The Office aside, I have never really understood the acclaim or thrall that Ricky Gervais seems to inspire in his fans. Far too often I find that his mean-spirited humour is just that – too mean-spirited. Characters can still be held up for derision whilst retaining audience affection (Him and Her does this brilliantly) but Gervais seems to revel in ridiculing his characters to the extreme.
His latest effort, Special Correspondents, was released on Netflix with Gervais stating publically that the streaming service has allowed ‘auteurs’ like himself the freedom to express themselves creatively. Not only is his description of himself as an ‘auteur’ questionable, but his statement also belies the fact that the film was in reality shopped around various film before Gervais was forced to accept Netflix’s offer.
If Special Correspondents really does demonstrate Gervais’ own creative output, then it is apparent to me that Gervais lacks any real skill in narrative, acting and writing dialogue. There are not enough superlatives to convey just how frustrating a watch this film is. In time, Special Correspondents will be used as an example in Media and Film classes, highlighting to students how important well-written dialogue is.
Featuring a ridiculous and quite frankly dull narrative, the film focuses on Frank Bonneville (Eric Bana), a correspondent for a radio news station, and his interactions with Ian Finch (Gervais). Frank and Ian are instructed to cover a potential political uprising in Ecuador but are unable to attend after Ian accidently throws the pair’s passports away. Rather than treating the situation in a rational manner, the pair decides to fake their arrival in Ecuador, delivering daily reports of falsified, dramatized information.
In the midst of this is a love plot that is thoroughly uninspiring and unengaging and seems to have been added purely in the attempt to create an emotional connection for the audience. In reality, it fails to do so, especially when Gervais’ character, who is so irritating and loathsome has not only managed to marry Vera Farmiga, but also courts the attention of Kelly Macdonald. I’m not for one moment suggesting that Gervais’ character could not attract such women, but it seems unfortunate that in writing such a plot device, Gervais has fallen into using the improbable troupe of averagely attractive men ensnaring utterly beautiful women.
This is not the only stereotype that Gervais chooses to indulge in; he also makes use of the tired trope of female characters being entirely good or entirely bad. Perhaps Gervais, who regularly pontificates about his education in interviews, would do well to read up on his feminist theory, or at the very least read Gilbert and Gubar’s seminal text. In addition to this, he might want to check how to portray ethnicity in a more progressive way than he has chosen to do so here, in which the only characters of colour are reduced to idiotic, incomprehensible stereotypes.
If this wasn’t questionable enough, the film simply doesn’t work on a basic level. He defies the most rudimentary rule in scriptwriting: show don’t tell. The characters are constantly stating to us their feelings and their motivations, as if audience is unable to understand a character without having it explicitly highlighted and explained to them. In addition, the writing relies far too much on using simple signifiers to inform us about a character, as a result we are treated to endless scenes in which Frank is dressed in a leather jacket and wearing sunglasses in order to show how much of a ‘cool guy’ he is.
I understand that my critique may read as a diatribe, but when there are so many talented filmmakers out there who are struggling to get funding, I find it incredibly frustrating that Gervais is still able to write and direct his own projects when he clearly displays absolutely no artistry or even understanding of film.
The cast, with the exception of Gervais, do their best with the material given, but when it’s as bad as this, there’s not much even the most talented actor can do.