It’s strange to think that anything billed as a comedy with big names gets undeservedly overlooked by comedy fans, but such is the case with Roman Polanski’s adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s hit stage play God of Carnage. With a stellar cast — Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Cristoph Waltz and John C. Reilly — Carnage, though still somewhat preening in it’s identity as a stage play about the unavoidable truths of human nature, proves its worth as a comedy for more than just people that go that see live theater; the kind of theater that isn’t stand-up, sketch or improv.
It’s not surprising how great the performances in Carnage are. With the weight of four Oscars garnered by just Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, and Cristoph Waltz along with John C. Reilly’s Oscar nod when he sang and danced in the film adaptation of Chicago, Carnage should be a clinic of virtuosic acting. And it is. Waltz and Reilly deliver comedically, as expected from their efforts, respectively in Inglorious Basterds and plenty of Funny or Die sketches. Though the expectation of some of such veteran actresses as Winslet and Foster might be to overplay their characters in an ensemble comedy, but they maintain the numerous set pieces of entertaining bickering that is the focal point of Carnage.
Following the dispute of two sets of parents whose kids got into a fight, the film restricts itself very closely to the limits of the stage, especially as the movie takes place entirely in real time. Without a moment to cut away from the escalation of dueling sets of parents to four really pissed off people, the awkwardness is exacerbated in being on screen and not live in the flesh, adding another humorous layer to the already awkward situation. Yet, the presence of director Roman Polanski’s cinematic touch is hardly felt. The camera simply witnesses the stripping of niceties and social mores between four adults as objectively as possible, leaving more to be desired from the oft-described cinema master. The moments that were probably necessary set-up for the play, prove to be almost unnecessary moments of stillness prolonging the satisfying movie’s title.
The starting pace of Carnage not unlike Step Brothers (which Reilly was in); it’s slow and pedestrian. Yet, this film delivers on the laughs heartily and heavily just like any viral video where people end up hilariously debasing themselves despite their social status or moral beliefs– like self-proclaimed celebrities whining about butter. Essentially, Carnage might seem like a pretentious examination of the human condition in the form of a dramedy, which it sort of lives up to, but ends up being a laugh-out loud comedy.