Friday, March 15, 2013

The Cinema File #136: "Inseparable" Review

Fair warning, I'm about to talk about a movie I just watched called Inseparable, a Chinese/English hybrid fantasy comedy starring Kevin Spacey, and I've come to the conclusion that I can't talk about how much I liked the film without giving away a major plot twist. I personally don't consider it to be a spoiler because it is something that is revealed in the first twenty minutes or so, so its not like a "Bruce Willis was dead the whole time" moment or anything, but if you like to go into movies knowing as little as possible so as to be surprised, you might want to skip this one, and just take my word for it that the movie is very good.

Inseparable is the story of Li, an office drone in China who finds emotional escape from a series of mounting personal and professional problems by sparking a friendship with a mysterious eccentric American named Chuck. That's about as general a synopsis as I can muster, doing my best to avoid all the stuff about superheroes, angels, exploding tofu, and hostages in diapers, and it sidesteps a very important element of the story, which is that one of the two main characters doesn't actually exist. You see, Li has gone temporarily insane due to stress,  and in order to deal with his increasingly out of control life, he has imagined that the impulsive, free wheeling dad from American Beauty is his best friend.

Its like if Fight Club was a buddy comedy, where instead of forming underground homoerotic terrorist cells, a Chinese Ed Norton and his Tyler Durden decide to become costumed vigilantes, and the whole split personality twist ending thing is learned right away by everyone, audience included, and just sort of accepted. Yes, there are some awkward moments where the relationship interferes with his life, but for the most part, Li prefers the delusion where he has a friend by his side to his real life as an alienated shlub and just rolls with it, stitching together his own superhero outfit and going out on the town when they decide together on a whim to initiate the "de-assholing" of the city.

Naturally, I would probably not have seen this movie were it not for the presence of Kevin Spacey, and while I almost always enjoy him, I think this might be my favorite Spacey performance in some time (Fred Claus included). The American Beauty comparison is actually very apt, as this is that same wacky kind of character who ignores social niceties in order to live a more carefree lifestyle, which is of course much easier when you aren't a real person. It affords Spacey the opportunity to cut loose and embrace a silly side that any fan of his work will no doubt appreciate. As the title suggests, the relationship between Li and Chuck is central to the movie and the two have a great chemistry from literally the first five minutes on, and despite the strange circumstances surrounding their connection to one another, you never lose the sense that these two genuinely care about each other.

Beyond the oddball humor, the film is surprisingly heartfelt and almost had me choking up by the end. Li is a man who can't move on after a recent series of tragedies that have befallen him, so stuck in place that he can't bring himself to flush a dead fish he bought months ago. His journey is about reconnecting with the world and with his wife and learning to face his problems head on rather than pretending they don't exist, and the only way to learn this is to paradoxically pretend that Chuck exists and live in a fantasy where he doesn't have to work and can fight crime at night. If I had one complaint, it concerns a moment towards the end where the film tries to shift briefly into a thriller as the fantasy begins to turn into a nightmare, which presents a twist within the twist of the movie that is reversed almost immediately. It might have worked had they stuck with it, even though it made no sense given what we had seen up to that point, but as it is, it just seems unnecessary.

Overall, I highly recommend giving Inseparable a chance. Most of the film is in English and the subtitles are not intrusive if that's something you aren't usually into, and despite the complicated premise it is extremely accessible and almost instantly charming from beginning to end. Definitely check it out if you happen to come across it.

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