Nathan Fielder’s The Curse is nothing like what you’d expect. But what is it?

The Curse, Nathan Fielder, Emma StoneYou know, I really hadn’t planned on talking about The Curse … not until I saw the last episode and now, I … I have to… I mean … what the hell?

You know, I’ve never been a big fan of the ‘comedy of discomfort,” all the way back to Andy Kaufman and for that matter Don Rickles. And Nathan Fiedler’s stuff, like The Rehearsal, just left me kind of cold. So I was ready to give his new series on Paramount Plus and Showtime a pass … until I saw that Emma Stone was co-starring.

She’s just… amazing. Always worth watching, never the same twice. Not since Easy A and her round as Gwen Stacey in Spider-Man through Birdman and La-La Land and the Zombieland films. Even Cruella. And I can’t wait for her Bride of Frankenstein gig, Poor Things, later this year. So when I saw she was on board … okay, I’ll give it a try.

This has got to be the most quietly disturbed and disturbing, under-the-radar nasty little film about self-involved and selfish people, and I was willing to let that lie, unexamined. Until … that ending. Man, that ending…

Okay: basic premise. You have a recently married couple, Whitney and Asher. She is a shining, brittle, invulnerable incarnation of white privilege – always smiling, always insincere, always assuming she’ll get what she wants. She’s married to a broken schlub of a man who is absolutely, totally dedicated to her and her two greatest ambitions: to have a baby and to be important, to be respected over and apart from her sleazy property-development parents – who are just as greedy and self-righteous as she is

We pick up their story when they’ve already purchased a few homes in a struggling New Mexico town called Espanola, where she has the frankly crazy idea to convert the homes into her version of ‘eco-friendly’ … which means basically having them hermetically sealed, with their own air supply, power, and water, so they have nothing to do with the environment. And then to sell them to ‘deserving’ people at prices that no one near Espagnola can afford. Oh, and while she’s doing it? They’re going to make a reality show about it, about this cute couple changing the world, called ‘Flipanthropy’ – yeah, probably the worst title ever. And that puts a director//producer guy in the picture – Dougie Schecter, played by Fielder’s co-creator Bennie Safdie, who is just as self-involve and manipulative as Whitney, but way more obvious about it. HGTV has actually agreed to pick the show up,. Never mind that the whole idea of these ‘eco-friendly’ houses is a technological nightmare, just a terrible idea. No: Bennie doesn’t care if it’s authentic or even accurate, he just wants it on, and he’ll do anything to get there. He’s kind of, sort of, getting his way … until Asher, trying desperately to create a ‘moment,’ gives a li is desperate to inject some kind of drama or charm into this wooden piece of crap. He gives the girl a hundred-dollar bill for the snacks she’s selling, on camera .. and then as soon as the camera’s off, takes the money back because it’s too much. Before he can go make change and make it right, the little girl curses him… and because he’s an idiot, he never manages to get her to take it off. Now… it’s just a little girl. This is a highly realistic show, set in a grim but very believable small town. But Nathan Fiedler’s Asher still thinks there’s something going on here … and you know, as we see more of this little girl, and what happens to other people she curses, he just might be… right?

But that’s a long time coming. The all-to-real manipulations of Bennie the director and Whitney herself, trying to endear herself to the local businesses, the native American population, the art community, everyone – just makes things worse and worse, and the show – and her relationship to her increasingly desperate and unstable husband, just get worse and worse at the episodes progress. Look: it’s very well written, it’s beautifully acted by everyone involved, including a turn by Corbin Bernsen, of all people, as Whitney’s slumlord Dad that makes you just want ot slap him. And things seem to be sliding towards an inevitable bad ending, where you can hope these horrible people get their come-uppance…. Until …

The last episode. No, come on – the last episode.

Okay, SPOILER ALERT and all that, stop listening if you haven’t seen or plan on seeing The Curse, but you can’t talk about this series without talking about its ending. So here we go …

First: it jumps forward eight months or so. The long-sought-after pregnancy has finally happened; Whitney is huge, huge with child, and “Flipanthropy” is about to enter its second season – so we don’t see any of that payoff, or see how Asher’s total meltdown in the previous episode played out. No: they’re asleep, in bed – or at least she is – when she awakens to see Asher lying on the ceiling above her head, pinned to it as if gravity is working on him in exactly the opposite way it’s working on everyone else.

For literally the next hour – the totality of the final show – we see Asher struggling to understand what’s going on, trying to get back to the ground, while Whitney goes into labor. As they have throughout the series, they make all the wrong decisions, steadily making things even worse … until Whitney is finally taken off to the hospital by her clueless doula, and Asher escapes the house … only to float even higher, up into a huge tree outside their home, where he clings for dear life while the fire department does their best to get him down. Because, look, this is a realistic series. There is no magic, there is no fantasy – forget that little girl and her maybe-sometimes curses. It’s real … but when they rigup a safety harness for Ashet and cut the branch he’s on, ignoring his pleas to stop, stop … he floats straight up in air, up up up … into the stratosphere, off the friggin’ planet, while Whitney gives birth to her little boy by Cesarean section. And the minute the child is out and safe, she seems to forget about her husband entirely, And we leave her smiling and fulfilled… while Bennie the Director collapses in the driveway of their home, overwhelmed by self-pity, blaming himself for all this somehow – making it about himself, even as Asher, hundreds of miles overhead and unseen by anyone, curls into a frost-bitten ball and .. dies?

What?

Now .. I’ve read a few articles and essays about this – something I almost never do, but I had to get some kind of perspective on what the hell I had just watched. And yeah, I see it now: there was an undercurrent of nasty magic throughout, visible only in retrospect, really, and the cold-hearted Whitney – as well as Asher himself – seem to be at the center of the curse. Once he is no longer of fuse, once he has fulfilled his purpose – remember? To give her a baby and make her important? — he could just … go away. Disappear. Like … float right off the planet, and good night.

I really can’t recall ever seeing a show that takes such a complete left turn in the last act. Complete. Going from a well-made, even subtle naturalistic ‘dark comedy,’ though I’m not sure that term applies even a little bit in this case – and diving head first into magical realism, boon, between episodes, with no warning. And even now… I can’t tell you if I hated it or at the very least appreciated it. I’m just … sorry. I really don’t know If Fielder and Safdie’s idea was to make something that was truly disturbing, that was supposed to make even the most jaded movie-watcher sit up and say, “What the fuck?” … they succeeded. They got me.

I really can recommend this for Emma Stone’s performance alone, just cut-glass perfection as this horrible woman of privilege. And though Nathan Fiedler is, once again, playing himself, it is a finely sculpted version of himself as the ultimate self-sabotaging victim. And Safdie’s performance, as his own ugly imperfections become more and more un-ignromable, does a hell of a job, too. But can I recommend the whole show​? Sorry people. I just … don’t know.

I just wish I could have been in the pitch meeting with Paramount for this one. No, seriously. Fielder, credentials in hand, lays out the whole thing, episode b episode, and then looks up and says, “Okay, and then, in the last episode … he fucking floats away.” What… what did they do/ Say? And why did they say yes?

Anyway …. I usually hate reviews that end with “you be the judge!” because it makes me feel like the reviewer hasn’t done their job. They haven’t given you an opinion that can actually help you decide what to do with this movie or series or book or whatever. But that’s where I am this time. Really. And just like that poor schlub clinging to a tree branch to keep from sailing away … it is not a comfortable position.

Nevertheless… you be the judge.

Comments? Leave ’em here…

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