Big Nothing

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"I just drowned a man of the cloth in crap! "

Sept 27th, 2011

It's funny how really good films never get the recognition they deserve. When Big Nothing was released (only in cinemas in the UK) I gave it a skip despite starring two comedians (David Schwimmer, Simon Pegg) that I quite enjoy. I eventually caught it on TV (I had forgotten about it to even consider a DVD release) and was amazed how such a good film could fly so far under the radar.

I could sit here and blame the dodgy marketing campaign that failed to really show what the film was like but in retrospect it really was intentionally vague. Big nothing has many surprising twists and turns that if you knew about them in advance would dampen your enjoyment. For years I have been decrying movie trailers for revealing too much information that when a movie actually follows through by restricting content it ends up forgotten (It seems only Inception has managed to pull this off effectively).

I'm going to keep this plot description as vague as possible as I really think a lot of the enjoyment is never knowing where the film is going to go. Charlie (Schwimmer) is a loving family man struggling with paying the bills. After being fired on his first day at a call centre he is approached by 1-day college Gus (Pegg) with a plan that could make them money. Featuring blackmail, murder and double crosses to say that things don't go to plan is an understatement.

When you read the above synopsis it sounds like every other mismatched pair comedy and in a way it is. What makes this stand out though are the fantastic performances turned in by both Pegg and Schwimmer. Rather than just playing up the lovable fool characters they are known for they are more grounded in reality with harsher and unlikeable aspects that people usually have. That and the fact that you never really know where things are going plot wise. As a viewer you know that things are going to fall apart for our two leads but it happens in such a spectacular and unpredictable fashion.

I've seen it said that Schwimmer plays completely against type with a character differing from that Of Ross on Friends but I don't see that much of a difference. While the character of Charlie is more grown up and adult than his comical counterpart he still retains geeky factoids and an unsociable manner. This is all explained within the films narrative but I don't think it was that much of a stretch for Schwimmer.

Pegg has always been enjoyable to watch from the TV series Spaced to Shaun of the Dead but recently I've been getting bored of his constant appearances in American films. There's nothing wrong with him per say but I no longer buy him as a legitimate character within the film world but as Simon Pegg in (Star Trek, Mission Impossible etc.). In Big Nothing however he really is more fully developed and I bought him as Gus not Pegg.

It's a shame that this film didn't perform better as this is the type of performance I would rather see from Pegg. That said there is one major downfall in his portrayal and that is the American accent he puts on throughout the flick. It's not a bad imitation but due to the status of Pegg and familiarity with his vocal performances it's hard to accept him as an American. It's actually quite jarring during the first couple of minutes of his screen time and while you eventually get used to it I think it was a bad choice. In fact Gus as a character is never really given a fully fleshed out backstory (which is quite key to his motivations) which means he could have retained his British accent throughout and it would have worked just as well.

The rest of the supporting cast are fantastically quirky and surreal at times but one gives an outstanding turn that actually upstages both Schwimmer and Pegg. Alice Eve plays Josie a former lover of Gus who forces her way into their get rich quick scheme. Her passion and excitement displayed in the role is infectious and you can't help get behind her character no matter how depraved her actions may be, her American accent is also far more effective than Pegg's. I kind of wish that Alice Eve had more roles similar to this. It's clear that she is a great actress and has the potential for greatness but her current output to cinema has been somewhat lacking. Currently playing to the role of pretty girlfriend it's hard to not watch any film she's in and not be a little disappointed, not matter how many times she takes her top off (Sex and the City 2).

Great performances aside knowing that this was a black comedy really didn't prepare me for the tale that followed the opening 20 minutes. While invoking a similar tone to films like Shallow Grave and In Bruges this film is far less forgiving to its cast of characters. The brutal and violent nature of events sometimes is a little over baring when combine with the comedy. The ending seemed to come out of the left field and was managed to leave a sour taste and dark spot on an over wise great movie.

I did like the ending but can't deny it is tonally wrong for the film and falls apart under close scrutiny. SPOILERS follow till the end of this paragraph only read if you have seen the film. SPOILERS BEGIN. After Schwimmer's death why are we to believe that Josie would be unable to locate the money. Josie was established as a highly intelligent individual who remained in Charlie's presence for most of the film. It wouldn't be much of a stretch to figure out he either hid it in the police station or with his family, minor quibble but I had to put it out there SPOILER END.

I'd like to see Pegg and Schwimmer in another film together as their chemistry works well and Pegg is always more entertaining when he has someone to verbally spare with. Big Nothing is a great film and a hidden gem that really deserves to be discovered. While it may go into darker territory than initially expected it is a fun ride that has the ability to surprise.

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