Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Peeling Back a Glass Onion

I was excited when the new Knives Out film was announced. It played briefly in cinemas around Thanksgiving, creating a box-office flurry. So eager, apparently, was the public to watch the further adventures of  super-sleuth Benoit Blanc that it was said producers had missed a lucrative bet by withdrawing the film from theatres so as to release it on Netflix starting December 23.

 I personally waited until December 25 to screen it in my living room, as a reward for surviving a large family party. Of course I was waiting for something with the wit of the original. Aside from Daniel Craig’s droll portrayal of a rather effete N’Orleans private eye, Knives Out had a twisty plot, featuring a group of greedy relatives all perched like vultures over the corpse of their very wealthy and very dead uncle. With the cast filled out by such skilled players as Christopher Plummer (as the dead man), Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, and a hilariously bitchy Jamie Lee Curtis, it was clear from the start that the audience was in good hands. There was also a new screen discovery,  Cuban-born Ana de Armas, as a sympathetic counter-balance to all the venality around her. Playing Plummer’s conscientious nurse, she is someone we can root for, even when it begins to seem that his passing is a result of her carelessness. Amid all the film’s crass characters, I liked the fact that our center of gravity was a young working-class woman with both a conscience and a mother whose undocumented status made her vulnerable to outside pressures.

 Writer/director Rian Johnson also showed off in Knives Out his fondness for tricks and word games, one of which tickled me belatedly. There’s a throwaway driving scene in which Blanc starts crooning a lyric from Stephen Sondheim’s Follies: “The sun comes up/ I think about you/ the coffee cup/ I think about you.” It was only later that I realized this snatch of song wittily points to the film’s ending, and a very distinctive coffee cup. Aha!

 So what about Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery? It too is full of jokes and pop culture references. Some world-famous paintings play an ironic role in the story, and some movieland royals (most notably Hugh Grant) show up in small roles. Much has been made of the fact that both the late Stephen Sondheim and the late Angela Lansbury briefly play themselves on a Zoom conference call with Blanc. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is there too, and Serena Williams pops up for several amusing seconds.

 All of this is fun, and of course there’s a mystery to be solved by the ever-perceptive Blanc.  Here’s the problem: though there are gags and twists aplenty, the Glass Onion story lacks any semblance of heart. Yes, we can enjoy the fabulous Greek island sets, and of course the cast is once again star-studded, featuring Kate Hudson, Leslie Odom Jr., Kathryn Hahn, and particularly Edward Norton as a billionaire tech bro who owns these palatial surroundings. They’re supposedly old friends with complicated ties to one another, but as a group they’re not nearly as interesting (or as well-explored) as the feuding family circle in Knives Out. Janelle Monáe, in a more challenging role, fulfills the Ana de Armas function by being someone with whom we can sympathize, but her plight—cleverly introduced by Johnson—lacks the urgency we felt in the previous movie.

 As for Benoit Blanc himself, we know from the start that he’s the world’s most famous detective. So this time we don’t have the fun of discovering just what he’s capable of.



  1. I really enjoyed Glass Onion. For me, it didn't have the same kind of heart as Knives Out, but it made a very satisfying point about larger contemporary political and cultural issues. Can't wait to see what Blanc gets up to next.

  2. I envy you for enjoying it more than I did, Theresa. In any case, I hope you'll visit Movieland again soon!