Mia Wasikowska in Club Zero
ManOfTheCenturyMovie Film ‘Club Zero’ Review: Mia Wasikowska Teaches Her Students To Stop Eating In Hungry Satire For Better Ideas

‘Club Zero’ Review: Mia Wasikowska Teaches Her Students To Stop Eating In Hungry Satire For Better Ideas

Mia Wasikowska in Club Zero

If nothing else, each new film by Jessica Hausner makes an increasingly undeniable case that no other narrative filmmaker is more skeptical – or even hostile towards – the social institutions in which people place their faith. The first of her and still just great movie tackled the subject head-on by telling the story of a wheelchair-bound woman whose multiple sclerosis appears to have been cured by a visit to the Catholic shrine of Lourdes. Sadly, both of the contemporary films she has made since focus on more distinctly modern sources of faith, and both films are undone by her distinctly modern failure to distinguish good faith from bad.

On 2019’s “Little Joe,” Hausner questioned the world’s growing reliance on pharmaceuticals with an “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” riff that likened antidepressants to a dehumanizing alien force. With the equally breezy but even less explainable “Club Zero,” he returns with a Pied Piper-inspired dark comedy about the potential dangers of placing too much faith in the teachers at our children’s schools. You know the True villains of the 21st century.

Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with making a film about this or any other subject; much better others have been culled from similar concerns, often in response to DeSantis-like despots who see classrooms as the front line of their own fascist-minded culture war. But Hausner somehow manages to turn a tongue-in-cheek satire of Instagram’s “welfare” and Gen Z’s zero-sum approach to the world’s problems into a seemingly inadvertent broadside against the same people he claims they should be “the most respected members of society”.

It’s always been hard not to admire Hausner’s audacity, but this time the audacity of his storytelling finally turns into a troll-like taunt. Sorry, I’m burying the lede: “Club Zero” is a film about a new teacher at an English boarding school named Ms. Novak (played by a frighteningly convinced Mia Wasikowska), whose cult-like lesson plan depends on convincing ai his students that food is actually bad for them. All food. “There’s more to you,” she tells her little group of teenage students, which proves to be the first step in manipulating them into putting less into themselves.

Ms. Novak’s résumé begins with “mindful eating,” which is a bit woo woo but otherwise quite sensible. Things quickly start to escalate from there, however, as Ms. Novak casually exploits her students’ personal insecurities to sell them on a plant-based “mono diet” and then outright abstinence from all food. Did you know that hundreds, and maybe even thousands of people around the world have discovered the health and general enlightenment benefits of not eating? Yeah, they’re just keeping the secret to themselves because mainstream society isn’t ready for that kind of truth bomb.

The heightened reality of Hausner’s film: a rigid and angular dimension that evokes the arid yellow of a Peter Strickland film even before “The Duke of Burgundy” star Sidse Babett Knudsen shows up as headmistress of the school – it helps mask some of the more logical problems with this premise. Not only do Ms. Novak’s boys seem to have no other friends (it’s never implied that they’ve been singled out for their insecurities), but they seem entirely uninterested in sex, social media, or any kind of engagement with the outside world, despite the fact that all of them have cell phones. From the pink paint on the vending machine at school to the Lanthimos-like cruelty the characters use to shame each other, every detail in “Club Zero” is veiled in the self-insistent glee of unfunny satire that bites into a whole far more than it is willing to chew.

Coupled with the percussive sound of Markus Binder’s score, which supports nearly every major beat in the film with an added comedic edge, the two-tone surreality of Hausner’s set and costume design also works to ensure that impressionable audiences won’t catch” Club Zero” too literally. The film is still intended to be labeled “dangerous,” but its various buffers and backstops start to become all the more important once it starts to look like Ms. Novak might be onto something.

Fred (Luke Barker), the shy dancer whose mum and dad work in Ghana, suddenly moves with newfound grace. Elsa (Ksenia Devriendt), the bulimic girl whose wealthy parents feel more typical of the film’s student body, develops a new level of confidence. The scholarship boy’s grades go up, the gymnast is able to jump higher on the trampoline, and the overinvolved parents who found Ms. Novak on the internet are quite happy with the results of her class, at least until something completely stranger does not trigger a sudden moment of coming to Jesus.

A parent herself, Hausner is clearly critical of the conditional involvement all these busy moms and dads take in their children’s lives, but she’s far more compelled by the mind-altering effect certain institutions can have on people. Acknowledging the ridiculousness of Ms. Novak’s curriculum while also pointing out the newfound sense of personal control her students derive from their collective eating disorder (which is horrific and never funny enough to warrant turning into a joke), “Club Zero” he’s free to cheaply shoot youth culture’s supposed groupthink without even bothering to identify his target.

I suppose, despite the feigned timelessness of its aesthetic, “Club Zero” could be justified as a modern fairy tale about a world where radicalization threatens to become a new requirement of self-identity, but to do so would require ignoring that self-denial is a trope as old as religion itself. It would also distract from the reality of a movie having no idea where to blame it. Are overworked parents the problem? Are school teachers brainwashing our kids? Or are today’s uncompromisingly progressive teenagers in the unique risk of having their ideals weaponized against them? None of these things are mutually exclusive, but they are all poorly articulated here.

It’s one thing for Hausner to question religion, which has been responsible for all kinds of sin over the centuries, but antidepressants – and now educators – seem like cynical targets for a filmmaker desperate to undermine anything that might helping people better prepare for the hardships of a godless world. I want to believe I’m misunderstanding Hausner’s intentions, and maybe not for the first time, but I’m getting tired of the lack of trust she seems to have in everyone else.

Grade: C-

“Club Zero” premiered in competition at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution in the United States.

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