When is a road movie not a road movie? Writer/director Paul King’s new film Bunny And The Bull takes a unique approach to the genre, featuring as it does a lead character who spends the entire picture refusing to leave his house.
It’s not as straightforward as that, of course; as the film begins, we are introduced to Stephen (Edward Hogg) who, we are told, has spent the last year as a total recluse, not daring to venture outside. He has also been obsessively keeping and cataloguing everything, from his drinking straws to his urine.
Put simply, Stephen is not a well man. But when a mice infestation forces him to reach outside of his comfort zone, Stephen is launched (sometimes literally) into a series of flashbacks which explain his condition. Think Lost, but surreal, British and over in under two hours.
After being knocked back by a girl he’s had his eye on for three years, Stephen is consoled by his larger-than-life best friend, Bunny (Simon Farnaby). Bunny is everything that Stephen isn’t; he’s loud, impulsive, and a big hit with the ladies. He also has a bit of a gambling problem. But when one of Bunny’s ‘dead certs’ actually pays off, he decides to take his forlorn friend on a trip through Europe, aiming to mend his broken heart (or at the very least, get him laid).
Along the way, they encounter a variety of strange characters, including a mad Hungarian tramp with an unhealthy attachment to his dogs, the tour guide of a shoe museum, and the feisty-but-insecure Eloisa (Veronica Echegui), with whom Stephen falls hopelessly (and inevitably) in love.
As the trio journey to her Spanish hometown, friendships are tested, lessons aren’t learned, and a stuffed bear is stolen; you get the idea.
In the hands of another director, this could have made for a rather pedestrian Britcom. However, Paul King, in a natural extension of his work on The Mighty Boosh, uses back-projection and model work to set Stephen’s memories within a cartoon-like fantasy landscape, with backdrops made of newspaper, a clockwork fairground and a golden bull made from cutlery being just a few of the treats on offer.
A lot of thought has gone into artistically linking Stephen’s two worlds, and subsequent viewings of the film are likely to further reward the viewer as they spot the various items from Stephen’s flat among the backdrops.
There are clearly influences from directors like Terry Gilliam coming into play here, but King has managed to develop a unique and brilliant visual style of his own, which he will, hopefully, pursue further as his film career progresses.
The visual style may have come from working on The Mighty Boosh, but this is definitely not a Boosh movie. The characters and humour are, for the most part, much more grounded in reality than those in Boosh. Even Bunny, with his excesses and recklessness, still seems like someone you might actually meet (indeed, several aspects of Bunny’s character were borrowed from tales of Farnaby’s father), and much of the humour arises from the differences between his and Stephen’s approaches to life.
The film does occasionally voyage into the surreal, particularly when Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt make their brief appearances, as a former matador and the aforementioned dog-loving tramp, respectively. (The pair do not appear together in the film.)
While often very funny, these moments sit uneasily alongside the more serious moments in the tale, and seem almost as if they were dropped in as a concession to any Boosh fans who had been pulled in expecting a different movie. This repeated tonal shifting did seem slightly disconcerting, and it wasn’t until the end scenes that I felt the comic and the tragic had been properly married together.
Cameos aside, this is a classic buddy movie, and Simon Farnaby and Edward Hogg do an excellent job of bringing to life the unlikely bond that exists between this mismatched pair of characters. Farnaby, in particular, manages to tread a fine line between milking the comic potential out of the Bunny character and turning him into a caricature. A special mention should also go to Veronica Echegui as Eloisa, who slowly peels back the layers on her seemingly loud and fiery character to reveal the vulnerable (and rather innocent) girl underneath.
Bunny And The Bull, despite the slight tonal problems, is clearly a very heartfelt film, and it’s one that deserves to be seen, not least for the visuals. And it’s a great film to see if you want to laugh; just don’t go in expecting Mighty Boosh: The Movie and you won’t be disappointed.
Bunny & The Bull is released on 27th November.