The Curse (2023) is Making Me Feel Very Uncomfortable! A+

I must confess that Nathan Fielder and Benny Safdie’s brilliant ‘The Curse” (co-written with Carrie Kemper and co-directed with Nathan and David Zellner) seems to bring out the masochist in me. Or maybe it’s because on the night I saw the first episode, I had just come off a massive Artic binge, having watched all five episodes of Andrew Haigh’s “The North Water” with Colin Farrell and Jack O’Connell, followed by all ten episodes of another scare-the-bejeesus-out-of-you Artic classic “The Terror” which stars the great Jared Harris and was co-directed by Oscar winner Edward Berger. It seems like I have a thing for characters stuck in cold places!

“The Curse” is an inspired amalgam of two alternative sensibilities – Fielder’s cringe comedy that we saw in the parody reality show “Nathan for You” and the docu-comedy “The Rehearsal,” and Safdie’s anxiety-inducing cinema such as the superb Adam Sandler vehicle “Uncut Gems” (co-directed with brother Josh) – working seamlessly together, having fun, and getting the audience to squirm for ten solid hours. They then mix in the series’ secret weapon, the acting powerhouse that is Emma Stone, and they achieve something magical but of the very uncomfortable kind.

The Curse

Think of the most uncomfortable moment you’ve experienced in the last six months. Imagine that feeling multiplied exponentially, and you had to deal with it constantly, from the moment you woke up until the moment you went to sleep (assuming you could get some sleep). Remember what the young Alvy Singer felt in “Annie Hall” when he read that the universe is expanding! It’s Jewish angst to the max. And while you might expect Emma Stone to bring a goyish Diane Keaton/Mia Farrow touch to her role, her character here has already converted to Judaism, so there is no such luck. She is more neurotically concerned with her public persona than her on-screen husband. Spend time in their company, and you become exhausted from watching them reach exhaustion!

In the series, Stone and Fielder portray Asher and Whitney Siegel, a newly married couple who move to Española, a small town in New Mexico (it exists) on the banks of the Rio Grande, just north of Santa Fe. They are producing a new reality show called Flipanthropy, which appears to be inspired by the Goop wellness and lifestyle company of Gwyneth Paltrow. Asher and Whitney believe they are two sides of the same Mother Teresa who has come to bless Española by flipping environmentally friendly and supposedly inexpensive houses and coffee shops where they employ the locals while hiding the Australian baristas. However, they are clueless about themselves, their relationship with the indigenous people, and their relationship with the environment. It also doesn’t help that Whitney’s parents, who live a few miles away, are notorious slumlords that she constantly borrows money from to keep her chosen lifestyle, marriage and profession afloat.

Safdie plays Dougie, the manipulative and super-needy director of the show who used to bully Asher at Jewish summer camp and still makes him miserable only now; he also seems to be putting the moves on Whitney. Or is it Asher he’s after? It isn’t easy to know. Like Whitney’s dad (played by Corben Bernsen), Asher is burdened with a tiny penis, and we get to see both of them (at different times) in a sort of reverse male bonding ritual!

The Curse

In the first episode, Dougie convinces Asher to give money to a young girl named Nala (Hikmah Warsame) in a parking lot so they can get some good footage of him being generous. He only has a $100 bill, which he then tries to recover from Nala after the cameras stop rolling. Nala tells him that she is cursing him, which massively increases the series undercurrent of dread and anxiety. However, Asher (and, to a lesser extent, Whitney) is so absorbed in his little world that he fails to notice as things fall apart around him.

It’s excruciating to watch, but you love every minute of it.


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