Film reviews: The Souvenir Part II | Jackass Forever | Belle | The Eyes of Tammy Faye | Jockey

Joanna Hogg’s follow-up to her 2019 arthouse hit The Souvenir is a drily funny celebration of the liberating force of cinema, writes Alistair Harkness

The Souvenir Part II
The Souvenir Part II

The Souvenir Part II (15) *****

Jackass Forever (18) ****

Belle (12A) ****

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The Eyes of Tammy Faye (12A) ***

Jockey (15) ****

Joanna Hogg scored a deserved arthouse hit with 2019’s The Souvenir, a brilliantly rendered slice of self-lacerating autofiction dramatising her early years a young film student in 1980s London. Built around Hogg’s inscrutable alter ego Julie Hart, played by Honor Swinton Byrne, the film explored her character’s toxic relationship with Anthony (Tom Burke), a heroin-addicted foreign office junior in whom she was perhaps subconsciously seeking some authentically dramatic life experience to break her out of her Knightsbridge bubble and unlock her own creativity. It was an audaciously complex film about the difficulty of figuring out how to articulate something meaningful in a medium built on artifice, a theme Hogg continues to unpick in mesmerising fashion with The Souvenir Part II.

Following Anthony’s fatal overdose at the end of the first film, it revolves around Julie trying to process her grief by using her imminent thesis film to try and find out who he really was and, in the process, who she is. As heavy going as this sounds, it’s drily funny too, with layers of meta-gags courtesy of Tilda Swinton’s return as Julia’s artistically dissatisfied mother and Richard Ayoade as an amusingly pretentious filmmaker shooting an Absolute Beginners-style musical. But it’s the fearless way Hogg transforms the finale into an extended ode to Powell and Pressburger – a call-back to a key line about authenticity in cinema from the first film – that kicks things up a gear by celebrating the liberating force of cinema when a filmmaker has the courage to defy convention.

Johnny Knoxville in Jackass Forever PIC: Sean Cliver / Paramount Pictures

It’s been 20 years since Jackass: The Movie brought the MTV-backed reality stunt-show insanity of Johnny Knoxville and his cackling crew of masochistic clowns to the big screen. Two decades on, the sight of those same now-very-middle-aged men delighting in their own dumb debauchery remains indecently funny. Having elevated idiocy to the level of performance art across three previous movies, Jackass Forever doesn’t mess with the formula: there’s no plot, no script, just a series of don’t-try-this-at-home skits involving the original crew (and a few younger acolytes) subjecting their bodies to ever-more silly and painful-looking feats of slapstick derring-do.

Once again, the guiding hand of maverick filmmaker and Jackass co-creator/executive producer Spike Jonze remains key to the series’ on-going appeal, adding a kind of gonzo surrealism to proceedings that’s especially evident in the ludicrous opening credits sequence: a Japanese monster movie parody in which the Godzilla-style beast is revealed to be… well, let’s just say a member of the Jackass crew makes the first of many cameos. Thenceforth, director Jeff Tremaine gleefully captures his friends willingly debasing themselves for our entertainment. Testicles are repeatedly pummelled; bodies become human projectiles; there’s even a gross-out homage to Brian De Palma’s Carrie that could broadly be described as "seminal”. As Faith No More once sang: it’s always funny until someone gets hurt and then it’s just hilarious.

Mamoru Hosoda’s eye-popping anime Belle is big screen spectacle at its finest: a mind-blowing riff on the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast (one of Mamoru’s favourite films) filtered through the virtual high-tech aesthetics of Ghost in the Shell and The Matrix. It’s also that rare thing: a somewhat utopian vision of the internet in which the connectivity of an immersive, AI-powered social network – cannily called “U” – can be a force for good as much as a source of pain. Both aspects emerge via a sweetly melodramatic story about a shy high-school girl who secretly becomes an online musical sensation only to fall for the monstrous avatar of a boy whose real-world troubles are manifesting themselves in his disruptive online presence.

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Jessica Chastain’s chameleon-like ability to disappear into a role serves her well in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, a biopic detailing the Reagan-era rise and fall of disgraced televangelist power couple Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. Co-starring alongside a prosthetically doughy Andrew Garfield, Chastain manages to make the surgically disfigured Tammy Faye seem like a real person trapped in a fantasy of both her own and her husband’s making. Here, director Michael Showalter may stick to the usual beats of the star-driven biopic as he outlines a headline-grabbing scandal of faith-based avarice, but the inherent artificiality of the genre matches the artificiality of the Bakkers’ lives, which in turn makes the final-act rug-pull more poignant as the bubble pops, the money disappears and the much-ridiculed Tammy Faye is left to negotiate the harsh reality of everyday life while permanently made-up to look like a character from a John Waters movie.

Belle

Never going in quite the direction you might expect from a horse-racing drama about a veteran rider ageing out of the sport, Jockey gives character actor Clifton Collins Jr a rare leading role in a film shot through with the kind of poetic realism found Chloé Zhao’s The Rider and Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler. He plays Jackson Silva, a jockey in the twilight of his career whose myriad physical ailments are threatening his ability to stay in the saddle. Debut writer/director Clint Bentley may load the story with plenty of potentially clichéd plot points, but he deftly uses them to craft a richly textured redemption drama that makes the most of Collins’ wonderfully nuanced performance.

All films are on general release from 4 February

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