Fun (Canada, 1994)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

It's said that the worst thing for a parent is to watch the burial of their child. But what about watching the burial of someone murdered by their child? In Rafal Zielinski's insightful and unsettling Fun, the premise is that two teenage girls meet, form an immediate friendship, and go in search of something "important" to share. That "something" becomes the brutal and conscienceless slaughter of an elderly woman whose only crime was to trust them.

Fun is presented in two time lines: the present, when Hillary (Renee Humphrey) and Bonnie (Alicia Witt) have been tried, convicted, and sentenced; and the past, when events before and after the murder are recounted in flashbacks. Although the different time frames are interleaved, there's little opportunity for confusion. The sequences in the correctional institute, which feature Hillary and Bonnie's interactions with a counselor (Leslie Hope) and a magazine reporter (William R. Moses), are in black-and-white, while the flashbacks are in color. Not only do the different cinematographic styles separate time periods, they emphasize tone. The "fun", reckless day of freedom is saturated by color; the aftermath is presented in bleak, monochromatic 16 mm.

The meat of the story focuses on the psychology of the girls' actions. Together, neither is likely to commit such a crime, but, as a pair, they become lethal. There is no guilt or remorse. The killing - a bloody, sadistic crime - is shrugged off as just another way to enjoy life. It's the source of an adrenaline rush, a way to get high without drugs. It forges the kind of permanent bond in a new friendship that no mundane act can accomplish. And it's a way for the killers to prove to themselves that they exist outside the boundaries of normalcy.

Hillary and Bonnie's friendship is neither traditional nor healthy. From the moment they meet, the pair experience a mutual, instant connection. The gradual development crucial to most relationships is bypassed. This is love at first sight, and it leads to one intense, passionate day of sharing everything -- life stories, secrets, and a murder. There is no moderation, and the desperate neediness with which these two interact is disturbing. Hillary and Bonnie are no longer individuals -- they have acquired a single, psychotic identity.

Character development in Fun is superior. Not only does Zielinski delve into the personalities of his protagonists, but he gives us random pieces of information to flesh out the less important characters. The counselor, for example, is not just a mouthpiece of judicial platitudes -- she's constantly fighting to overcome a misspent past. And the journalist, despite the scavenger-like nature of his job, learns to care about the subjects of his latest article.

But, of course, everything comes back to Hillary and Bonnie, and the marvelous manner in which their characters are written and realized. These girls have deeply rooted problems. As a child, Hillary was repeatedly sexually abused by her father, and it's indicative of her nature that she claims he didn't hurt her -- he just raped her. Bonnie, with a wild, flamboyant personality that contrasts with her friend's introspective moodiness, is desperately in need of love, and will do or say anything to get it.

Obviously, there will be no Academy Awards for Fun; even if it had a U.S. distributor (which it doesn't), this isn't the sort of movie to attract the necessary publicity. That said, however, Alicia Witt's remarkable performance is far better than that of most Oscar winners. Renee Humphrey is good in her own right, but she is constantly eclipsed by her co-star. Only when the two girls are separated does the strength of Humphrey's performance come across.

Zielinski has a tremendous sense of mood and atmosphere, and he uses all the tools at his disposal to fashion the perfect tone. His choice of music ranges from the heavy metal rock of a group called the Armagedoon Dildos to the classical strains of Handel's Messiah (this is probably the most unique usage ever of the choral "And He Shall Purify"). The camera work is impressive, and the choice of mixing color and black-and-white works to better effect here than in Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle.

With themes and ideas in common with the likes of Heavenly Creatures, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Natural Born Killers, and Kieslowski's A Short Film About Killing, Fun is an example of a motion picture willing to tackle more than one thought-provoking concept. The intelligent, gripping result succeeds impressively, and presents a more complete and provocative portrait of relevant issues than any of those films. Above all, however, Fun gives us a chance to peer into the psyches of two memorable characters. The images we come away with will not soon be forgotten.

Fun (Canada, 1994)

Director: Rafal Zielinski
Cast: Renee Humphrey, Alicia Witt, Leslie Hope, William R. Moses, Ania Suli
Screenplay: James Bosley based on his play
Cinematography: Jens Sturup
U.S. Distributor:
Run Time: 1:45
U.S. Release Date: -
MPAA Rating: "NR" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1