In general, the hours we spend on budget airlines are not ones we’re particularly keen to relive, so a film that vividly recreates the unique ambience of a Ryanair flight is probably not, on paper, moving to the top of your must-see list. But I’d encourage you to fight those instincts for Zero Fucks Given, a marvellously titled French film newly streaming on Mubi.
Those three words could, I suppose, encapsulate the service experience on many a low-cost carrier. Instead, they refer to the pushed-to-the-brink attitude of young flight attendant Cassandre, who works with increasing exasperation for Wing, a fictitious airline that resembles Ryanair about as closely as possible (down to the garish yellow-and-blue branding) without inviting legal action. Based, if barely rooted, in Lanzarote, she spends her days jetting from one European city to another, racking up miles but no real sense of place in the world. Her dream is to work for the loftier Emirates, though one wonders if a better uniform and richer customers will make her much happier.
Cassandre is played with tart wit and riveting, magnified emotional acuity by Adèle Exarchopoulos, in the sharpest showcase for her gifts since 2013’s Blue Is the Warmest Colour. Bright and piquant as a character study, Zero Fucks Given is also the kind of pointed, anti-capitalist study of a service industry that makes you reconsider your role in it, even as you guiltily book that bargain flight to Budapest. The mistreatment to which Cassandre is subjected from management and clientele alike is caustically observed by first-time writer-directors Julie Lecoustre and Emmanuel Marre, but this isn’t a bitter or ungenerous film; beneath its top-down critique of an industry lies a tender, humane sympathy for its heroine’s wanderlust.
It’s certainly the best film portrait yet of cabin crew life, flintier than the breezy pastel comedy of the 2003 Gwyneth Paltrow vehicle View from the Top (Chili), which didn’t quite deserve the critical pasting it got, and actually funnier than Pedro Almodóvar’s goofy, horny Madrid-to-Mexico farce I’m So Excited! (2013; Mubi), the Spanish master’s most disposable film, though not without its sparks.
In general, however, films about flying play more on our fears of being up in the air than its comic potential. The all-star 1954 melodrama The High and the Mighty (Amazon) set the template for the aviation disaster film, complete with John Wayne as a PTSD-afflicted first officer and a host of drama-bearing passengers struggling through terrifying engine trouble; it’s pure studio-Hollywood cheese, but grandly effective, with a memorable, Oscar-winning score. In 1970, Airport (Apple TV) expanded the formula to blockbuster levels, braiding crises both on board and on the ground, with Burt Lancaster and Dean Martin stoically heading the action; you can see why it was a franchise-birthing smash, but since it was so comprehensively and riotously lampooned a decade later by Airplane! (Now TV) – now far more of a classic – it’s hard to watch with a straight face.
Since 9/11, dramatised with such palm-sweating conviction by Paul Greengrass in United 93 (2006; Netflix), though it’s not a film anyone wants to watch twice, the airborne thriller has been trickier territory. As claustrophobically well made as it was, the fictional terrorists-on-board film 7500 (2019; Amazon), led by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, felt in debatable taste. Probably safest, then, for the aeroplane movie to steer itself into fully far-fetched territory, as with Wes Craven’s tight, nasty overnight chiller Red Eye (2005; Google Play) or the character-centred drama of Denzel Washington’s alcoholic-pilot-in-crisis performance in Flight (2012; Netflix), which follows grounded procedural form after one white-knuckle in-air sequence. Or, indeed, Samuel L Jackson’s self-explanatory quandary in Snakes on a Plane (2006; Amazon), among the worst flight films, maybe, but surely the most quotable.
Also new to streaming this week
There’s claustrophobic comic potential in Judd Apatow’s Covid-themed showbiz farce, following a group of actors forced to isolate together on a closed film set during lockdown, but the results are strangely flat-footed – a snapshot of a recent time that already feels (perhaps mercifully) dated. The cast, including Leslie Mann, Karen Gillan and David Duchovny, tries, but the spark isn’t there.
Spider-Man: No Way Home
Fresh from supposedly saving cinemas’ bacon in the past few months, this gazillion-grossing Marvel entry finally makes its way to streaming and DVD and even if you haven’t seen it yet, you’ve probably heard the full spectrum of opinions about it. Count me among those unconvinced by its tenuous, franchise-bridging storytelling, hinging on a multiverse gimmick far more inventively deployed in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and its oddly drab, synthetic spectacle. But what do I know?
Zeros and Ones
After the Vatican is blown up in a dystopian, plague-era Rome, an American soldier (Ethan Hawke) sets out to find the terrorists responsible. The synopsis sounds more Dan Brown or Michael Bay than Abel Ferrara, but the avant garde American auteur puts his curious stamp on this shadowy, philosophically probing thriller; one more for his most patient fans than anyone seeking conventional action.