A couple years ago, I watched a bizarre double feature at a local Los Angeles repertory cinema. The first movie was the micro-indie film Frownland, about a socially maladapted guy who lives in the tiny kitchen of a friend's apartment and whose very existence grates on the nerves and patience of every single person he encounters. It's a great film, totally unpleasant but shockingly real, about the kind of person you never want to be. The second feature in this one-two punch of human horror, was 1987's The Garbage Pail Kids Movie, which is maybe the most repellent, demented thing committed to celluloid in the past 30 years. Aimed at an elementary school audience, it's an unreal symphony of urine, mucus and puke that's actually designed to disgust that audience's parents.
I thought about those two movies a lot while watching this, Roman Polanski's latest, based on the play God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza. It's about more disgusting people you don't want to meet or become, two upscale sets of parents (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly, Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz) meeting for a civil, reasonable mediation after both couple's sons are involved in a playground fight. Any viewer of The Real World will know what happens next: politeness gets thrown out the window and entitlement rage moves in. This fighting continues for the next 80 minutes. And nobody leaves the apartment. Maybe they're all psychically trapped in a kind of updated Exterminating Angel scenario of obnoxious parenting. Either way, everybody loses. Including you.
Along the way we learn that neither child is exactly innocent (as well as never on camera save for the opening silent long shot of their scuffle) and that all four adults are caricatures of uptight urban jerks. You might not cross the street to avoid them like you would the protagonist of Frownland, but after 20 minutes stuck in the same tastefully appointed room with them you realize that a) there's still 60+ minutes left in the movie and b) there are four of them, which makes a lone creep who lives in a kitchen seem like preferable company and c) you want to punch all of them in their respective faces.
Thanks to the brittle, shrill, shrieking performances, it's the kind of film you have to keep reminding yourself is a comedy. And that's easy to forget when four actors and a filmmaker inspire this much unhappy claustrophobia. Old-school, lowbrow comic relief kicks in when Kate Winslet projectile-barfs all over Jodie Foster's expensive, out-of-print art books and Foster makes her stick close to a bucket afterward, but unlike Garbage Pail Kids Movie heroine Valerie Vomit, Winslet doesn't endear herself to you by film's end. There's not just no exit for these people, there's no escape for the audience either.
Yes, there are some cruelly funny moments. Yes, it's fun to watch Jodie Foster Hulk-out and become a rage-a-holic, Type A, mommy-monster. Yes, you'll leave feeling superior to all of them, even if you recognize yourself. Even if you recognize yourself a lot. But ultimately this is a punishment, and when Foster utters the line: "Why does everything have to be so exhausting?" you'll ask yourself the same thing.