Life & Culture

The Curse review: If you can’t handle cringe, don’t watch

The gap between seeming and actually being good provides the theme for this challenging show starring Nathan Fielder and Benny Safdie


The Curse
Paramount | ★★★★✩

It’s a strange sensation watching a TV show that seems to be testing you, almost pushing you to switch over.

How much ick, how much cringe, how much squirming can you handle?

That the architects of our discomfort are Nathan Fielder and Benny Safdie, the creators of
The Rehearsal and Uncut Gems respectively, makes total sense.

Even if what’s going on sometimes doesn’t.

There is, you see, a grander design at play here and, boy oh boy, do they, over ten hour-long episodes, make you pay to discover it.

I mean, how to even summarise the first episode? A newly-wed hipster-ish couple make a reality TV show entitled Flipanthropy about their real estate business, the key selling points of which are sustainability and general giving back to the community.

Of course, the reality behind their “good deeds” is their drive to make a killing.

Emma Stone and Fielder are Whitney and Asher Siegel. She uses her charisma and beauty to mask darker thoughts, his are written on his face.

Wincing, gurning, frozen in grimaces, he’s unable to convince anyone, including himself, of his benevolence.

In the course of a news interview that threatens to expose the couple’s connection to his slumlord in-laws, Asher explodes.

Later, as he waiting to meet the reporter again, to convince him to bury the interview, he meets a little girl who is selling drinks in a car park, but he only has a $100 bill.

He gives it to her and later takes it back so he can get change and give her $20 instead. For which she curses him.

That all makes sense? If I was going to reach for a theme, I’d say the gap between seeming and actually being good.

Safdie plays Asher’s childhood friend Dougie.

Unrecognisable in wig, beard and shades, he’s the very epitome of the immoral sleazy reality-TV director.

His faking of a dying cancer patient’s tears would be a red flag to anyone, and it is for the Siegels, yet their self-interest keeps them on their disingenuous course.

And so the snake in their midst is ready to strike hard, threatening to expose a reality that neither is prepared to face.

Yet all this is merely the frame for a series that constantly takes leftfield turns, until you’re dizzy and unsure of the starting point.

There are scenes featuring micro penises and scenes featuring shabbat dinners, including one in which Whitney’s showy rendition of a blessing in front of her supportive non-Jewish parents contrasts with Asher’s rushed grunts to get to the food.

A weekly release schedule seems to be the streamers’ new strategy.

For The Curse though, I’d say once a week is a medical necessity.

There’s a monster ready to pounce at every corner.

Except we don’t know who the monster is. Or maybe it’s us?

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