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Glass Onion (2022): Spoiler-Free Review

It’s kind of a shame that Rian Johnson’s long-awaited Knives Out (2019) sequel gets such a short run in theaters. While I can’t say I was a huge fan of every element at play in this mystery-comedy-satire, it was definitely entertaining, smart (at certain points), and the incredibly stacked cast definitely helped breathe some life into characters that could have otherwise felt flat. I appreciated the way it interacted with themes of gender, class and race, but still think there was definitely a lot left to be desired, especially when considering how well-written the first one was. Then again, maybe that’s where the title comes into play: much like the murder at its core, it’s easy for us to overcomplicate what we presume this movie to be, to have expected anything other than an expensive piece of entertainment, when reality is much simpler, much more transparent.

When he receives a mysterious invitation to a weekend getaway on a billionaire’s private island, Benoit Blanc finds himself yet again at the center of another murder that needs to be solved. It’s set in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Johnson definitely doesn’t shy away from using this recent history to comment on privilege, showing just how detached the rich are from everyday reality. This is a central theme to the movie, recurring in the way almost every character moves through the world: Kate Hudson plays a model who can’t seem to help but be offensive, Dave Batista plays a men’s rights YouTuber, Edward Norton is the billionaire whose investments are dangerous and corrupt, and Kathryn Hahn is a ruthlessly ambitious politician whose soccer-mom aesthetic hints at the viciousness that belies suburban life. It seems that Johson’s decided to fully commit to being as explicit as possible about how much he dislikes the rich (despite his $150M net worth). While I certainly appreciate a good commentary on class, the script is so painfully on the nose it’s almost an insult to viewers’ intelligence.

There are multiple moments where Blanc, as if speaking directly to the audience, comments on Norton’s glass-dome fortress (dubbed 'the glass onion'), as a metaphor for the case itself, something that seems complicated, but is actually very artless. It was fine the first time it happened, but by the third or fourth time, it felt as if we’re being bludgeoned by Johnson, as if he were lecturing us from behind the camera. It’s not nearly as successful at navigating the political terrain as it wants to be, but maybe that points to my biggest complaint about this film: the writing. As I said, this cast is absolutely phenomenal, and Johnson is damn lucky that’s the case, because their extraordinary acting did some serious heavy lifting in terms of making stilted dialogue seem engaged and lively. That being said, not even their wonderful performances could save issues within the structure of the story.

The movie does my least favorite thing a script could possibly do: halfway through the film, it backtracks, showing us all the things we ‘missed’ (weren’t shown), pretending this constitutes a kind of revelation for the mystery when in reality it’s simply lazy and bad writing. It reminds me of a scene where Hudson’s character says “it’s so dumb it’s genius,” only for Blanc to say “no, it’s just dumb.” But despite these intense problems with story structure, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find myself laughing very frequently, and getting caught in the fun of guessing who was behind the murder. If nothing else, it’s amusing to see the sheer amount of money onscreen. It’s a visual feast that might not be the most compelling, but is at least an entertaining harangue against class society and those who benefit most from it. If you’ve already seen Bones and All (2022) and del Toro’s Pinocchio (2022), this is a good watch. It’s only in theaters for a week (damn you, Netflix), but if you miss it, be sure to stream it on December 23rd!


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