The sorts of screen comedies that “travel” well — that play well pretty much anywhere — are slapstick and slap-happy, quick with a gag and quick witted.
The Spanish farces of Pedro Almodovar are hilarious around the world, for instance. Tyler Perry’s made “Madea” money overseas, because who doesn’t like a big Black man in drag playing a smart-assed Granny?
The Turkish comedy “Stuck Apart” has an absurdly bratty kindergarten-age kid, a dotty old man who argues with a photo of his dead wife (who argues back) and a leading man trying like heck to break up with his girlfriend but can’t because she morphs into a broken record, literally bleating “You said you’d never take it off!” about a necklace she gave him untold thousands of times, even after he’s left the cafe where she’s flipped out, even after the cafe is closed.
Remembering Albert Brooks’ “Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World,” you have to appreciate that it is a seriously transgressive film to come out of a somewhat autocratic Islamic Middle Eastern state — with swearing, liquor jokes, bits of blasphemy, more swearing, suicide, rowdy parties with scantily-clad women and still more cussing, much of it by that aforementioned bratty kid.
What it doesn’t have is pace. A rare Middle Eastern comedy, sure. It’s a promising but deathly slow, stumble-footed farce that can’t get out of its own way and for whatever its message — 50ish online marketing guy in mid-existential crisis — “Stuck” never manages much more than “cute” as it stumbles between almost-amusing moments.
But let’s cut filmmakers Durul Taylan and Yagmur Taylan some slack. They didn’t make this Netflix comedy for Western audiences, necessarily. And there’s a way the average home viewer can “fix” is for them. In the lower right corner of your screen, there’s a “playback speed” adjustment. “Stuck Apart” never quite works, but it comes closer to Western comic sensibilities when you play it back at 1.25 times normal speed.
Because, again, comedy is QUICK.
Aziz (Engin Günaydin) is an exasperated EveryMarketingMan, hoping to keep his younger boss Alp (Öner Erkan) happy with his editing and effects use in viral videos, but going a bit crazy.
“I need some time alone” he whines (in Turkish) to his girlfriend Burcu (Irem Sak). That’s what sets her off on her whole “Where’s the necklace I gave you?” tirade.
Aziz is pals with older colleague Erbil (Haluk Bilginer) who stumbles about in a daze of non-sequiturs, widowed and alone and plainly past the point where most online marketing firms would have put him out to pasture.
Everybody in this story is lonely, and the widowed Erbil is loneliest of all. That’s why he chats with his dead wife’s photo. That’s why he’s always begging Aziz to come over. He should get a cat, he figures.
“Either a cat or a Ukranian. They say you can order them online. The good ones are like, $750. The best ones are $1,000!”
Alp is also always begging for Aziz’s company. He finally gets his subordinate to come to a party as his house — a full bar, DJ, “beautiful girls” all around. And when Aziz abruptly leaves, it turns out the whole mob was cast, hired and summoned for the night to put on the appearance of Alp having a swinging, happy life.
“Lonely” means something different to the rich.
It’s not like Aziz can get any peace at home. He’s housing his sister and her lummox husband, and everybody under his roof is under the thumb of their punk child, Caner.
The kid (Göktug Yildirim, pouty and dead-pan) is a constant loop of “Hey UNCLE,” waking him up in the morning with a lighter and a threat.
“Get up or I’m BURNING this BED!”
The tyke is a tirade of F-bombs, threats, demands and growls. He’s also blasphemous, holding a slice to his forehead and mimicking some ritual he probably saw on TV as he demands his uncle eat his mother’s cooking.
“Listen, in the name of this bread, if THEY (his parents) weren’t here, I would KNOW what to do with you!”
Scary. A shrink diagnoses the child as “a bloody jerk,” and Uncle has a suggested use for his manic, violent energy.
“Maybe he can work in the auto industry — as a child laborer.”
You can see the comic potential in most of the cast, but that’s pretty much all we see, save for the funny child — “potential.” There’s funny material — a hallucinated Imam joke here, a “Do you serve alcohol?” gag with a waitress there.
“Whoa,” she says, blowing her breath into her hand. “Is it that OBVIOUS?”
It’s just that the gags are scattered — WIDELY — across a 96 minute movie that meanders through Erbil’s crisis — flashing back to let us see him before he “lost it” — and slowly dances around Aziz’s “issues.” The laughs die lonely deaths when they play out this leadenly.
That’s why, if you’re reading this review in English, I’m suggesting you cheat. Adjust the playback speed. You still get the picture’s big message, a quote from an Islamic philosopher. You just get to it a lot quicker.
“Life is a long walk. If you don’t want to be out of breath, you need to find a new childhood.”
MPA Rating: TV-MA, smoking, suicide, lots of profanity
Cast: Engin Günaydin, Haluk Bilginer, Binnur Kaya, Öner Erkan, Gülçin Santircioglu and Göktug Yildirim
Credits: Directed by Durul Taylan and Yagmur Taylan, script by Durul Taylan, Yagmur Taylan and Berkun Oya. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:34