Thank you for smirking

I’ve been thinking a lot about Amelie recently. Not because I was using it to demonstrate some of the principles of Dramatica to my screenwriting class the other week, but because I’ve been watching Pushing Daisies,  the Golden Globe-nominated TV comedy that is now showing here on ITV1. You see, Pushing Daisies doesn’t just look ‘somewhere between Amelie and a Tim Burton film’ (to quote its DOP); it  is practically a remake of the French film.

Okay, it’s not about a quirky borderline sociopath who goes round trying to solve everyone’s problems through elaborate strategems as a displacement activity to avoid sorting out her own life, but it looks, sounds and feels like Amelie. If they could make it smell like Ameliethey’d have probably done that too (I’m getting a definite whiff of cinnamon here, I don’t know about you).

Same over-saturated,  fairytale look, same accordian music, same intrusive narrator (Jim Dale, of all people), same sickly sweet quirkiness.

Pushing Daisies is big on quirk. If you bought a sachet of just-add-water dehydrated wholesome Quirk and just added water, you’d get an episode of Pushing Daisies. The whole show is predicated on Anna Friel’s quirky smirk, which never leaves her face from the moment she’s brought back to life. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a gorgeous smirk. I’d never really been on the whole Anna Friel boat until Pushing Daisies, happy to watch it sail off, horn blaring, waving from the shore. But now I’m swimming catch-up and calling out for a lifebelt. And it’s all about the smirk.

Pushing Daisies is comfort telly incarnate. Why they bother explaining the absurdly over-complicated premise not once but twice at the beginning of every episode   is anyone’s guess, because no one’s listening. We’re all just goo-eyed catatonic, lost in the Smirk.

So it would seem to be missing the point to complain about the lack of logic at the heart of the premise. However, tearing myself away from Ms Friel’s gorgeous Smirk of Quirk, that’s exactly what I’ll do.

There are two major complaints that I still hear about Amelie from churls and arseholes. 1) The realParis doesn’t look anything like that, and 2) It tells everything with an unbearable voice-over narration. That’s the two great sins against filmmaking right there: not being real and gritty, and telling instead of showing.

Amelie was widely criticised for presenting a day-glo Paris that was nothing like the real thing, by critics who evidently failed to grasp the simple fact that the story is about a woman who lives in a fantasy world (note the subtle difference in visual style for the moped montage at the end).

The intrusive narrator is another matter. I’ve weighed in on this crime against storytelling before, but I have no problem with the narrator in Ameliebecause it’s a film about a woman who is living  in a fairytale. She narrates her own life as if it were a novel. The voice over isn’t there just to convey plot info and backstory; it’s an essential part of the premise, of the main character’s psychological make-up.

All of which means that robbing Amelie‘s look and narrative technique wholesale for a comedy that isn’t about a  character who lives in a fantasy world doesn’t make any kind of storytelling sense.

Being over-awed by the look of Amelie is one thing. It’s a beautiful movie. But to appropriate it wholesale for a TV series about a totally different premise is just cultural smash and grab.

Oh well. Friel’s smirking again. What was I saying?


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