By: Jolie Featherstone
Charlie and Hannah’s Grand Night Out is a supremely playful romp that follows two friends as they embark on a madcap night out in Antwerp. Charlie and Hannah, two friends with their own goals for the night ahead, imbibe “magical” candy to amplify their night on the town. As the candy works its “magic”, Charlie and Hannah are whisked into a journey of mystical proportions.
Reminiscent of the socially-aware absurdist comedies of Jacques Tati, Charlie and Hannah’s Grand Night Out touches a generational nerve. Brimming with quirkiness and eccentricity, the film examines the tension between youthful abandon and the underlying anxiety induced by relationships, friends, and social capital that are signature to one’s twenties and thirties. It also exemplifies another common thought of that time: no existential crisis is so dire that it can’t be mitigated, if temporarily, by a night of revelry.
The film paints a conscious mood throughout with fluid cinematography and animation, shifting aspect ratios, and enchanting music. It conjures the essence and aesthetic of 1960s French New Wave. The film riffs on the existential musings of twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings amidst a flurry of friends, drugs, drinks, misadventures, and parties. It’s a playground for the senses. Borders between time and space cease to exist. Body parts talk. A mysterious bordello is populated with feminist literary icons such as Emma and the Bennett sisters. The characters wander through a black hole. They ride a polar bear. Catherine the Great and a friendly mummy join the fray. Yet, the bizarre elements align with the mental and emotional rungs Charlie and Hannah climb throughout the film. Indeed, don’t body parts talk to us through twinges and tingles? Doesn’t confronting a toxic ex-partner sometimes feel like trudging through the clutches of a black hole? Although the film is knowingly, twinkle-eyed absurdist, its outlandish incarnations are based on the characters’ real feelings and anxieties. It is a fun dream, with the exception of two aspects handled insensitively. There is a scene wherein two characters dress as geishas, and another scene when they jokingly describe an apparent sexual assault. These two items don’t serve to effectively push any commentary forward.
The film is a sensual circus for the mind with its experimental – but never stuffy – visuals, seamless practical effects, and irresistible energy. It’s a whimsical and eccentric adventure that only leaves me with one question – where was my invitation?
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