2015 • 95 minutes • Epic Pictures Group
Let’s talk about period pastiche.
Period pastiche, or determinedly making a throwback of a film, can be an interesting challenge for filmmakers and a delightful treat for film viewers. The Good German, Far From Heaven, and Hail Caesar! all leap to mind, but there’s also more blockbuster fare like Captain America: The First Avenger. From a distance, it’s easier to map the aesthetic contours of a cinematic era and hit the high notes while conspicuously eliminating any of the low ones. It’s also a great way to express narratives you’ve had in your head since childhood, as they will inevitably bear some markers of the era they coalesced into being during.
Case in point: François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell’s Turbo Kid, a willful eighties throwback set in the far-off dystopian year of… 1997. In a post-apocalyptic wasteland where water is controlled by the warlord Zeus, teen scavenger the Kid scrapes together a living, comforted by his love for Turbo Rider comics. When he is aggressively “found” by a strange girl named Apple, he finds himself drawn into a conflict against Zeus that lets him realize his dream of being Turbo Rider. But, as Apple points out, he’s not much of a Turbo Rider. He’s more of a… Turbo Kid.
As a devotee of the eighties, Turbo Kid appealed deeply to the heart of me, from its general low rent Mad Max aesthetic (everybody rides around on bikes, since motorcycle fuel is impossible to get) to the obliquely WALL-E nature of the Kid to its small but expertly used production values. The CGI in this film looks better and more grounded in the reality of its film than CGI I’ve seen in films with absurdly high budgets, which is an absolute achievement. It’s a lot gorier than I anticipated, although that’s to be expected, having been expanded from a horror short called “T Is for Turbo”.
I honestly enjoyed watching large swathes of Turbo Kid, charmed most of all by its wicked cool soundtrack and by Apple, a terminally cheerful survivor who strikes me as a cross between Gidget, a Care Bear, and Harley Quinn. That’s a compliment around these parts. When the film relaxes and lets itself be a little melancholy and grotesque, it absolutely works. An extended scene where the Kid and Apple just hang out in an abandoned robotics shop and talk about death while staring at the stars is particularly good. When the Kid and Apple go in for their inevitable kiss, Apple barfs up SpaghettiOs on his shoulder. And their relationship, which focuses on friendship first, is handled deftly, although I’m sick to death of compulsory heteronormativity in films.
Turbo Kid holds together and true to its aesthetic in a very solid way. But… this is a film where the aspirational masculine figure, the arm wrestler Frederick, throws feminized slurs at his opponents before gruesomely ripping them to shreds. A film where the lone woman of color is brutally murdered without ever uttering a single line. A film where the female lead is literally an object created for human companionship. François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell are obviously enamored of some of the most popular tropes of the eighties, but they’ve never really asked themselves why they enjoy those tropes.
And that’s the problem with period pastiche of any era—you have to ask yourself why you’re telling your story that specific way. If you simply recycle the aesthetic without questioning its politics, then you’re just repeating and reinforcing those politics.
The proper way to do it is something like Mad Max: Fury Road, a film so good my knees literally weaken at the thought of how good it is. It’s pitch perfect period pastiche, the period it’s pastiching being George Miller’s action days. It utterly nails the aesthetic and the action, and puts it all in service to the story of characters who, in films from that time, would have been speechless background characters. And that’s what makes it absolutely sing—I still get chills thinking of the Splendid Angharad hurling a Death Boy from the cab asking, “Who killed the world?”
That’s not the kind of question that Turbo Kid would think to ask. Its main question is “how rad is this?” (The answer? Pretty freaking rad.) I’m not sure if it’s the job of the film to do so, but I do know that asking those kind of questions is what makes this kind of thing stick.
I watched this film on Netflix.