In I’m Thinking of Ending Things, David Thewlis hilariously twists and contorts his body like rubber in a feat of physical comedy.
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The great David Thewlis has quietly had a very good year in 2020, from his movie-saving lead turn in Guest of Honour to his supporting comedic turn in I’m Thinking of Ending Things. While he’s only in about a third of the film, his section works by itself as a funny and unsettling short film about a woman visiting her boyfriend’s parents for the first time. As the aging and slightly clueless father, Thewlis twists and contorts his body like rubber in a hilarious feat of physical comedy (and bonus: he gets to use his actual Lancashire accent in both this and Guest of Honour, despite both being North American productions).
He enters the film by tottering downstairs, playing a man a few decades his senior and emphasising the hunched over posture of an aging man for comedic effect, without ever overdoing it. He looks at our nameless protagonist, played by Jessie Buckley, with a permanently confused expression, his mouth slightly agape. Then, he delivers what is probably the line of the movie, in a raspy voice: “Well, let’s eat, or the food will be as cold as a witch’s tit in a brass brassiere.” It would be a funny line anyway, but it’s made all the more hilarious by Thewlis’s staccato attack of “tit” and his drawing out of “brassiere” followed by an odd, alien smirk.
Thewlis is constantly moving when he’s on screen, whether he’s reaching up to tweak his ear or flopping his head from side to side as if it’s not screwed onto his neck properly. When the family sits around a dinner table, you could watch Thewlis’s reaction shots and laugh even when he’s not the centre of attention: he hangs onto every word, leaning forward as if straining to hear and keep up, often creasing his forehead in confusion. When he gets the chance to speak, he’ll happily blather on, taking pauses in weird places as he tries to remember words like “canvas”. Thewlis plays the character as a man who’s incredibly difficult to have a conversation with, which only heightens Buckley’s character’s anxiety and desire to impress. She’s an artist, but she’s barely had the chance to talk about her work in landscapes before Thewlis interrupts her to ask what a landscape is: “Like, outside paintings?” he blathers, brow furrowed, and then promptly ignores her in favour of his food when she attempts to give him an explanation.
After this dinner scene, the film tilts into the surreal, with Thewlis’s character suddenly aging and de-aging before our eyes, and his performance becomes even more impressive and even unexpectedly moving. In one scene, he appears before us as even older, possibly in his ‘80s or ‘90s, and deteriorating from dementia. The same mannerisms that were previously hilarious are now deeply sad, because Thewlis performs them slower, his movements laboured, his pauses longer as he desperately stutters to remember words. Just a few scenes later, he enters the room as a much younger man, closer to Thewlis’s actual age of 57, and he’s suddenly lucid and assured.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is available on Netflix worldwide.
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