I've been waiting for what seems like ages to peep Paul King's comedy Bunny and the Bull, although, truthfully, it hasn't even been a year since it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. I didn't know much about it except what I'd seen in the trailer and read online, but King's involvement was enough for me since he's directed 20 episodes of The Mighty Boosh, one of my favorite TV shows. The Mighty Boosh is a sublime, childlike, weird British comedy show that's hard to explain except that it is about the increasingly bizarre adventures of Howard Moon (Julian Barratt), a dour jazz fan, and Vince Noir (Noel Fielding), a mod obsessed with his hair, Gary Numan, and Mick Jagger.
Bunny and the Bull stars Edward Hogg and Simon Farnaby as Stephen and Bunny, two best friends not unlike Howard and Vince in that Stephen is very, very sensible and sensitive whereas Bunny is basically a walking id. He's crass, he sleeps with the girls Stephen likes, he drinks and gambles too much, and he tries to goad Stephen into adventures that they get out of by the skin of their teeth. (It should be noted that Vince Noir is actually just a big goofy kid and not as prickish as Bunny, so the comparison isn't perfect.)
When I realized that it was playing on cable through IFC On-Demand, I immediately called my friends and organized a viewing party.
Bunny and the Bull is, on the surface, about two friends on a hair-raising trip across Europe. Stephen is the type of fellow who pines for a girl who's put him in the dreaded friend zone, while Bunny is a mooch and a mess and more than likely apt to get them killed by angry locals wherever they go. However, it's actually a story that mostly takes place inside of Stephen's head as he reminisces about the trip a year later.
Stephen is not a particularly reliable narrator, given his current state of mind. He wakes up, brushes his teeth, weighs himself, tests the pH balance of his urine, and stores it. He eats the same frozen meal every day. He watches the same shows His living room is crammed with boxes that hold old papers, photos, and assorted ephemera. He seems to live in an old bathrobe. He hasn't left the house since their trip.
The visual style of Bunny firmly establishes that we're visiting a different world, the world that's inside of Stephen's head. It's hard not to compare The Mighty Boosh and Bunny and the Bull because it has a very similar visual style that uses live animation and colorful sets in almost every shot. Fire is represented by waving pieces of multicolored paper; driving up a winding road to a small cottage looks like a scene from inside a snow globe.
The story has its own internal dream logic, even as it switches between Stephen's apartment and his memories of their trip. Of course you can open your couch seats up and find yourself back in Spain. Naturally, a bull is made up of ticking watch gears. A shoe museum (whose guide is the adorable Richard Ayoade of Boosh and The IT Crowd, which IFC is also showing!) is par for the course. And when you meet a beautiful Spanish girl named Eloisa (Verónica Echegui) who's dressed as a shrimp working at a Captain Crab in the middle of Poland and cursing out her boyfriend, it's the most logical thing in the world to drive her to Spain. These are not just flights of fancy but important points in the narrative arc cleverly camouflaged.
At first, Bunny and the Bull is just funny and visually creative, but as the movie goes back and forth between their vacation and Stephen's current state of mind, the story that unfolds is far more poignant than I would have suspected. It's obvious from the start that Stephen is depressed and agoraphobic, but somehow his carefully arranged hoarding is also charming at first, like a Joseph Cornell box or a scene from a Jeunet and Caro movie. Similarly, King's direction has the same meticulous attention to detail, which gives the story a strangely solid foundation. Since the meat of the story is based on the memories that Stephen has carefully kept in the boxes that fill his apartment, it's appropriate that it lives in a landscape that only your imagination could conjure up.
Bunny and the Bull is a bittersweet story beneath the exotic jumble of frustrated matadors and dog-milking vagrants, but one that's hopeful and full of love as well. It lingered over us as we went out to dinner and discussed Stephen and Bunny's adventures and their friendship, and the way that King, who also wrote the screenplay, was able to slyly slip several love stories into one strange trip across Europe. Sometimes you talk about movies afterward because they were bad, or because you want to tease out the meanings and subtexts, but it's rare that you talk about a movie because you wish that somehow you inhabited the story yourself and could to follow the characters on their journey.