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Rainn Wilson gives the performance of the year in SUPER. Don’t kid yourself with this one, it’s the real deal. There is a prayer scene early in the movie that goes from funny to poignant to heartbreaking back to funny and Wilson nails every beat like an uncanny master of the acting craft. He blew me away. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
Isn’t it great when your expectations are met? How about when they’re obliterated by the sheer ambition, nay, success of the film you’re watching? Heaven.
This happened to me a couple of days ago when I attended a screening of the absolutely fantastic Attack The Block (my thoughts on that one HERE) and it’s happened to me again tonight with SUPER. I had been waiting for this movie ever since James Gunn finally announced it on his blog almost 2 years ago. I’m a big fan of the guy and any news of him working on a feature length was good news to me.
Now here we are, after so much torturous waiting, with SUPER. We are so lucky…
Without giving too much away: SUPER tells the story of Frank D’Arbo, a man who turns to vigilantism (under the guise of a superhero named The Crimson Bolt) when a sleazy pusher steals his girlfriend. Along the way he meets Libby, fearlessly played by Ellen Page, who becomes his sidekick Bolty.
Ellen Page is amazing in this. She is a lightning bolt of energy, a young woman who is desperate for a way to externalize all the mayhem and turmoil that is clearly cooking up a storm inside of her. She finds that outlet in her alter ego Bolty. What is fantastic is that her reverence for The Crimson Bolt is true, she actually really believes that his quest is just and that it can only be an honor to serve along side him. She never for one seconds finds this middle aged man the least bit pathetic in his attempts to fix his completely messed up life by handing out justice wherever he believes it’s needed.
And that brings us to Rainn Wilson. There is no doubt that he is playing a truly deranged man. This is seriously the sickest, most grotesque superhero story ever put to film. I don’t mean this as an attack, by the way, as it is also without a doubt one of the most honest and therefore satisfying take on the superhero myth that I’ve ever seen. People have brought up last year’s (really great) Kick-Ass as a comparison and that’s just wrong. No, SUPER isn’t much more related to Kick-Ass as it is to Batman, but it is a distant cousin to TAXI DRIVER. That’s where you need to be looking. It took me a while to realize that Rainn Wilson was reminding me of Travis Bickle but once it did I couldn’t get it out of my head. Not that one performance (or character, for that matter) is copied on the other, but again, they are cinematic cousins (also SUPER is a lot funnier than TAXI DRIVER). Rainn Wilson strattles the lines between pathetic and endearing, between delusional and likeable, like a fucking pro.
The other truly astonishing victory of SUPER is how the movie keeps pushing itself to give you things you aren’t expecting, to go places you never think it would. It goes from funny to dramatic to grotesquely violent to touching without ever missing a step. It fucking succeeds at every goddammed thing it tries. And the last twenty minutes elevate it from a really great movie to an absolute triumph.
The movie never passes judgement on Frank D’Arbo. It never once winks at the camera and let’s you know that this is all a joke. It’s not a joke. It’s at times extremely funny, but through it all Frank is dead serious, and the movie treats him with respect. At the end of it all, when the lights go up and the credits roll, you are left with having to formulate your own opinion of the guy. That’s a great way to end things.
The real hero here is James Gunn, for having written and directed the most personal, the funniest, the most heartbreaking, the sickest and the most irreverent superhero movie ever made. Right now I just want to shake the man’s hand and thank him…