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A newlywed couple films an HGTV show about bringing their eco-conscious homes to a low-income neighborhood in New Mexico, but their blue-sky aspirations soon clash with the realities of their project, and the leadership of their eccentric producer.
The brains behind the operation are two darlings of the alt-cinema world, Benny Safdie (Uncut Gems, Good Time) and Nathan Fielder (The Rehearsal, Nathan for You). They also star in the series alongside Emma Stone (Poor Things, La La Land), who is having a very good year.
The Curse is a mix of teeth-clenching cringe, nuanced social commentary, and a fresh take on home renovation shows. Sound like an unlikely mix? It is. There’s a patina of off-kilterness that invites the audience to lean in and find out just what’s going on. What ensues is a complex web of themes, from gentrification to the authenticity of social media to indigenous land ownership in the US. But at its core, The Curse is a pitch-black comedy with wildly flawed but painfully real characters. There are shades of The White Lotus in its skewering of a certain type of rich, liberal white person.
There is also a real beating heart behind all the weirdness. The central couple, Whitney and Asher, played by Stone and Fielder respectively, have grounded, relatable relationship issues brought to the fore by the unglamorous realities of making a television show. Whitney wants to do everything right, or at least to seem like she’s doing everything right, and Asher feeds her desires with his hapless devotion.
For audiences who are more media literate than ever, it can be hard to make a surprising show. We can anticipate plot twists miles away and have story structure baked into our brains. The Curse, though, is always five steps ahead of its audience, asking us to keep up with its strange plot moves and thematic avenues. I was never quite sure where the story would take us next.
Though the series is a formal departure for Fielder, his diehards won’t feel left in the dust. Though it’s a scripted, narrative series, unlike his others, his deadpan cringe radiates through every scene he’s in, and the performances are played so close to life that it could almost read as real. A standout scene is when his character attends a corporate comedy workshop at his wife’s behest, where he learns how to tell jokes at his own expense. It’s peak Fielder humor.
The Safdie influence is evident as well, particularly in the artful cinematography, which often obscures its subjects through warped filters and layered tableaus. The audience is left searching for the character’s true intentions through windows and screens.
As strange as it is funny and as thoughtful as it is surprising, The Curse is as unique a viewing experience as they come. I was first drawn in by the sharp satire and stayed for the company of its richly envisioned characters.
Watch it with people you don’t mind cringing in front of (friends or roommates). I watched it with my mom who also loves home improvement shows. The Curse is nothing like that, but it’s a way in.
If you’re like me, and HGTV is a reliable hum of content that plays in the background of your life, the satire will hit close to home. And if you’re one of those special folks who keeps up with the Joanna Gaines universe, you’ll have a vested interest.
Where to stream The Curse: Paramount+