benidorm_series6

“You’re as camp as a Brighton bus queue!” – The Bon Mots of Benidorm

I’ve snobbishly held out against the sun-damaged charms of ITV’s package holiday sitcom Benidorm, set in the ‘all inclusive’ Hotel Solana, for several series. But the sixth one – which sadly this week pours the sand out of its shoes and packs its bags for another year – had me surrendering to it more legs akimbo than the Solanas’ Mrs Slocombe-esque manageress Joyce Temple-Savage for Matthew Kelly.

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Created and written by Derren Litten (co-writer for The Catherine Tate Show), Benidorm is Carry On meets St Trinians meets Are You Being Served? meets Lady Windermere’s Suntan – and gets an ‘all-inclusive’ hangover and runny tummy. A proper character actor ensemble, rather than a vehicle for some jumped-up stand-up’s overweening ego, and with some lines that glisten like an obese Brit’s back in the Costa Del Sol noon-day sun, it’s very old-fashioned comedy – which is to say, actually funny instead of just sneery-cringey.

No wonder the critics hate it. (See also that other recent ITV comedy triumph Vicious.) Benidorm is tacky and trashy and stuck in the past but doesn’t mind who knows it, thank you very much.

Kenneth Du Beke
Kenneth Du Beke (Tony Maudsley)

Everyone is a caricature but instantly recognisable. Well, everyone is a caricature except for Kenneth Du Beke (Tony Maudsley) the overweight chain-smoking gay manager of the Solana’s salubrious hairdressing salon Blow ‘n’ Go who with his rather ‘young’ and ‘cheery’ styling was mistaken by Philip Olivier (aka ‘Tinhead’ from Brookside) for a children’s entertainer. He’s just documentary.

Tacky and trashy and trapped in the past it may be, but Benidorm is also often well-written and sharply observed. The whole of episode three (below) is quite brilliant and takes on a very contemporary subject – judgey gay assumptions about the relationship between masculinity and sexuality – that most ‘serious’ dramas wouldn’t dare.

The scene at 21:38 between loveable Liam Conroy (Adam Gillen) , the swishy Tenko and Dynasty fan and hairdresser who has fallen in love with a girl, and his narrow-minded tight-clothed gay boss who knows better and insists Liam is ‘really gay’ and is going to end up ‘living a lie’ deserves an Oscar:

Liam: “You need to learn to accept people for who they are! Just because I don’t fit into YOUR stereotype of how a man should be doesn’t give you permission to call me names! I am what I am and what I am [swings arm and pirouettes, badly] needs no excuses!!”

Likewise Benidorm is what it is and needs no excuses either. And as Liam’s cross-dressing dad Les/Lesley from Wearside would say: “Thank fook for that!”

Oh, and in case you think that Liam’s dilemma could only exist in a silly sitcom and never in real life – have a read of this heartfelt post by the young ballet dancer Chehon Wespi-Tschopp about the way too many gay men treat him because he doesn’t fit into their stereotype of how a man should be.

I Love You, Jim Carrey

Watching the exhilarating ‘l’amour fou’ movie ‘I Love You Phillip Morris’ recently I found myself falling in love with Jim Carrey all over again – after several years of taking him for granted.

So much so I forgot he was there all over again. The role of Steven Russell the gay con-man is one he was born to play. It’s a return to the Jim Carrey of The Cable Guy – his best and most overlooked film until now. But a bit more grown up, slightly less scary, and with Ewan McGregor instead of Matthew Broderick as the object of his swirling attentions. I don’t fancy Carrey, and I suspect McGregor probably doesn’t either, but Carrey in full-on comic madman mode is impossible to say no to.

So I thought I’d post this love letter to him orginally published in the Independent on Sunday back in 2002.

Fears of a Clown

He’s the funny guy famous for his deviant comic roles. So what is it about Jim Carrey, asks Mark Simpson, that makes him the perfect embodiment of American psychosis?

(Independent On Sunday 19 May 2002)

Whenever I finally confess to my friends that I’m a Jim Carrey fan I almost always get the same reaction. “Oh, I see,” they say, looking me up and down as if really seeing me for the first time. “Yes, well, I can’t stand him, I’m afraid.” Then they pull a slightly sour expression as if I’d farted and explain: “You see, It’s the…” “…gurning” I say, completing their sentence. “I know. That’s exactly what I like about him.” Clutching for some middle ground they then offer: “I quite liked him in The Truman Show, though”. It’s at this point that I quickly change the subject.

It’s all a case of mistaken identity: they see a vulgar spasming idiot where I see a god of comedy… who is a vulgar, spasming idiot. Hence people who don’t like Jim Carrey will probably like his new movie The Majestic. Like The Truman Show (1998), it is played straight(faced), and very competently. People who like Jim Carrey, however, will pull their lower lip over their forehead in frustration.

