Review: The Curse Episodes 1, 2 and 3 (NYFF 61)

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Title: The Curse
Creators: Nathan Fielder, Benny Safdie
Starring: Nathan Fielder, Emma Stone, Benny Safdie
MPAA Rating: Not Yet Rated

What It Is: An alleged curse disturbs the relationship of a newly married couple as they try to conceive a child while co-starring on their new HGTV show.

What We Think: What better melding of the minds than with the wired pace of Benny Safdie and deadpan gravitas of Nathan Fielder? The Curse satirizes the clean, ritzy feel of home improvement reality shows, injecting it it with an insane dose of intensity, hilarity and unsettling undertones to form a story that is by all means, ludicrous. Nathan Fielder and Emma Stone are Asher and Whitney Siegel, a couple who are meant for each other in a healthy balance of right and wrong ways – their dynamic is weird and twisted with an awkwardly cocky Fielder playing off of a colder yet equally strange Stone. Safdie is barely recognizable taking on the role of Dougie, under a beard, glasses and long Rastafarian hair. He’s a videographer who fully believes in his vision, albeit sometimes going to absurd lengths to fulfill it. One standout involves getting Asher to buy a six pack of soda from a girl in a parking lot in order to get good coverage of his “character” – an event that has some pretty severe consequences for these characters.

Such absurdity is perfectly in style of The Curse. From the first episode, the building blocks of suburban falsehood these characters sinisterly construct begin to shape a narrative take unlike anything I’ve seen before in a show. The writing is outstanding and marries perfectly with the actor’s performances, through long conversations laced with venomous verbal sparring as well as (signature Safdie) nerve-wracking sequences depicting the deeds Asher, Whitney and Dougie commit, all partially shot documentary-style in the vein of reality shows or through a grainy, seedy lens.

Fans of Fielder and Safdie alike will notice their touches here – there might be a slow zoom on a characters face as they think (or react) over a decision that has been made, a muffled electronic soundtrack pounding as we inch closer and closer, like similar shots we’ve seen before in Safdie pictures. For Fielder, it lies more in his performance and the writing of the show, with a sarcastic nasally tone delivering some of the best lines within these first three episodes. As for Stone, who is already having a fantastic year with Poor Things, her facial expressions respond and morph within seconds, showing glimpses of her character’s actual feelings towards a situations moments after she reacts in the opposite manner.

Once more, these three lead performances are amazing in how they lean into their respective roles in the world of the show – Asher the unassuming fool, Whitney the cool-headed yet borderline bridling queen, Dougie the innocent pawn with a passion. There’s no stopping the manic forces this show invokes with each passing moment, especially with their performances. And this is only from the first three episodes.

Our Grade: A; The Curse is handled brilliantly through darkly twisted and hilarious writing, with performances that immensely amplify its wordplay and sequences, which carry the same energy as the devil in disguise looking at you warmly and saying, “everything’s not going to be okay” – like the distorted mirror houses Stone’s character designs reflecting the reality they’re trying to perfect.

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