Cruttwell

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 88 minutes

US Certificate: N/A UK Certificate: 15

Country: United Kingdom

Shot in just 14 days for a mere £160,000, ‘Chunky Monkey’ could quite easily have gone the way of so many small British productions and simply disappeared into anonymity, but something about this film attracted the attention of vast corporations and international luminaries, like Unilever (who currently own the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream brand), the Rogers and Hammerstein estate, EMI (who control rights to the Rogers and Hammerstein catalogue), ‘illustrious musical comedy actress’ Julie Andrews, and the original creator of ‘Chunky Monkey – the comic strip for kids’. Five separate litigation threats and all sorts of legal wrangling may have stalled the film’s release for three years, but they have also brought it a buzz of media visibility way beyond what its budget could have afforded. Such controversy alone may have been enough to make this film, but it is writer/director Greg Cruttwell and his outstanding ensemble cast that make the film great.

Donald Leek (David Threlfall) is a simple if hot-tempered man from Burnley who likes vegetables and takeaway curry, and strongly dislikes single-testicled men (like his odious, terrapin-crushing cousin Frank) and negligent takeaway managers (like Mr Azam, whom Donald has just sliced up into little pieces). Donald’s “number one ambition in life”, however, is to smear Julie Andrew’s posterior with Chunky Monkey ice cream and get her to sing ‘The Hills Are Alive’ before indulging in prolonged “back-passage sexual activity” (hence all the lawsuits) – and he has even found a woman (Emily Morgan) who has some singing ability, a passing resemblance to Ms. Andrews, and a willingness to indulge his fantasy once a month. Yet shortly before this woman is due to arrive, Donald’s apartment is invaded by a string of uninvited guests – two violently evangelical skinheads (Nicola Stapleton, Danny Nussbaum), an annoying upstairs neighbour (Alison Steadman), a crooning cabaret chanteur (Stephen Mangan), cousin Frank (David Schofield) and his pornstar girlfriend (Elizabeth Woodcock), and even the good Lord’s son himself, reborn in the body of a black man named Trevor (Colin McFarlane). Needless to say, all this unwanted disruption irritates Donald – and Donald is someone you do not want to irritate…

If you find the words ‘British’ and ‘comedy’ tainted by their association with Johnny English, Love, Actually and the like, then here is your antidote. Like an Edward Hopper painting commissioned by Monty Python, ‘Chunky Monkey’ brings together an unlikely cast of off-kilter caricatures into a single setting, and allows an absurdist pantomime of miracles, murder and even song and dance to ensue. Cruttwell’s note-perfect screenplay, lending each character their own insulated (and strangely recognisable) reality, is a miracle in its own right, and is brilliantly incarnated by the cast – especially by Threlfall, whose Donald is the most banal and amiably, ahem, anal of killers seen in cinema since ‘Man Bites Dog’. Although it deals hilariously with matters carnal and carnivalesque, ‘Chunky Monkey’ is a film very much concerned with the spirit – a studied dissection of the place of religion in our atomised, postmodern world. “There’s many ways to follow the Lord”, as the skinhead Mandy says, and ‘Chunky Monkey’ is, amongst other things, about one man’s attempt to create heaven on earth. It will also have you dropping your jaw, pissing your pants and laughing till your head comes clean off.

It's Got: Murder, miracles and mayhem; cabaret and carnality; and a very peculiar sex act.

It Needs: Wide distribution - this is destined to be a cult classic (and not just because Julie Andrews tried to have it banned).

Alternatives:

Abigails Party, Insignificance, Man Bites Dog, Monty Pythons Life of Brian

Summary

Deadpan, deranged, and, like the ice cream after which it is named, an instant cult classic.

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