Posted on Friday, September 15th, 2017 by C. Robert Cargill
Max Landis is a writer’s writer. While his subject matter is thoroughly accessible, he isn’t the type of guy you hire for your standard studio fare. The screenwriter behind films like Chronicle, American Ultra, and Bright is obsessed with structure, with word play, with the subversion of tropes and clichés. He’s exactly the type of writer that other writers study, marvel at – scratching their heads at how deftly he manages to turn genre on its ear or how he crafts entire acts of films that play radically different upon second viewings. And he’s also a writer’s writer in the Hemingway sense, insomuch as you’re probably as accustomed to hearing his name in reference to his afterhours shenanigans as you are hearing about his work. As a critic, I’ve tried to avoid writing sentences like that last one as, more often than not, a subject’s personal life has little bearing on their work – but bear with me, because in Landis’s case, who he is publicly is as important to his work, and A Scar No One Else Can See, his 150-page “living document” on the work of pop star Carly Rae Jepsen, as anything else.
Landis has been candid about his own personal demons, and even more candid about his use of drugs and alcohol to self-medicate. And those demons are on display in almost every single piece of produced fiction he’s written. If there’s one prevailing theme that links nearly all of his work together, it is that of truly broken individuals finding respite, and ultimately deliverance, in the arms of another person. Evocative of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love, Landis’s work is often about people who want to be loved, are far too damaged to find love orthodoxly, and then find it in the most unexpected, unconventional ways. And it is through that love that the protagonist can begin to become whole. Whether the character is a warped MK Ultra experiment, an undiagnosed sociopath, a pathological liar lying about an illness for money and sympathy, or a broken-hearted lesbian who dabbles in bi-sexuality after a break-up, the theme remains – it is always when the characters find someone who accepts them for who they are, unconditionally, warts and all, that they can find some sense of normalcy and begin to be healed. It is as if Landis is constantly arguing with Jean-Paul Sartre, whose thesis of No Exit is that “Hell is other people,” with Max yelling from across the table “No JP, Hell is the absence of other people! Other people are our salvation, not our punishment!”
Yes. You just read a Sartre reference in a piece on Max Landis’s take on Carly Rae Jepsen. If that threw you for a loop, strap the fuck in buttercup, because you’re in for a bumpy fucking ride.