Luigi Barraza Cárdenas reviews this cheeky but forgettable comedy thriller.
Written and directed by father-son team Preston and Barnaby Thompson, Pixie is a comedy-thriller that mixes dark themes with irreverent humour in a gorgeous, postcard-like Irish setting. A witty script and strong performances (including a delicious cameo by Alec Baldwin) combine to make this film an exciting, fast-paced, if slightly forgettable joy ride.
In the context of the pandemic, Pixie is one of the few films that have been granted a theatrical release this year. This may have had an impact on my judgment: since early childhood, the cinema experience has been so central to my lifestyle that I will (and did!) jump on any opportunity to sit in a dark room, tune out from my moderately stressful life, and enjoy the art of motion pictures. Hence, I am a bit uncertain if I enjoyed the film mostly because I miss the cinema experience so much, or because it was, simply put, a lot of fun.
Olivia Cooke stars as Pixie, an independent badass with a sharp tongue and a no-nonsense attitude. Personally, the main character’s name was a bit too obviously meta for me to swallow. (We get it, she’s a manic pixie dream girl with an Irish accent; you don’t need to spell it out.) Pixie belongs to a gangster family, but longs to break free from the trappings of her Irish small-town existence: her lifelong dream is to live as an artist in San Francisco. Pixie’s reputation eventually attracts the attention and affections of good friends Frank (Ben Hardy) and Harland (Daryl McCormack). The protagonist’s lives are turned upside down when a drug heist involving animal masks, priests, and two afghan Catholics goes wrong, setting them on a wacky road trip through the beautiful Irish countryside. The consistently fantastic scenery makes you want to rent a car, go to Ireland, and leave everything behind.
Olivia Cooke delivers a consistently strong performance, effectively infusing Pixie with cheeky charm, impeccable comedic timing, and emotional depth. But despite her on-point work, it was hard to ignore the character’s one-dimensionality: she is solely motivated by an underdeveloped desire to avenge her mother’s death. Films need to do better than this. Having a strong female character at the center of your story is not de facto ‘feminist’. Pixie may be a feminist, with her willingness to break gender roles and gleefully cause chaos everywhere she goes, but the film itself is evidently not: at times, it is painfully dependent on her sexuality to push the plot forward. While admittedly funny, the final scene felt like an outright betrayal of Pixie’s character, dismissing much of her personal growth in favour of giving us a fun, chaotic shoot-out.
Both male actors give adequate performances that do justice to the script’s dark humour. The film is at its best when focusing on character dynamics, especially the friendship between Frank and Harland and the ultimate nature of their relationship with Pixie. While the story fails to develop a multidimensional female character, I did appreciate the exploration of a new type of masculinity embodied by McCormack’s character. Considering its brief runtime, the script would have benefited from taking more time to explore these relationships and break free from genre tropes.
While I understand how certain people might find some of the themes offensive, the repressed — or perhaps closeted — Catholic in me found the whole priest-mafia gimmick completely hilarious and a much welcome addition to the gangster canon. The operatic slow-motion climax is visually compelling, well-executed, and completely outrageous. I will never be able to look at a nun again without suppressing a chuckle, and for that, I will eternally be grateful to Pixie.
Highlighted by an energetic soundtrack, Pixie is equal parts comedy, gangster thriller, and road trip film. At times, it struggles to build up tension and gracefully handle the script’s abrupt shifts in tone, privileging violent shocks and scandalous shoot-outs over genuine character development. While the film is unabashedly influenced by superior film directors (Tarantino and McDonagh), Pixie manages to justify its own existence by not taking itself too seriously. If the movie is still out by the time this second lockdown is over, I recommend you level your expectations and watch it. Because, why not? It’s a fun way to kill an hour and a half.