I’ll get right to it: A24 has pulled off an absolute blinder with The Curse.
To relentlessly churn out so many utterly moreish, batshit satires — the cult studio is behind everything good you’ve watched in the past few years; think Beef and Everything Everywhere All At Once, as well as Aftersun, Euphoria, Lady Bird, Moonlight, the list goes on — must be exhausting. But I pray they keep them coming.
The studio’s latest madcap release is a 10-parter (each an hour long) for Paramount+, bringing Oscar-winning actress Emma Stone together with creative duo Nathan Fielder (The Rehearsal) and Benny Safdie (co-writer and director of Uncut Gems) — who star in and wrote The Curse. It sees newly-ish married couple Whitney (Stone) and Asher Siegel (Fielder) struggling to film a pilot episode for a home renovations TV show with dubious producer Dougie (Safdie).
Their show’s USP is cloying altruism — it's called Flipanthropy. And yet, all too often humourless Asher finds himself desperately claiming, “but, we’re good people” – all while his actions tell a different story. Like, when during filming, they dab bottled water on a cancer patient’s face and blow menthol into her eyes, reddening them, to make it look like she’s crying with happiness at their great selflessness.
It jack-knifes from awkward to tense to borderline horror to hysterical to surreal and it’s one of the best shows I’ve seen this year
It’s set in the New Mexico town of Española, with a population of mostly Native Americans, which the pair is trying to gentrify with ugly, eco-conscious, mirrored, invisible houses. They’re so invisible that birds regularly kill themselves by flying into them. The show, in Whitney’s words: "Documents Ash and I in our efforts to consciously rejuvenate distressed homes in a way that has a net-positive impact on the community as a whole."
It’s a ‘wish I’d thought of that’ backdrop for a genre-bending ride through performative philanthropy, the cynicism of reality TV, white-saviour complex, privilege, and prejudice. It jack-knifes from awkward to tense to borderline horror to hysterical to surreal and it’s one of the best shows I’ve seen this year.
As the episodes roll on, more questions are raised than answered: why is Whit with a man so entirely devoid of charisma? Does she actually love him? She seems to fizz with disgust and we know that he has a micro-penis (you may want to rewind this scene a few times to confirm the visual). As one of the focus group members asks when watching the pilot of their show – is he rich? Is that why?
Beyond that, what are their motives? Do they really believe they’re good people? Is their social conscience genuine or contrived? What's the goal? Fame?
Weaved throughout the series is, of course, The Curse. In episode one, for some B-roll footage, Dougie films Asher giving $100 to a little girl selling soft drinks outside a supermarket. Once the camera stops rolling, he snatches it back, instead offering to give her $20. She stares him down and says, "I curse you". The lives of Asher and Whitney become evermore intertwined with the little girl and her family, providing another rich seam for more white privilege, condescension, and mutual distrust.
To deliver such grand themes with deadpan accuracy and hilarity is no small feat. Emma Stone is captivating as she flips from breathless do-gooder to barely concealed narcissist; and Nathan Fielder is stellar as the deeply unlikeable Asher. I devoured it.