I haven’t seen anyone so interested in laundry since Red Dwarf. The 2012 film A Fantastic Fear of Everything is based on the novella Paranoia in the Launderette by Withnail and I‘s Bruce Robinson, and honestly, the novella had the more appropriate title because a third of the way through the film, the story is hijacked by a linens subplot that turns out to be integral to the narrative. Stick a quarter in the washer and there’s no going back.
A Fantastic Fear of Everything begins with melodramatic music as we navigate cartoonish, mysterious streets. It feels like a kids movie right up until the first line of dialogue when Simon Pegg says “shit.” The style then becomes a cross between Lemony Snicket and film noir, which is appropriate because the protagonist, Jack (Pegg), is a children’s book author who is working on a TV documentary about serial killers, which has warped his mind so horribly, he’s paranoid about everything. Not so much that he doesn’t think that drying off his socks in the oven while he’s in the shower isn’t a good idea. But it has to be done. He can’t go to the launderette to wash his socks–No! Launderettes are scary places. At first, it seems just another in a long line of irrational fears, but we discover that Jack was abandoned by his mother at age five in a launderette, thus his subconscious distaste for them. Cue the beautiful girl/love interest, played by Amara Karan, and an actual real serial killer in our midst, and you’ve got a story that’s about more than just a man walking around his flat in his underpants stabbing at the duvet because he thinks there’s a murderer in there. But of course, underneath, the story is really about abandonment and the effect it has on people, both Jack and the serial killer. We finish on music as melodramatic as the movie began.
Stylistically, it’s a beautiful film. It’s colorful, surreal, quirky, messy. It’s even got some animated sequences when we get inside the character’s head. Jack’s look is unforgettable: long red hair and beard (partially singed off in the exploding oven incident), robe, yellow t-shirt, tightie-whities, one sock, and a kitchen knife super-glued to his hand. If there’s a flaw in the film, it’s the embarrassing rap scene with Simon Pegg singing and dancing. Later, we learn that this was to show that he had a very different upbringing from the serial killer, who’s into 80s hair metal, so it’s almost forgivable, though still obnoxious.
The story is very simple, though it wasn’t always clear where it was going or what sort of movie this would be. Jack is preparing to meet with a TV producer who wants to put his serial killer documentary on TV, but Jack is afraid that the producer himself is a killer. We assume that this is what the film will be about. But then Jack has to wash his clothes before he meets with him and so we go to the launderette, and we never leave. The film turns out to be far more psychological than expected…which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We get a bizarre dream/hypnosis sequence where his therapist (Paul Freeman) walks him through his mind and we learn to be forgiving of Jack’s neurotic behavior because of his upbringing. It reminds me of one of my favorite Ray Bradbury stories, The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl. What drives a person to paranoia and how does it feed on itself? We learn that Jack has projected his fear of abandonment onto laundry.