Freeway 2 and the Art of Nasty


19 Sep
19Sep

Jonathan Weidler

Matthew Bright’s Freeway retold the story of “Little Red Riding Hood” against a caustic modern backdrop, embodied by a vulgar protagonist (an on-the-cusp-of-stardom Reese Witherspoon) and a serial-killer “wolf” (Kiefer Sutherland). The film was an assault on the senses, but aggressive enough to leave a big impression. It took me a belated second viewing to come around to its genius. 

Bright followed Freeway with a sequel, subtitled Confessions of a Trickbaby. The film maintains the gritty, low-budget aesthetics and assaultive sensibility of the original. As a writer-director, Bright clearly doesn’t care if you like his stuff. My 40-year-old self appreciates that mentality a lot, especially in an era where Hollywood bows at the altar of Fan Service. 

Not unlike Witherspoon’s star-making turn in the original Freeway, Natasha Lyonne was fresh off her much-buzzed performance in Slums of Beverly Hills when she signed on for the role of White Girl, a bulimic sociopath sent to a juvenile facility. 

Keeping with the modern-day fairytale theme, Confessions takes on “Hansel & Gretel,” as White Girl teams up with psychotic cellmate Cyclona (Maria Celedonio) on a quest to elude authorities and meet up with Sister Gomez (Vincent Gallo), whom Cyclona claims saved her life as a child. 

Bright’s screenplay is a string of semi-improvised vulgarity and unexpected violence, but perhaps what’s most shocking about Confessions are the performances of Lyonne and Celedonio. The actresses shift between anger and hate one moment, to sensitivity and sympathy the next. The paradox of teenagers – hell, human beings in general – and their sometimes-contradictory emotional states is deeply felt here. 

So, for every head-in-toilet puke gag or graphic murder, there’s moments of genuine bonding and emotion between our protagonists. 

To that end, Lyonne has become something of a master at essaying repellent characters. Consider 2016’s Antibirth, where she played the unwitting vessel for an alien life form. Part of the joke was her sneering, could-care-less demeanor and disgusting personal habits. I say with the utmost respect that, while I didn’t like Antibirth, it showed Lyonne carving out a niche for herself. 

Many actors shy away from plumbing the depths of darkness, but Lyonne’s willingness to engage with that darkness (whether serious or comedic) distinguishes her as a risk-taking performer. At no point in Confessions does she appear uncomfortable with anything she’s asked to do, and her boundary-pushing character never feels less than human. 

Maybe that’s why I’m fascinated by Confessions’ dedication to “the Art of Nasty.” Mainstream fare often plays up social issues to the tune of swelling strings for Oscar consideration, but barely scratches the surface of why disease, disaster (natural or otherwise), or mental illness are so nerve-wracking and tragic to the common citizen. 

In Bright’s world, the suspense is not in whether the characters will live or die, but whether they’ll truly be able to make something “good” of a bad situation. Unlike Todd Solondz’s misanthropic filmography, we actually care about White Girl and Cyclona, despite their countless transgressions. 

The dark comedy of Confessions lends itself to many laugh-out-loud moments, but also complements the semi-absurdist, stream-of-consciousness tone. Films that recognize their own unique, internalized madness tend to stick with me long after viewing, leaving an imprint that’s unshakable. Things like The Tenant, The Sinful Dwarf, Hausu, and Beyond the Black Rainbow. Freeway 2: Confessions of a Trickbaby joins those ranks – it’s an exercise in two characters actively challenging fate for 99 minutes, while clinging to whatever they can to avoid being catapulted into the stratosphere.

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