Director: Paul King
Starring: Edward Hogg, Simon Farnaby
Bunny and the Bull marks the feature film directorial debut of Paul King, well-known in the U.K. for directing The Mighty Boosh. While both Boosh and Bunny are firmly entrenched in the “buddy comedy” genre, it is there where similarities end. Bunny and the Bull finds Paul King pulling out all the stops, using every visual trick in the director’s handbook to spice up what ends up being a fairly pedestrian script. Animation, green screen, fantastic production design and a healthy dose of whimsy combine to create a film that would be a feast for anyone’s eyes.
The film stars Edward Hogg as Stephen Turnbull, an anal-retentive, flimsy man who has developed a strong case of agoraphobia, and Simon Farnaby as his philandering, unscrupulous, lay about, best friend Bunny. He spends his days obsessively organizing his belongings, dating his urine, plastic wrapping his future lunches, signing and dating his used dental floss, and reminiscing about the events of the past year.
Flashback to a year ago, where Bunny suggests that the two go on a European jaunt to relieve Stephen, recently relegated to the “friend zone” by a long time crush, of his debilitating depression. But while Stephen is perfectly happy visiting tourist traps such as the German Utensil Museum, Bunny quickly becomes bored and begins to hatch schemes that (of course) get the duo into trouble. It’s not until they run into the curt but lovely Eloisa that the two find some structure to their trip. Eloise wants to return to Spain for fiesta, which both Bunny and Stephen find that plan much more attractive that spending another day in Poland. The trio set off, jokes are had, stories are told, and a love triangle ensues.
Director King does an excellent job of maintaining a visual cadence throughout the film. He borrows heavily from many modern pop-visualists; touches of Michel Gondry, Terry Gilliam, Wes Anderson, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet can be seen throughout his visual style. The story of Stephen and his friend Bunny are told through a series of vignettes, prompted by the stacks of memorabilia Stephen has around his house. A drawing prompts Stephen to remember his first conversations with Bunny, the backgrounds are all hand-drawn and flat. A series of photographs show the train ride to Poland; the sets in Poland are all composed of large photograph-shaped rectangles. Even a door Stephen walks through is collage of flat panels. A snowglobe leads to memories of Switzerland, with large, paper snowflakes falling all around Stephen and Bunny. King spares no visual detail in his film, every detail is thoughtfully planned out and every take is finely mapped. Bunny and the Bull is not a slap-dash, DIY visual comedy like the Boosh. It is well-executed, mature film.
While the film is visually enticing, the script itself lacks the same engagement factor. Hogg and Farnaby do the best they can to lift the story up, but time and time again scenes heavy on dialogue tend to drag on. Jokes often miss their mark and tend to be more distracting than anything. Besides a couple welcome guest appearances by The Mighty Boosh’s Noel Fielding (Eloisa’s ex-matador brother Javier) and Julian Barratt (Atilla, the gruff-talking, dog-milking hobo), laughs tend to be far and few in between. And this is all before the film gets heavy.
In the end, Bunny and the Bull is a promising feature debut for Paul King. Given a decent budget it seems like the man can make a dollar stretch. The attention to visual detail is striking, and pays off in the end for both the director and the viewer. Too bad about the story, though. Maybe Charlie Kaufmann can write him a script.
Bunny and the Bull is currently playing at the Northwest Film Forum and will continue to show until September 23rd.