Film reviews

Manchester Film Festival: Bernard and Huey

Friendships can last a lifetime, but they can also last for five minutes. Friendships can end, but then resume after years apart. Friends can see friends reverse roles, but for roles to reserve again. In Bernard and Huey, old friends are reunited, but only for disastrous consequences.

The origin of Bernard and Huey lies within Jules Feiffer’s creations way back in 1957. Furthermore, Feiffer produced a produced a screenplay, but it was then, essentially, lost in time…until it was ultimately discovered after conversions between both Feiffer and the eventual director of Bernard and Huey, Dan Mirvish. In the time between character creation and eventual screenplay recovery, the characters appeared in comic strips, featured in both Playboy and The Village Voice.

Bernard and Huey opens with grainy flashbacks from what appears to be around their young adult years, the title characters, Bernard and Huey, are the opposites of each other – Bernard (Oscar-winner, Jim Rash) is pretentious and shy towards women, whereas Huey (Anchorman’s David Koechner) is the rock ‘n’ roll ladies man, who possesses a book of female contacts for Bernard to try connecting with.

After 25 years apart, the former best friends have, essentially, switched roles from the grainy flashbacks. Bernard possesses a successful career, a very empty New York bachelor pad, but he is still a tad pretentious or just annoying, however, the real difference is that he is now wild in the bedroom. Huey, on the other hand, is a downright slob, and is first presented (in the present) escaping out of a taxi from his cartoonist daughter, Zelda (DC Super Hero Girls’ Mae Whitman), and seeks refuge in the home of his old buddy, Bernard.  The reunion is met with confusion from Bernard, as Huey is more or less unrecognisable from the womaniser of yesteryear.

The reunion of the present is the genesis of a throwback to the past, as Huey returns to form as a womaniser, whereas Bernard, though forming a sexual relationship with Zelda, he is back to his nebbish tendencies. Huey’s womanising entails encounters with both Bernard’s co-worker of whom he knew back in his heyday, Mona (Last Man Standing’s Nancy Travis) and Bernard’s on-off girlfriend, Roz (Rizzoli & Isles’ Sasha Alexander).

Jim Rash’s performance as Bernard is an interesting one because it is debatable whether Rash is annoying as an actor or whether his character, Bernard, is supposed to be annoying. Harsh, perhaps, but Bernard’s downfall in the final act of Bernard and Huey feels almost deserving and justified, purely because of the preceding annoyance, but then he continues to be annoying until the credits…

As a sleazy womaniser, Huey is arguably more despicable than Bernard, however, David Koechner’s better performance makes the character much more likeable. Furthermore, because in the present, audiences are presented with a down-on-his-luck Huey – estranged daughter, divorced, walked away from family due to issues, and lumpy – there is an initial sympathy in the subconscious and curiosity also, as we look to find why Huey has regressed to the way he is.

Zelda, though not exactly her dad’s biggest fan, is somewhat resembling of her dad in her treatment of Bernard. Bernard feels like settling down with Zelda, but she ultimately sees Bernard as a stepping stone, and uses her brief relationship with him to her advantage, as he attempts to open doors for her to establish her graphic cartoonist creations. Mae Whitman’s performance as Zelda is refreshing, despite parallels with her father – she’s young and discovering what she wants in life.

Self-discovery is of great importance in Bernard and Huey. Director Dan Mirvish conveys this terrifically throughout Bernard and Huey, from beginning to end. Self-discovery is relevant not just to the title characters of Bernard and Huey, but to its supporting cast too, and most importantly, self-discovery is used in a manner to establish the best version of a character, thus this usage is ultimately positive in what can be read as a misogynistic indie film.

The flashbacks are the true gems of Bernard and Huey. Shot on Super16 Kodak film, the flashback versions of Bernard and Huey not only looking like their present day counterparts, but they talk and sound like them too, of which is tremendous filmmaking. The flaw with a flashback is that they are hard to truly buy into if the subject of said flashback poses little-to-no resemblance to their present day counterpart, but in Bernard and Huey, immersion and believability were done to perfection.

Dan Mirvish’s ability to create believability in imagery is not limited to flashbacks and present in Bernard and Huey, as the title characters themselves pose a striking resemblance to the comic strip characters of which they are adapted from – something of which Mirvish was proud of during the post-premiere Q&A.

Ultimately, Bernard and Huey is a terrific independent comedy-drama from Dan Mirvish, based upon the creations of Jules Feiffer. Whilst funny and satisfying at times, the annoyance of Jim Rash’s Bernard, and the various amounts of sexual encountering and misogyny, may create hesitance in whether an individual wishes to see Bernard and Huey.

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