By Russell Richardson
As busy parents, my wife and I rarely have time for a movie night. When Christmas Eve presented such an opportunity, we chose Glass Onion, Rian Johnson’s sequel to his enjoyable Knives Out, which promised to be an equally light-yet-twisty, Agatha Christie-esque ensemble piece without any excessive grimness, explicitness, or violence that would have been too heavy on Christmas Eve, especially with Santa’s cookies waiting to be eaten on the table before us.
We should have picked the Weird Al bio-pic.
In G.O., a group of five unlikable, Colorform characters—all close friends, we’re meant to believe—is summoned to the island of billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) for a murder-mystery weekend. Among the guests is a governor (Kathryn Hahn), a Twitch-streamer (Dave Bautista), a former model (Kate Hudson), a brilliant programmer (Leslie Odom, Jr.), and Hercule Poirot—nay Benoit Blanc, the world’s preeminent detective, although who exactly invited Daniel Craig’s cunning cornpone is unclear. You’ll remember him from Knives.
The fifth “friend” invited is Andi Brand (Janelle Monáe), the co-founder of Bron’s Google/Facebook/Tesla-type company and who was recently betrayed by Miles in court. Tension looms as we learn that all the friends are all unhappily beholden to Bron, and when one guest dies, Blanc sets out to figure out whodunit and why.
The film begins with each of the five friends receiving and trying to solve a puzzle box sent by Bron. The puzzle box is a fun conceit and as the friends video conference, working together to find a solution, their personalities are revealed by dialogue, actions, and locations. The bit runs long, however, and by the time they’ve opened their boxes and extracted invitations to Bron’s island, I found myself already tired of their company.
Meanwhile, we find Blanc feeling bored and trapped indoors by COVID-19. In fact, we’re led to assume that the pandemic will feature prominently in the film, but no. Neither the virus crisis nor Blanc’s boredom has fuckall to do with him going to the island (as we eventually learn). We encounter no masks for the first ten minutes of the movie—no one wears them at Birdie Jay’s party, not even the sensible-seeming, cameoing Yo-Yo Ma.
When the cast assembles on a dock and waits to board the island-bound boat, they’re inoculated by a mysterious spray—administered by guest star Ethan Hawke—that absolves them of any coronavirus concern for the movie’s remainder.
So, why acknowledge the COVID crisis at all? The vaccination rounds might serve to further characterize the characters, but these are cardboard cut-outs already. We can guess that the Twitch streamer will be corona-skeptical and that the flaky model would wear a mesh facemask. The whole dock sequence felt like a waste of time, and the pandemic is just another story block that connects with nothing else down the line. But shhh—your enjoyment of the film requires you not to question it.
Everyone arrives at the island. Everyone sucks. We follow them around and learn all the ways Miles Bron holds power over their lives. He is so rich, he has the actual Mona Lisa at his compound because the Louvre needed money during the pandemic. Your response might differ, but I thought, “That’s stupid.”
But that’s not the stupidest thing about this movie.
We spend an hour with Benoit Blanc as our eye into this world, our POV character, only to learn that we’ve been misled by him. After a dramatic murder, Johnson Scooby-Doo’s us back to the week preceding the start of the movie. We find out that Andy has evidently committed suicide but has an identical twin who brings Bron’s puzzle box to Blanc. Sister wants his help to prove that she was murdered. Together they will go to the island and find the evidence they need. She’ll cut her hair to look like Andy! She’ll study Andy’s copious journals to get into character!
My complaint: the twin-sibling-stand-in is a groan-worthy trope. If I was surprised by the “twist” at all, it was that after an hour of build-up, I didn’t expect Johnson to reveal such a hackneyed gimmick.
The intention is clear. Knives Out had an endearing protagonist, and Johnson wanted the twin sister to connect with the audience, especially since all the other characters suck suck suck. Yet, the sister arrives too late, and we’re given little reason to care about her, except that she wants justice and has an adorable accent.
Your response might differ, but I thought, “This is stupid.”
But that’s not the stupidest thing about this movie.
We learn that Andy once wrote a master business plan on a cocktail napkin while with friends at their favorite dive bar. She shared the plan with Miles and together they formed Google, Twitter, or whatever. Later, due to irreconcilable differences, Bron squeezed her out of the company and claimed to have drawn up the napkin. Their friends, by now all subordinates to Miles, lied in court to corroborate his story.
The whole movie hinges on this napkin. Here’s the problem: if Andy was such a meticulous, daily diarist that her twin sister could learn everything about her life—and after only a brief period of study!—then the napkin is meaningless. Andy’s attorney would need only to submit into evidence those journals in which she would have fleshed out her business blueprints.
Also: Why again does Miles often carry a blow-torch device? He doesn’t smoke, right? It’s just a Chekhov’s Gun, intended to set the napkin on fire in the final act, right?
Alas, what a disappointing installment in an otherwise promising franchise. The broken chronology of the film does it no favors, none of its characters are likable, and the red herring napkin that serves as the movie’s fulcrum is pointless. And for all this they destroyed the Mona Lisa?
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