Although not technically a movie, this filmed version of writer/performer Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s recent revival of her one-woman show Fleabag (which then inspired the massively successful two-season BBC series) is available to view in movie theaters sporadically throughout October (in Chicago, for five shows at the Gene Siskel Film Center) and November at other theaters, all courtesy of National Theatre Live. As directed by Vicky Jones, the stage show features a simple set with Waller-Bridge sitting on a stool, talking to her audience with the occasional sound effect or disembodied voice heard to supplement her various stories of family, sex, friendships, sex, work, and sometimes sex. In the span of just 80 minutes, she weaves together a series of interconnected moments that embrace the comic and tragic—sometimes in the same breath.
Framed within the context of a job interview that isn’t going well thanks to recent a sexual harassment suit filed against the company where she’s interviewing, Waller-Bridge is coping with the recent death of her best friend and business partner (they started a guinea pig-themed cafe together), and processing the events leading to the friend’s freak accident by working through both her own lifestyle choices and the cards that were dealt to her in life before choices could even be considered. The character’s mother died when she was young, her father remarried her mother’s best friend, and her sister is more conventionally pretty than her, which has led to her seeking validation of her own worth in the beds of a string of men. This is not to say she lacks confidence; to the contrary, she’s positively dripping with confidence. But confidence and worth are different creatures.
Her hilarious, beautifully spun tales of awkward dates, hook-ups, and other encounters are perfectly crafted to sound conversational, which is an art form unto itself. But by the time the 80-minute journey is complete, we’ve fallen in love with not only our narrator, but the old man name Joe who stops in her cafe every afternoon; her sister who is struggling between sibling love and commitment to the needs of her demanding husband; and of course, her late best friend, who was a constant source of inspiration and good times. We even feel something for the men in her life, from her on-again/off-again boyfriend to a rat-faced gent that she hooks up with one night when her boyfriend leaves her (again).
It’s a controlled whirlwind of laughter, emotion and guilt that, when it first premiered, announced the coming of a true acting and writing force for good. With the show’s recent multiple Emmy wins, these limited performances will sell out, so get your tickets immediately. Even if you don’t know the series, this is the right and proper jumping-off point; if you do, see where it all began.
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