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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Bonobo movie review: of monkeys and (wo)men

Bonobo green light James Norton

A gentle, poignant dramedy about getting out of your comfort zone, one that smashes the tropes of microbudget films with its wildly original story.
I’m “biast” (pro): I’m desperate for stories about women

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Middle-aged, divorced, and seemingly a bit of a stick in the mud, Judith (Tessa Peake-Jones: Doctor Who) is so mortified that her daughter, Lily (Eleanor Wyld: Frequencies), has dropped out of law school to go live at Bonobo House — aka, the local “monkey sex cult” commune in their small English town — that she can barely even admit it to herself, never mind to her snooty, judgy neighbor. But enough is enough, and so Judith heads over to try to convince Lily to drop out of dropping out and get back to her real life. Instead, the commune’s leader, hippie philosophy PhD Anita (Josie Lawrence), convinces Judith to spend the weekend and try to understand their ways, which include feeding one another at every meal and using sex to solve all conflicts (like bonobos do). Things do not go smoothly, as you might imagine, not least of which is because humans are not bonobos but our own weird sort of monkey. This is a gentle, poignant dramedy about getting out of your comfort zone (even if your comfort zone is a monkey sex cult commune) and making new human connections, one that dismisses the stereotype of stodgy English respectability and embraces the reality that personal liberation is still a thing that people — and in particularly women — have to discover for themselves, that we all place constraints on ourselves in ways that it’s sometimes difficult to acknowledge… or that sometimes it’s simply easier, if far less emotionally satisfying, to let ourselves get pushed along in the direction we imagine we’re “supposed” to go. Director Matthew Hammett Knott, who cowrote the script with Joanna Benecke — both are making their feature debuts — also smashes the tropes of microbudget, one-location (this is near enough) films with a wildly original story that’s not like anything we’ve ever seen before. Bonobo is smart, unexpected, and hugely, warmly human — I love this movie.

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watch at home

Bonobo (2014)
UK/Ire release: Dec 05 2014

BBFC: rated 15 (strong sex, strong language, drug use)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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