After the mid-summer bonanza for Oppenheimer and Barbie, theaters across America haven’t had much to offer. SAG-AFTRA joined WGA that week in July, and as fun as that weekend was, the future was grim. The WGA may be working again, but without any SAG-AFTRA members, film and television promotion remains difficult. Emma Seligman’s Bottoms was the only good new movie I saw in August, and even though the WGA strike has been resolved, all of those fall movies—Challengers, Drive-Away Dolls, Dune: Part 2—are pushed back to the spring. I haven’t going out much because there isn’t much to see. The Charles and Senator in Baltimore continue to host stellar revival programming, but besides Killers of the Flower Moon, the only thing I can think of coming up is the Taylor Swift movie.
Elsewhere in Baltimore, another recent movie has been rented back-to-back for six weeks straight at Beyond Video. Kristoffer Borgli’s Sick of Myself premiered at Cannes 2022 and played a few American festivals in the last year, but it never got a proper theatrical release in this country. Even though Borgli already has a new movie premiering at Venice, Dream Scenario, I figured Sick of Myself was more recent than it was. But this was made right on the heels of Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World, the last Millennial movie. Anders Danielsen Lie, the Gen X boyfriend from that movie, has an excellent scene as a deadpan executioner doctor in Borgli’s film.
Sick of Myself is a broad black comedy, one that still has the trails of last decade but feels like a movie of the 2020s. What defines a 2020s movie? So far, deadpan cruelty and morbid narcissism. Bottoms is the more timid, American step back towards raunchy comedies; Sick of Myself is the rare Scandinavian comedy that translates completely to an English-speaking audience. Unlike the grounded and sobering look back at life that was The Worst Person in the World, Borgli has fun needling his characters like voodoo dolls.
Signe (Kristine Kujath Thorp) is dating Thomas (Erik Sæther), a successful gallery artist in Oslo. They’re both fame-hungry and fame-obsessed, two dysfunctional, shallow people headed straight into the gutter. Their friends and the people around them aren’t much better: etiquette and repressed desires drive everything while souls rot over countless dinner parties and art openings. Signe wants to be famous, so she goes to her drug dealer and orders a ton of banned Russian downers that’ll give her severe skin lesions, along with myriad health problems inevitably leading to death. And she only did this because she helped a woman who got bit by a dog, and saw how everyone paid attention to her and the woman—the latter for being badly hurt, the former for “being a hero.”
Signe goes on to exploit her physical deformities and regular medical issues (throwing up blood, hair falling out, scalp disintegrating, face bandaged like a mummy) for as much cultural clout as she can, but even in Sick of Myself, you can feel people becoming exhausted with this way of living and doing business. When she ends up modeling for a “disability” campaign, everyone is tiptoeing around the absurdity of having a grotesque, monstrous woman model clothing while she bleeds from her forehead. She’s feted as “brave” at dinner parties, but eventually her problems become too severe for people to humor anymore. People only have so much time for the sick.
I heard some complaints that the movie was too broad, too cruel, without enough investigation into the boyfriend and Signe’s relationship with him. But I didn’t think the movie wanted to reckon with these characters beyond using them crash test dummies and, well, Barbies. Like Bottoms, its particular single-minded approach is at odds with much recent cinema, but in sync with the post-American Pie raunchy comedies. All of these films had their perfunctory romantic scenes, but no moralizing; something that’s missing from 2020s broad black cruel comedy is some heart somewhere. There’s an enormous amount of love in Dude, Where’s My Car? and 40 Days and 40 Nights—but not in these films, and in that way, they correspond to our time more than anything else out now.
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