Fukunaga’s “Maniac” is too much plot: Review


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CONSTANTLY CHANGING VISIONARY. Cary Joji Fukunaga is the director and producer of the new Netflix miniseries “Maniac.” Other directing credits include “Jane Eyre,” “Beasts of No Nation,” and the first season of the HBO hit “True Detective.” After the release of his new series last week, he stated that he was not interested in directing a second season of the show if it was renewed. “For me, I like to do one [project] and move onto something else,” Fukunaga said.

The new Netflix mini-series, “Maniac” feels like a myriad of interesting ideas strung together that do not always make sense. In my opinion, this is both a criticism and something I can appreciate.

Let me explain.

“Maniac,” released on streaming service Netflix last week, brings together actors Jonah Hill and Emma Stone with “True Detective” showrunner Cary Joji Fukunaga and is a science fiction drama consisting of ten episodes.

The series follows Owen (played by Hill) and Annie (played by Stone), two patients in a new pharmaceutical drug test, who are mysteriously drawn to each other as the people around them keep pulling them apart.

The series deals with many themes, including the power of relationships and connections, and battling our inner demons and darkest desires.

Throughout the series, Owen and Annie experience dreams, or “reflections,” of different realities they experience through the computer program GRTA, which offer some of the shows trippiest moments.

As they go further and further into the testing, the two characters develop a close relationship through the sharing of “reflections,” something that is not supposed to happen, thanks to a malfunction from GRTA.

If this is already sounding confusing to you, then you are already experiencing the main problem with the show: there is too much going on.

On top of these alternate reality “reflections” that put Owen and Annie into different settings (the eighties, the forties, a weird fantasy world that reminds me of Westeros), the show also focuses on their mental illnesses.

Owen has schizophrenia and is constantly visited by his dead brother giving him cryptic messages, while Annie is a drug addict suffering from severe depression.

The two characters dealing with these problems through the drug test and getting closer together that way would have been interesting enough. But Fukunaga decides to add something extra to the equation.

You see, the computer, GRTA, is programmed to feel empathy, so when her creator dies of an overdose, she becomes depressed, causing the whole malfunction in the first place.

This subplot adds another complex layer to this already elaborate premise, which unfortunately can make the show hard to follow at times. The plot was simply too intricate for me to keep up with.

This is not to say that the complexities of the show are a bad thing. I really enjoyed seeing the different realities and the unique ways Hill and Stone interact with each other through these scenarios.

Which brings me to my biggest praise of the show: the casting. Hill and Stone have excellent chemistry, whether they are playing a married couple in the eighties, a former fling in the forties, or depressed strangers in the present.

The supporting cast is also excellent. Justin Theroux plays one of the scientists working on the drug tests, and he gives one of his most compelling performances to date.

While on the subject of praise, there were quite a lot of aspects of “Maniac” that I really enjoyed.

The directing from Fukunaga (who directed all ten episodes), is very strong, and some of the visuals are mesmerizing and unique. The musical score I also felt was pretty noteworthy, as was the cinematography.

But when all is said and done, what really makes me invested in a story, whether it be a film or TV show, is the plot, and frankly, the one that “Maniac” offered just did not grab me because of how convoluted it was.

There are a lot of interesting ideas and themes here at play, and each individual plot element by itself could work very well on their own. That said, when combined together, it is, unfortunately, a bit of a mess.

“Maniac” excels in giving strong performances out of both Hill and Stone, and showcases the competent direction from Fukunaga in a sci-fi territory. However, it falters in giving the audience a story that is both understandable and investing.

While I did end up watching the show the whole way through, I can see why the confusing plot could turn some people off. It certainly is not for people who are not a fan of complex sci-fi.

If you are a fan of hardcore science fiction and are wanting to see some excellent performances and creative new worlds, I would recommend “Maniac” for those aspects alone and really nothing else.

It may not be for everyone, but I know one thing for sure. Off the back of this, I am very interested to see what Fukunaga can do with the popular “James Bond” franchise, seeing as he is directing the upcoming twenty-fifth installment.

That film, hopefully, will not be nearly as confusing as “Maniac” was. At least, for me.