Sincerity is an underrated phenomenon these days.
We have seen plenty of films in recent years which feature posturing anti-heroes, full of ambiguous morality and seedy backgrounds. Movies are more willing to turn to cynicism and obscurity; irony and satire are the go-to vehicles of meaning. “Adult” films nowadays seem unwilling to be bold and open with their themes, to stand up and say “Kindness is good!” for fear of audiences rolling their eyes. In that respect, Paddington is a breath of fresh air.
The story follows the titular bear (Ben Whishaw) who has grown up in Darkest Peru hearing tales of England and the kind and gentlemanly nature of British people; he is told by his parents that if he ever ends up in England he will always find a home. Once his home is destroyed in a natural disaster, he is forced to go to London to find a new home, and is surprised to find out that British people are not quite so welcoming. The immigration parallel is clear, but the film avoids being didactic by grounding this socio-political commentary in an emotionally-driven, character-based narrative. A narrative that is an absolute joy to watch unfold on screen.
The script is economic and propulsive, never wasting time where it’s not necessary – always moving us forward without forgetting to slow down and gives us time with the characters. Said characters are simply yet poignantly crafted, from the likeable and friendly Paddington to Hugh Bonneville’s Mr Brown, the curmudgeonly but secretly loving father of the Brown family, who’s arc, while a tad obvious, is still investing and satisfying.
In terms of cinematic execution the film is wonderfully creative: director Paul King’s sense of visual storytelling is inventive and fun, using set-dressings such as murals and dollhouses to convey emotion or information in a manner that feels downright Brechtian. He clearly sees no need to be constrained by naturalism – he recognises that the emotional content of a scene is what truly matters.
The set-pieces are great fun, with most being constructed as whimsical slapstick sequences centred on Paddington’s comical fish-out-of-water shenanigans; however, occasionally the film does surprise with some genuinely thrilling and tense action beats, the kind where you don’t even realise how much you cared until it’s over. In fact, “surprise” is really the best word for this film. It’s a genuine, wonderful surprise, one that proves that you should never judge a film by its trailer.
Nicholas Porterbookmark me