Appropriately enough, the film is about mistaken identity. Carrey plays Peter Appleton, a Hollywood B-movie scriptwriter who is caught up in the Anti-Red paranoia the 1950s and sacked by his studio and blacklisted as a Commie. Of course, Carrey isn’t really a Commie but just “a horny guy” who was trying to get into the pants of a girl at college who happened to be a Commie. But the cold warriors see what they want to see and Carrey is threatened with a subpoena.

So he gets drunk, crashes his car and suffers amnesia, staggering into smalltown America where he is mistaken for someone more interesting again – Luke Trimble, a young Marine who failed to return from the Second World War. The still-grieving town, having lost several sons, has a form of mass hysteria: benign and healing where the McCarthyite variety is malign and divisive, and everyone believes he is Trimble, even Luke’s father and his former girlfriend. Carrey/Appleton, still with no idea who he is, decides that he might as well be who they want him to be.

However, there’s another case of mistaken identity in this movie: Jim Carrey has clearly mistaken himself for Jimmy Stewart. Carrey makes a passable Stewart, but why on earth should someone who is the unnatural love-child of Dionysus and Jerry Lewis want to be Jimmy Stewart? Besides, Stewart isn’t even dead – Tom Hanks, after all, is still with us.

Mr Carrey, who has just turned 40, is ranked number five in Hollywood’s “star power” ratings – which effectively measures whether we see what we want to see when we look at a screen actor. At 98.46 he comes behind Mr Cruise, Mr Hanks and Ms Roberts who all score a “perfect” 100, and Mr Gibson at 98.68. Although he is already one of the most famous and wealthiest men in America (and recently announced this by buying his own $30 million jet), Mr Carrey would very much like to close that 1.54 point gap and be a perfect 100. Hence the Jimmy Stewart preoccupation.

Carrey’s success of course has come largely through his maniacal, edgy, inspired, disturbed/disturbing – and gurning – performances in films such as Dumb and Dumber (1994), Ace Ventura Pet Detective (1994), The Mask (1994), and Liar, Liar (1997). He even almost succeeded in rescuing the rubber codpiece meltdown that was Batman Forever (1995), with his toxically camp interpretation of The Riddler. Alas, Carrey’s ambitions are “bigger” than such roles allow. He wants to be mistaken for that truly freaky thing: a well-rounded, redeemed human-being. Frankly, his green-furred misanthropic Grinch (The Grinch, 2000) was a more sympathetic character than that.

Carrey seems to be a curious, furious tension between a craving for revenge and adoration. From a Canadian blue-collar trailer park family with a sickly, hysterical mother and a manic-depressive father, he tried to please and distract in equal measure. He wrote himself a cheque for $15 million when he was starting out in the 1980s. (In a curiously ambivalent gesture, he placed the cheque in his father’s coffin). Having succeeded, he surpassed fellow Hollywood comedians such as Steve Martin, Mike Myers and William Shatner – like them, he is a Canadian whose job it is to be mistaken for an American.

So it’s perhaps no coincidence that in most of his films he seems to have “identity issues” – darkness, disintegration and exhilarating release is always just a few facial tics away. In The Mask, appropriately enough the film which brought him to the widest public attention, he plays a mild-mannered nerd who discovers a mask which imbues its wearer with the spirit of the Norse god of mischief. In Liar, Liar he’s a lawyer beating himself up to stop himself from telling the truth. In Me Myself and Irene (2000), he plays a mild-mannered nerdy cop who keeps flipping into a deviant Mr Hyde personality

And then there is the The Cable Guy (1996), in which he plays a nerdy cable installer who wants nice Matthew Broderick to be his best buddy and flips over into a compelling psychosis when Matthew disappoints him. Of all Carrey’s movies, The Cable Guy is the one which comes closest to the truth of his screen persona and also perhaps the truth of the best comedy – that it is about desperation and darkness. Carrey is like the Id monster in Forbidden Planet on the rampage and with a lisp. He turns in one of the most original performances ever seen in a movie – and most reckless, given that this was his first $20 million role.

So when the critics pasted it and audiences used to his “alrighty!” slapstick hated it, Carrey and his entourage panicked and scrambled to make sure that his future projects would not expose so much of his dark side: that people would see what they wanted to see, instead of the rage of Caliban in the mirror. Ironically, even a schmaltzy non-comedy film like The Majestic requires the knowledge of the dark, Satanic Carrey to sustain our interest in his everyguy performance. The gurning lies underneath.

Carrey is a man clearly possessed by voices – the trashy voices of American pop culture we all hear inside our heads: Captain Kirk, John Wayne, Bugs Bunny, Elvis, Lucille Ball. He’s a latter-day “Legion”, the Biblical madman of Gadarene who spoke in a hundred voices, whose evil spirits were exorcised by Christ (and who, evicted, promptly commandeered a herd of swine and drove them squealing over a cliff into the sea). Unfortunately, given his “healing” tendencies in his straight movies, Carrey also sometimes seems to think he’s Christ too. (In his next movie, Bruce Almighty, he is set to play God.)

