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First Look Review - CLINGER

A teenager's clingy ex-boyfriend returns from beyond the grave.


Review by Benjamin Poole (@filmclubchs)

Directed by: Michael Steves

Starring: Vincent Martella, Jennifer Laporte, Julia Aks




"In Laporte, it is refreshing to see a female lead who is kind and funny, but, crucially, not inadequately moping after some boy or another: it’s also fun to see a teen relationship presented as not idealised, or wretched, but instead simply observed as normal, with all the highs and lows those initial courtships entail."






In the opening 10 minutes of Michael Steves’ teen comedy Clinger, an offbeat romance blossoms with a dislocated shoulder and ends among broken hearts and a severed head. Perky athlete Fern (Jennifer Laporte) comes a cropper during track practice, allowing gawky but sweet Robert (Vincent Martella) his moment to rush to her aid. It seems like fate, the two arrange a date, and the breezy tone of Clinger - dark of humour, but tender of heart - is sealed. Sadly for Robert though, the recent trend within teen orientated films (The Fault in Our Stars and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) has been to emphasise the exigency of teen passion with the unfortunate circumstances of one of its participants dying. And so too does Clinger follow this pattern, albeit in a sly pastiche of the trope: Robert’s demise isn’t due to a heart breaking disease, but the cruel slapstick of a freak guillotine accident. Nonetheless, Robert loses his head, but not his heart - death cannot part these two, and, much to Fern’s chagrin, Robert returns as a ‘love ghost’.
Unlike the other doomed denizens of YA romances, where a character, usually a girl, perishes in order to hasten the coming of age of their heartbroken partner, Fern is nonplussed: no lovelorn brooding for her, she lost interest before the accident, finding Robert’s attentions too suffocating. He writes her a song with the lyrics, ‘Fern, Fern, Fern, Fern, Fern, Fern, Fern/ Will you be my first girlfriend?’, and intensely celebrates their anniversary with a weekly ceremony that escalates in soft toy absurdity, but perhaps it was the hideous amalgamated image of them both that he ‘made on the internet’ which finally did it for Fern.
In Laporte, it is refreshing to see a female lead who is kind and funny, but, crucially, not inadequately moping after some boy or another: it’s also fun to see a teen relationship presented as not idealised, or wretched, but instead simply observed as normal, with all the highs and lows those initial courtships entail. Robert, as the insistent ghost, is sympathetic; he’s pathetically still in love with someone who isn’t interested, but lacks the maturity and strength to move on (plus he’s dead, poor guy). Robert’s clinging becomes more and more desperate when the candy colours of the opening sequences darken to black comedy, and Clinger’s goofy take on the teen film enters horror-comedy territory, with Robert gathering an ersatz gang of undeads in a desperate attempt to haunt Fern back into loving him.
Perhaps some audiences will find the unremitting, knockabout humour of Clinger too silly: their loss. Sure, the tone can be childish (in one of the film’s many raunchy running jokes, Fern’s pal, played by a butter wouldn’t melt Shonna Major, can’t speak without uttering an accidentally filthy double entendre), but such broad comedy is matched by the film’s mature reflections upon how affections can curdle over time, and the superficial vicissitudes of high school life. Furthermore, Clinger’s humour is nothing if not relentless; writing with Steves, Gabi Chennisi Duncombe and Bubba Fish’s script crackles with a wit more hit than miss. I liked the Chelsea Peretti-esque deadpan stylings of Fern’s hopeless sister (who, in an inspired pay off, visits the school to lead a session on coping with grief, using sock puppets), and the Garbage Pail Kid gross out invention of the ghosts that haunt the graveyard (including, most darkly, an eight year old amputee bearing scorch marks and a t shirt that states ‘I Love Fireworks’-!). Annoyingly, considering the careful structure and rhythm of the film’s jokes, there seems to be an inconsistency surrounding the ‘ghost rules’ as set out by the film’s badass spiritualist (Alicia Monet Caldwell, who also doubles as Fern’s coach; ‘I will shit on you’), which are contradicted according to convenience (i.e., for early comedic purposes only the haunted can see the haunter, until the rule of funny overrides this plot point in the third act). Horror fans needn’t feel short changed though, when a standout sequence features the most unpleasant headless sex scene this side of Re-Animator, and another spirited sequence depicts the returning zombie hordes of bequested soft toys, horror and comedy enjoy an entertainingly bad romance in Clinger.



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