At The Movies: Turbo Kid (2015)

turbokid2015

Turbo Kid

★★★☆☆

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.

2 thoughts on “At The Movies: Turbo Kid (2015)

  1. Just stumbled on your review and… I think you jumped to conclusions with regards to sexual politics here and docking two stars for it just is not fair. I will be including spoilers in this response:

    “although I’m sick to death of compulsory heteronormativity in films.”

    I really don’t see how this applies. The whole theme of the movie is the Kid and Apple falling in love. If they threw in sexual tension between the kid and Frederick that would only dilute the theme.

    Besides. There’s a transgendered person in Frederick’s good guy town at the start of the film. And Bagu the lovable merchant definitely shows some gender plasticity, putting on the red nail polish the kid sells him and wearing Apple’s sparkly pink headband.

    “A film where the lone woman of color is brutally murdered without ever uttering a single line.”

    You’re leaving out some serious context here. First of all, NONE of Zeus’ guards utter any lines. Second of all Misfit proves to be the most competent and deadly of his guards because the kid who moments earlier dispatched four white male guards almost by accident is completely dominated by her superior fighting skills, and she would have killed the kid were it not for the moment when the dude in distress is rescued by his girlfriend Apple.

    “A film where the female lead is literally an object created for human companionship.”

    This movie is more clever than you give it credit. *spoiler warning again* The fact that Apple is a robot is a deliberate subversion of the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl trope. The question of why a beautiful and vivacious woman would throw herself at a depressed shut-in man is answered as neatly as why in the movie “Alien” the science officer Ash lets the Alien inside the ship against quarantine and dooms everyone. In fact, the same subversion is applied at the end to Zeus. Why is he so cartoonishly and irredeemably evil? Because stereotypes like him literally come off an assembly line. “I thought all robots were evil.” “Depends on the model.”

    What’s more, I think actress Laurence Leboeuf deserves special praise for her performance here because on second watching you’ll see a subtle shift from the start when she’s completely manic and following the kid because she’s programmed to, to later in the movie when she becomes warmer and more vulnerable because she’s falling for him for real. The directors get to have their cake and eat it too, lampooning the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl trope, yet still having the final kiss feel earned.

    “the aspirational masculine figure, the arm wrestler Frederick, throws feminized slurs at his opponents”

    I agree Frederick’s fight patter was weak. I blame it on English not being the first language of the Québécois directors. At the same time, don’t forget that Frederick is SUPPOSED to be an over the top satire of 80s tough guy characters, staying calm when his second in command is suddenly buzzsaw murdered inches away, and even in the face of dismemberment he’s going to FINISH his cigar!

    Watch it again and I think you’ll find the film to be more progressive than your initial reaction.

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