Manodrome: The BRWC Review. By Alif Majeed.
When I started watching Manodrome, I was already half-ready to give up on it. It has a lot to do with realizing that Jesse Eisenberg will play his stock socially awkward loner character he has played several times already. It also didn’t help that Manodrome is an easy movie to box into a blurb. Taxi Driver meets Fight Club. You could almost imagine that blurb popping up somewhere. But as the movie progressed, this story of a lonely cab driver and his desperate silent cry for help made it hard to disengage. Sure, it doesn’t quite reach the highest of the movies I mentioned, but it does enough to be judged on its merit.
Eisenberg plays a cab driver, Ralphie, who lives with his pregnant girlfriend Sal (Odessa Young). He spends a good amount of time in the local gym where he secretly longs for another gym rat, Sallieu Sesay. As he deals with his suppressed sexuality and impending fatherhood, he gets introduced to a local self-help group. The group he joins is personally the most amusing part of the movie.
David Fincher recently said he is not responsible for the wrong message people still drive from Fight Club, or how people interpret it. The group he joins comes across as a club started by exactly the sort of person who misinterpreted Fight Club and is clueless about that fact. It even has a Tyler Duden-like leader played by Adrien Brody who might shit his pants when faced with any real disruption. The kind of toxic group where if a guy says his girlfriend left him, the reply would be, of course, she did without trying to understand why or what made her walk away. It is obvious from the get-go that Ralphie is a guy who needs professional help, but it is the help that the group is not equipped to provide or does not know how to.
Jesse Eisenberg’s performances are usually clubbed into two categories: the arrogant smart-ass or the socially awkward loner. Though Manodrome skewers towards the second category, it is one performance where you sense genuine danger to people around him. Take the scene where he watches his pregnant girlfriend’s belly while she is exercising. For a split second, you get mortified at the thought that he might rush to the kitchen to grab a knife to rip her wide open.
Odessa Young as Sal also compliments him well as the exasperated girlfriend struggling with Ralphie’s mood swings. They have a lived-in quality to their relationship and you can see they once wore their rebellion on their sleeves (or hair considering the matching dyed hair) and are now bogged down by dwindling finances, the pregnancy, and Ralphie’s unpredictable nature. It was amusing how he wanted to look for constant steps to change his life and come up short. But she goes ahead and does it with a simple act of removing the hair dye, symbolizing her willingness to embrace change. It’s a small touch among many others that director John Trengove brings to the table.
It made me curious enough to watch The Wound, his other movie about repressed sexuality, and he is a director you would want to follow. Overall, Manodrome should not only be viewed as a take against toxic masculinity but also its take on the need for the proper help and guidance.
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