“Withnail and I for the mentally ill”…

…was tempting enough a review to make me see the ‘madcap’ new brit flick ‘Bunny and the Bull’ last night.

That critic was right – this first feature from the director of ‘The Mighty Boosh’ does owe a lot to Bruce Robinson’s classic film.

But I’d go further than that. It’s more a case of “Withnail and I for the Mentally ill meets Michel Gondry on a mescaline trip through Narnia, with a Penelope Cruz style love affair thrown in for good measure.” In other words, go and see it as soon as you can.

The friendship dynamic is similar to that of Withnail and Marwood. Bunny and Stephen are best friends (although it’s hard to see why). One character is charismatic yet selfish, while the other is more sweet and subdued. The pair go on a long journey together. There’s a scene with an angry bull. And there’s a scene near the end where Bunny asks Stephen if he’s got time for a drink, clutching a bottle of wine.

So there’s a considerable debt to Withnail. But ‘Bunny and the Bull’ is also very different. For a start, there’s a whole romance story in it, which you don’t get a whiff of in Withnail.

The film starts out a bit like ‘Stranger than fiction’, where a voice narrates the main character’s precise morning routine. Except then Stephen’s rituals gets stranger and stranger. He’s deeply neurotic, as we see from his clinical hoarding of everything from fingernail clippings to ‘drinking straws circa 1996’ which he’s been cataloguing with unbridled OCD. He’s also agoraphobic, not having left his flat in a year (we find out why later). So the actual geograpy in the film all takes place as meandering flashbacks into Stephen’s own memory.

And it’s these flashbacks which provide the film’s main delight – the astoundingly creative way in which it’s told.

The sets range from Paddington Bear style collage animation, to stop-frame to quirky photomontages. We step inside a snowdome, we drive along a motorway through cardboard Alps, we journey to the other side of his mind, all without physically going anywhere, but all through ingeniusly imaginative sets.

It’s all totally enchanting, and in a way, this stuff takes over. The plot becomes secondary; incidental even. Some people might find this a problem, in that the performances and the depth of the story becomes over-shadowed. But it depends what you want from a film.

Another slight downside comes towards the end. The film seems to come to a conclusion, but then there’s another twenty minutes, which feel like an unnecessary add-on. Almost like you’re watching the DVD extras of scenes that might have been cut with more savage editing.

But on the whole it’s exceptional, and amazing to think it was all done on a miniature Warp X budget.

Other highlights include a very funny automated phone incident at the ‘Crab Shack’ restaurant, which is too surreal to try and explain here. There’s a wonderful scene in the Shoe Museum where we meet ‘Garth Merenghi”s Richard Ayoade as a hilarious tour guide zombie with pun-tourettes.

Oh and of course there are amazingly acted cameos, from Julian Barratt as the lunatic Russian vagrant and Noel Fielding as the Spanish Matador. Finally, there’s the relative newcomer, Edward Hogg who plays Stephen. He has a mesmerisingly lovely screen quality about him that makes you think “he’s going to be huge”. Not sure how long this film will be out for – so go and see it while you can.

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