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20 January 2023

Glass Onion (2022)

Directed by: Rian Johnson
Starring: Daniel Craig, Edward Norton
Janelle Monáe, Kathryn Hahn
Leslie Odom Jr., Jessica Henwick,
Madelyn Cline, Kate Hudson,
Dave Bautista
My husband, Young A and I had watched Knives Out again in preparation for Netflix’s release of Glass Onion on the 23rd of December. So, when the 23rd rolled around, we made a movie night of it. Then, my partner-in-crime Shalini asked me if I wanted to watch Glass Onion with her. Well, why not? So, as I sat down to enjoy the movie again, with the added joy of commenting on it, Young A decided to join us as well. S sat on one end of the couch, reading and watching at the same time (don’t ask!). Unlike our other watchalong reviews, however, I cannot pepper my review with our pithy and intelligent remarks, given that it is a new film and another murder mystery to boot. [There are a few, because I couldn't resist, but not as many as usual.]

Millionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) has once again invited his closest circle of friends, whom he calls ‘The Disrupters’, for a weekend getaway on his luxurious private island in the Aegean Sea. The invitations that are delivered to his friends is sent in puzzle boxes – the kind that opens out to different puzzles that have to be solved to get to the prize. Four of them get into a con call to decide how to open their box but one of the guests has no patience with that sort of thing – she takes a hatchet to it.

[Shalini remarked that she would have, as well.]

The guests include model-turned-influencer Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson) and her frazzled personal assistant, Peg (Jessica Henwick); an ambitious politician Claire Debella (Katherine Hahn); YouTuber and men’s rights’ activist, Duke Cody (Dave Bautista) and his girlfriend, Whiskey (Madelyn Cline); and brilliant scientist, Lionel Touissant (Leslie Odom Jr.) 

And Cassandra ‘Andi’ Brown (Janelle Monáe), the afore-mentioned hatchet-happy invitee, and Bron’s ex-partner.  Last, but not the least, is Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), the great detective himself. They are to spend the weekend solving a murder – Bron’s murder.

Blanc is in between cases and living in his bathtub in sheer frustration when the invitation lands up – it’s a gift from the gods.

[Of course it is, who wouldn’t like to spend a weekend on a Greek island that belongs to a millionaire?
Me: Why do we not have anyone who invites us to their private island? I feel seriously deprived.
S: Why don’t we have our own private island is a better question. Can you think of anyone who deserves to have a private island more than us? Just think of the villain’s lair we could build!
Young A is privately enjoying our conversation more than he’s paying attention to the film.]

All the invited guests meet at the dock to be met by Bron’s man (Ethan Hawke), who has a self-locking wristband and a puff of anti-Covid medicine for everyone before Bron’s yacht can take them all to the island. Blanc is the odd man out, with all the guests wondering why a detective has been invited. Especially since he admits he has never met Bron. But even as they board the yacht, Andi Brown appears, and immediately, the atmosphere changes from bonhomie to awkwardness.

Blanc is filled in on the backstory by Lionel. Miles and Andi had been partners in the tech firm they founded. Until Miles kicked Andi out without a dime. So the question, he tells Blanc, is not why Miles invited Andi, but why she decided to come.

Blanc feels out of place among the rich, but never more so than when he realizes that he had never been invited in the first place. So who invited him? And why?

Miles is not put out at all. Consider yourself invited now, he says. At least, not until Blanc solves his very elaborate mystery game in a flash, and then, his bonhomie is stretched to its limits.
[Edward Norton pouts very well indeed.]

But while Blanc is apologizing to Miles for spoiling his fun, he is also pointing out that the murder mystery game that Miles was gloating over (and had gone to great – and expensive lengths to put together) was a bit like putting a loaded gun on a table in a dark room. Miles has brought together several people who secretly dislike him and has put the idea of murder in their heads.

Then, Duke is killed.

Now, Blanc really has a murder to investigate – not just a pretend murder.

Who would want to kill Duke? And why? Until Miles points out that Duke had drunk from his glass by mistake! Now the cat is really among the pigeons. Andi is the most obvious suspect, since she’s made it clear that she holds a grudge not just against Miles but all the others as well. But then, she’s shot. And the game is getting deadly serious.

Glass Onion is not as ‘neat’ a mystery as Knives Out was. Everything is slightly more over-the-top, slightly more overwrought, slightly more outrageous. [As Shalini pointed out, the set designer and the cinematographer must have had a fine time.

There’s a baby blue Porsche on the roof of the mansion; there’s the talking garden and fantastic sculptures; there are outrageous paintings and ridiculous portraits (one of Edward Norton’s head on Brad Pitt’s body); there are colourful gowns and fantastic (if miniscule) bikinis. There are high profile cameos – Hugh Grant, Angela Lansbury, Stephen Sondheim, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Natasha Lyonee, Serena Williams, Yo-Yo Ma, and… the Mona Lisa.

As in Knives Out, there’s the social commentary, this time aimed at the 1% (Miles Bron is certainly a thinly veiled Elon Musk, even if the director demurs). There are the humorous (if dark-comedy territory, sometimes) and snide asides. For instance, at one point, Birdie shows her PA an email sent by her agent in Bangladesh – that the factory making her sweatpants is the biggest sweat shop in the country, to which Birdie had replied, “Sounds perfect, thanks.” And now the proverbial s*&! has hit the fan, and her beleaguered PA asks her, almost pleadingly, “Oh, Birdie, you didn’t think ‘sweatshop’ was where they made sweatpants, did you?” Birdie’s extravagant shrug is almost comical in its ignorance. Or when Andi accuses the friends of not replying to her emails, “I never email anything that I don’t want to be published on the front page of the Times,” expostulates Claire, much like a typical politician.

The ensemble cast is great, especially Kate Hudson as the ditzy Birdie (though I still feel that she’s not a patch on her glorious mother, Goldie Hawn, who had ditziness down to a T). Birdie is that celebrity who is unconscious of her own privilege and cannot fathom why people cannot understand her need to speak ‘the truth’. As Blanc tells her once, “It’s a dangerous thing to mistake speaking without thought for speaking the truth. Don’t you think?”

But the film belongs to Janelle Monáe. She did a fabulous job of playing Andi and differentiating her from the character she plays later in the film.

As it does to Daniel Craig. Who, as I pointed out earlier as well, seems to be having so much more fun playing Benoit Blanc than he ever did playing James Bond. Here, in the climax, he gets a great monologue which he uses to deflate Bron’s ego.

S: My general impression is that the Glass Onion is trying too hard to be ‘clever’ unlike the first movie.
Me: Knives Out was a bona fide murder mystery; here, the mystery took backseat to the setting.

Director Rian Johnson said that he knew Glass Onion had a more heightened tone, and often wondered (as he was writing it) whether he should tamp it down. But he didn't, he said, because every time he looked at Twitter or turned on the news, he felt that what he was writing was an honest reflection of what it feels to be alive and paying attention to these people. "It [Glass Onion] needed to be ridiculous because they are ridiculous." 

And that really was our final verdict – Glass Onion was a fun, entertaining film while it lasted, and the Beatles’ song in the end was the icing on the cake, but it was no Knives Out.

p.s. My son tells me that at the New Year's Eve party he attended, they watched Glass Onion again, and had a non-alcoholic shot [he swears!] every time Kate Hudson screamed. The score was 11, I think.  

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