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Fantastic Fear of Everything, A
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by Jay Seaver

"A bit more fantastic than fearful."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2012 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: For a while, I had the feeling that "A Fantastic Fear of Everything" had run short and been padded out with Simon Pegg doing a bunch of slapstick. Not a bad way to get a movie up to feature length, if so, but it turns out to be a good deal more planned than that and a great deal odder.

Though Jack (Pegg) has had success as a children's writer, he is currently working on a book about Victorian serial killers. This may not be the greatest match of man and material, as he's already a writer with "a sensitive nature", and the project seems to be sending him over the edge into full-blown paranoia. Though currently reduced to a shaggy-haired mess working in his underpants and a bathrobe, he's still anxious to get into the movies, so when his agent Clair (Clare Higgins) tells him that she's arranged a meeting with a Hollywood producer, it means he will have to confront his most intense phobia: The laundromat.

There's a story to Fantastic Fear, but it takes a while to develop; the female lead doesn't appear until the movie is halfway over. The first half also has to work a few tricks: There's a great deal of narration to cover the fact that Pegg is spending a lot of time on-screen alone, while a phone call with his friend Dr. Friedkin (Paul Freeman) is much more elaborately filmed than usual to keep things from feeling completely static. When Jack finally does get to the launderette, it's for a series of gags that aren't nearly as funny as their careful set-up indicates they should be.

Still, when filmmakers Crispian Mills (writer/director) and Chris Hopewell (co-director, most likely for one specific segment) do get things mostly settled, it's a good job. Amara Karan's Sangeet is a late arrival, but makes a good complement to Pegg's Jack in the last act, which takes what kills many similar comedies (the addition of actual danger to create a climax) and tops it off with a large dollop of absurdity and eccentricity. The story has some impressively extended bits of physical comedy, with careful staging and chain reactions where other filmmakers might go for simple pratfalls. And even if the screenplay does have the sort of cause-and-effect psychology that was Hitchcock's biggest weakness, it owns that in a self-deprecating way.

Most of all, though, it's got Simon Pegg, who is charged with holding down large portions of the movie on his own and does a good job of it. What he does here is pure screen comedy which requires him to look ridiculous but would fail utterly if it settled for that. Pegg makes Jack an absurd, often-stupid character that the audience can identify with, which is not something you see done well very often. Paul Freeman does steal the occasional scene, though, as a psychologist who is concerned about Jack's issues, certainly, but also sees them as a convenient excuse to sneak a cigarette during his grandson's birthday party.

"A Fantastic Fear of Everything" does tend toward extremes - the production design is occasionally overdone and there are absolute dead moments to counter the brilliant ones. Going for broke does work a bit more often than not, though, especially if you're in the mood for a weird comedy.

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originally posted: 08/01/12 16:07:04
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2012 series, click here.

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  07-Feb-2014 (R)

  08-Jun-2012 (15)


Directed by
  Crispian Mills
  Chris Hopewell

Written by
  Crispian Mills

  Simon Pegg
  Sheridan Smith
  Clare Higgins
  Amara Karan
  Paul Freeman

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