In the first -- and the strawberry-flavored -- movie of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg's wonderfully brilliant Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, Simon Pegg is Shaun, a twenty-nine year-old, uninteresting, uninterested electronics salesman, who never bothered to get his life in order. He lives with his best friend Ed (Nick Frost) who is even more of a do-nothing than he is. And Shaun's girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) has reached a breaking point -- a breaking up point. But things must always get worse before they get better, and that's where the Zombie apocalypse comes in.
|Yes, Shaun, if the city is overrun with the undead, then you probably don't need to go into work.
In spite of (or perhaps a bit because of) Shaun's unmotivated attitude, he is still easily Pegg's most endearing character of the "trilogy." The everyday, well-meaning, average guy, who can be extremely motivated when it comes to things he truly cares about, Shaun is a fantastic character, a deceptively simple stereotype, and so easy to love and root for. If you don't like him at the beginning, but do by the end, it's not because of any change in him, but because of you, realizing that he's really been a great person the whole time. And Simon Pegg's performance as him cinches all those endearing qualities. I wonder at why mainstream movies always keep Pegg in the "quirky comic-relief side character" category. He is totally brilliant at comedy of course, but is no less great at drama. Real, actual, deep drama. Yet it seems like he rarely gets real drama to play outside of these three films. Makes them all the better for it I suppose!
|These two. Oh man, these two.
And he and Nick Frost make a wonderful duo. I mean, that's an obvious thing to say, but they really really do. They work off each other and make each other funnier, and more compelling. Frost's character of Ed here isn't as endearing as Shaun, but is still very funny and goofy, and gets his dramatic moments too. Kate Ashfield as Liz basically equals Ed's character for second main character, and while she isn't characterized to be super funny, is definitely a good character. Liz's flatmates Dianne and David (Lucy Davis and Dylan Moran) don't really reach the great humorous heights of the other three leads, but they support very well, and that is plenty. Penelope Wilton is amusing as Shaun's shell-shocked mum, and Bill Nighy is as good as ever as his step-dad. Jessica Hynes (Stevenson) is Shaun's female doppelganger, and Martin Freeman has a bit-part as her boyfriend, in one of my favorite gags in the movie.
|Wait a minute...
Humor is this film's main source of brilliance. The beginning shows dead-eyes humans slothing about with no purpose, and they aren't even zombies yet. The sequence of Shaun doing his morning routine, and then doing it again the next day, not noticing that zombies have replaced all the people around him, is fantastically amusing, and also pretty fantastic storytelling. I also just adore the scene of throwing records at the zombies, trying to decide which ones are worth breaking. From the extended jokes, down to the smallest hilarious expression, this movie, it's script, and it's actors, and of course the director, all really know how to handle the comedy, and it's what makes the movie as great as it is.
And that's why, when the comedic tone fades into a serious dramatic one with only a side of comedy in the third act, the tone change is too obvious, and it suddenly feels like the film had gone downhill -- just a little. Thinking about it, I like the drama; I like that this movie has a deeper meaning to it than just killing the undead in humorous ways, and I love that it has an underlying heart beneath all the strawberry-flavored gore. If it could have those things without having to cut back as much on the hilarity though, it would have been that much better. There are still often funny and amusing moments, but it gives way to the drama, instead of letting it come up beside and work in tandem. It's not the worst trade in the world though; Simon Pegg is a great crier, looking so incredibly and pathetically sad, and the dramatic twists and conflicts give much more interest than people whacking zombies on the head.
|Not that whacking zombies on the head isn't fun or anything...
Understandably, this film is rated R, with some language, and one particularly violently gross spot. And, I have to say that I don't love the ending. I respect it, but it's not what I would have wanted to do. But then again, what I would have wanted to do wouldn't have matched the style of the rest of the film, so I suppose I have to admit that it was the right ending. With Edgar Wright's brilliant directing vision, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's winning combo, all the wonderfully original and incredibly smart jokes, and the endearingly off-kilter style, Shaun of the Dead absolutely kills.