“I‘ve never done anything extraordinary. I think it’s why I play video games; because they’re more exciting than my real life.” Now, if you had to guess which oh-so-British actor would be caught sighing these words whilst slouched forlornly next to a potential love interest in his self-directed Netflix movie, who would you pick? (Actually this is a rubbish game, because it could be Hugh Grant, but anyway…) Ricky Gervais? Good. You’d be right.
Adapted from the 2009 Envoyés très spéciaux, Special Correspondents is the Netflix baby in question – and Ian Finch is the latest manifestation of what I’ll fondly dub the Gervasian Male Archetype. An undervalued sound engineer at a New York radio station, Finch’s wife (Vera Farmiga) married him thinking he’d make it big – and now doesn’t bother to hide her disappointment. Meanwhile he’s trying (and failing) to cut down on his video gaming, and according to his latest medical he’s 25% fat, which is “actually more than some snacks.”
“this is definitely a satire of modern-day journalism.”
But what’s a pathetic, unhappily-married sound engineer without an arrogant journalist for comparison? Yep, Gervais shares the limelight this time – with smooth talker and self-proclaimed “big fish” Frank Bonneville (Eric Bana).
It’s always awkward when you get sent to Ecuador with the guy whose wife you just slept with – as Bonneville soon finds out (it’s a long story about the wife). Assigned to report on an uprising, he and Finch make it to the airport before realising the hapless sound engineer’s lost the tickets. The solution? Simple. Hide out in a spare room above a local Spanish restaurant and just pretend to be in Ecuador. Then pretend to be kidnapped and held hostage.
The premise is ridiculous. But that’s satire, right? And this is definitely a satire of modern-day journalism. Throwaway exchanges like “That’s unethical though” “Yeah, but it’s news…” and “You want me to be a spy?!” “I want you to be a journalist!” cleverly deliver a punchy humour-blow with an awkward aftertaste – especially if you’re a student journalist. Meanwhile Farmiga is brilliant as Finch’s not-so-heartbroken wife, Bana is surprisingly relatable as big-headed journalist Bonneville, and Gervais successfully pulls off his tried-and-tested “ugly runt mongrel dog that no-one wants and his has to be put down” persona (Bonneville’s words, not mine) to prompt our sympathy and exasperation in equal measures.
“[tHE] message is buried beneath so much farce it’s hard to take it seriously.”
To be honest, the problem here isn’t the message – or the portrayal of each individual character. It’s the way it’s all put together.
Want to take a wickedly funny actress like America Ferrera and reduce her to a ‘nice but dumb’ foreigner who thinks all Americans know Kim and Kanye? Sure. But don’t be surprised if lazy stunts like this mean viewers switch off before realising there is a point to the film. Sure, Special Correspondents says something uncomfortably real about the superficial and ruthless world of journalism – but sadly, that message is buried beneath so much farce it’s hard to take it seriously.