Actually, Carrey is someone much more important than God: he is America. At least in terms of his contradictions: hysterical/professional, needy/maniacal, narcissistic/high-minded, base/aspirational, idealistic/hypocritical, cynical/sentimental, amnesiac/media-addicted. In The Majestic Carrey’s character recalls a movie plot but still can’t remember who he is: “You mean you can remember movies but not your own life?” says Laurie Holden. “That’s terrible!” Maybe, but it’s not so unusual.

Like The Truman Show, The Majestic ends with Carrey’s character renouncing the inauthenticity of fame for “real life”. Fortunately for us, the real Jim Carrey is never likely to make that choice.

Single White Misanthrope

Mark Simpson on the hell of other people’s crumbs in your margarine tub

 

FLATSHARE OFFERED: Easygoing bloke with GSOH seeks business traveller who needs place to keep spare toothbrush. No pets, no friends, no conversation. Paranoid introverts who keep themselves to themselves and are actually invisible welcome. Rent dependent on how much oxygen you use.

Rooming with people is rubbish.

Contrary to the propaganda put out by shows like ‘Friends’ and ‘This Life’ roomates are not trendy or clever. Roomates are a social disease.

Sartre, you see, was wrong: Hell isn’t other people. Hell is other people’s crumbs in your margarine tub.

As a species roomates insist on doing irritating, thoughtless, selfish, anti-social, psycho things—like using the bathroom and cooking. They switch lights on and off—click, click, click, click—irritating you and wearing out the contacts in the switches. And they have the effrontery to encourage people to send their personal mail to your address, littering your doormat.

I’ve even had roomates who actually invite their friends around and sit drinking coffee and laughing in the sitting room, behaving for all the world as if they actually lived here! As if they didn’t know that the only reason you allowed them to pay half the rent and use the spare set of keys was to change the bin-liners and make the place look occupied when you’re out.

Of course, you also get the occasional outright basket-case. One loony ex-roomie of mine used to smile and say ‘Hello’ whenever he ran into me. Creepy or what? Sometimes he’d follow me into the kitchen, freaking me out by asking me scary, leading questions like, ‘So, how was your day?’ or ‘Turned out nice again, hasn’t it?’

He lasted less than a week and he would have gone sooner if I hadn’t made allowances for the fact that he was from the country.

Even when they realise that you’re not interested in idle chit-chat they don’t give up. They’ll try and get chummy another way. One bloke would leave cheery notes outside my bedroom door which I, of course, never replied to. Blackmail shouldn’t be dignified with a response. Another used to try and bribe me by leaving Post-It notes on food she’d bought, saying things like ‘Eat Me!’. But these attempts at being ingratiating just grate. Of course I’m going to eat their food. It’s in my fridge.

You try vetting them at the interview stage, but it never really seems to work. People just lie. You know the ones: “Oh, I work very long hours and I’m seeing somebody who lives in Bristol – I’m hardly ever here.” Then, of course, you catch them sneaking in one weekday night several minutes before midnight. Or they try to tell you that just because their partner went and died in a car accident they won’t be visiting them any more. People are so unreliable.

There’s nothing for it, you’ve got to be hard. Anyone who’s ever had a flat-mate will know that it’s so easy to be taken for a ride. When you realise you’ve been had you feel so stupid and foolish, you could kick yourself, or rock backwards and forwards, your knees drawn up into your chest, moaning and muttering in the corner of your room with the lights turned off for a week or so. It’s a frightening world. There are so many kooky people out there who want to move in take over your life and move your collection of glass coffee tables a whole inch out of alignment.

The worst thing about roomates is that they make you feel like you’re the one with the problem. They go running around telling everybody that you’re impossible to live with, or a fruit-cake, just because you asked them to buy and label their own toilet seat. Really, some people have no concept of hygeine at all.

Or gratitude. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve tried explaining to people that the Calor gas camping stove and basin of water in their bedroom are top of the range models and that no one could ask for more. They also never seem to grasp why their door has bolts on the outside.

I once thought I’d found the ideal roomate. One of those corpses in cryogenic suspension. We were very happy together for a while, but in the end it didn’t work out. We had too many rows about the noise and astronomic electricity bills his frozen nitrogen pump was causing.

Getting rid of the roomate infestation once they’ve settled can be very tricky. Especially without communicating with them. So you have to resort to indirect methods. A kipper under their bed often conveys a helpful hint, as does the old horse’s-head-at-the-foot-of-the-bed trick. But I generally find that walking into their bedroom naked in the middle of the night, arms outstretched, moaning, ‘BRAINS!! I NEED BRAINS!!’ is most effective. Come to think of it, just walking into their bedroom naked usually does the trick.

Why haven’t I done the sensible thing and got a place by myself? Well, I suppose that, if I’m honest, I have to admit that in spite of everything I’m a bit sentimental and I sorta like having somebody around to avoid. See, I’m a People Person and I think I’d be a bit lonely if I lived by myself.

I mean, what would I do on a wet Thursday afternoon if I didn’t have a roomate’s underwear drawer to rummage about in?

 

(Originally appeared in Attitude, 1996 & collected in Sex Terror)