Some works of art are meant to be appreciated for their engagement in serious. You are meant to linger over their apparent eternal verities like they are revelatory morsels of magic that compel you to examine the human condition. Sure. But after watching Lars von Trier’s claustrophobic and heavy going Melancholia (2011) twice (once to see it, and a second time to get it) I really feel like not writing about it. Mainly due to this film’s strained inter-generational familial relationships.
Instead, I’d much rather talk about New Zealand’s gem Wellington Paranormal, because what von Trier doesn’t get is that truth can also be packaged up in ludicrous that is fun. Anyway, if you saw What We Do in the Shadows, then Wellington Paranormal is the law enforcement perspective spin-off, made by Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi.
Wellington Paranormal deploys a bunch of comedic tropes including imitation (X Files theme) and mockumentary (it’s presented in a live camera documentary style format). It is made to highlight the awkwardness, bad-timing, and social ineptitude of the two main characters, who manage to embody a new state of relating I’m calling ‘anti-chemistry.’ It’s sweet. Awful sweetness. These two main characters are Police Officers Minogue and O’Leary who are the deadpan innocents abroad in Wellington’s underworld. They’re guided through their inexplicable experiences by Sergeant Ruawai Maaka, who heads the capital’s first Paranormal Investigation Unit. What I like best about this is not the obviousness of the jokes. It’s not staggeringly unaware main characters. It’s not the excellent casting, or the comic timing and pantomime humour. No, the best bit is how the actors playing Minogue and O’Leary are all in. Throughout the physical humour and weird goings on, they remain steadfastly police first. It’s not just the lines they deliver using that specifically universal police vocabulary, it’s not that they handcuff a ghost for disturbing the peace. No. It’s how they never deviate from standing and moving like officers, while using that peculiar police tone of voice. The police cadence. Listen for it the next time you catch the news.
Minogue and O’Leary are ignorant of events to the point of idiocy, but their sincerity wins me over. While I’m usually uncomfortable with comedy that mocks its own characters (like Kath and Kim), there’s a homely, understated naturalness to the representation of the two main characters. Maybe it’s New Zealand because there was something similar going on in Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Likeability?
So yeah, see Melancholia. You may relish its visual language which feels like it swallowed and then regurgitated a Keats poem whole. To the high requiem of its soundtrack to planets colliding you’ll become a sod. But at least there are no heroes, super or otherwise. The world is ending, at times it is beautiful, but it’s mostly alienating, as a family plays at being bitter, erratic, and depressive.
In contrast, with Wellington Paranormal, there may be threats to the world, but two mismatched police officers are always on the case. They aren’t heroes, they aren’t even great officers, but they do win us over in a way the likes of a von Trier can never achieve with his achingly attractive/troubled ensemble complete with galloping horses. It’s not that I’m saying the cure to depression (for von Trier or anyone else) is having a good laugh, it’s just that an escapist romp can offer as valid insights into life as the most sombre work.