Hollywood love stories are so cliché: Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy uses girl’s access to the files of a corrupt tech billionaire to try to launch an exposé. Boy gets fired. Girl also gets fired. Girl breaks up with boy. Boy gets body taken over by an aggressive alien parasite. Girl briefly also hosts the parasite. Girl kisses boy while possessed by said parasite. Boy stops another evil parasite’s plot. Boy realizes he’s found his true love with an alien parasite. Boy and girl get coffee and reconcile. Girl says that she’s sorry about Venom.
That’s the plot of 2018’s Venom, which, as many people (including Sony’s marketing department) have noted, feels like a studio rom-com with a superhero movie erupting out of its body, like, well, an alien parasite. The movie sets things up with a rough-and-tumble video journalist named Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy, entirely mumbling), who loves breaking stories about corporate malfeasance almost as much as he loves wearing bracelets, and his fiancée Anne Weyling (Emmy winner and four-time Oscar nominee Michelle Williams), a lawyer for a big firm with many evil clients who loves white wine and a rigid middle part. Everyone in the movie has pleasantly generic upper-middle-class professions, including Anne’s new guy, played by Veep’s Reid Scott, who’s a doctor. But once the parasite crashes down into the picture, things get ridiculous. Tom Hardy develops a hunger for flesh and climbs into a lobster tank. Riz Ahmed’s tech billionaire reveals his plan to take off into space and use a parasite to survive. Anne briefly has to turn into Lady Venom to save Eddie from a random goon and then exclaims “I just bit that guy’s head off?!”
The movie’s crowning moment comes not with the plot’s explosive climax, in which Eddie and Anne blow up the ship Riz Ahmed is trying to ride into space and Venom falls from the explosion back to Earth, seemingly dead, but in the denouement, when everything collapses back into rom-com mode. On a random sunny day, Eddie and Anne sit down for unlabeled takeaway coffee on a stoop somewhere in San Francisco, making awkward conversation as exes. She talks about her new job as a public defender. He reveals he’s going back to print journalism (good luck, man). Then Michelle Williams turns and gets serious and delivers the immortal line: “Hey, I’m sorry about Venom.”
“Hey, I’m sorry about X” is the kind of bland thing you might say to an ex after hearing about the end of their relationship with someone else, but what makes it click is that Anne is talking about Venom. It’s a funny word, and it’s funny because, you know, alien parasite. Williams delivers the line as if it’s all part of a perfectly normal conversation, which makes it funnier, as if “ask about new job” and “give your condolences for the seeming loss of the being that granted him superpowers” are of equal importance on the “catching up with your ex” checklist. Why is she sorry about Venom? It’s not her fault, but she cares enough about Eddie to sympathize with his loss of another partner. They carry on with the conversation, making awkward banter about the time she kissed him out of the blue — “that was your buddy’s idea,” she claims. Venom, as it turns out, is still in Eddie’s body, so the scene ends as Tom Hardy growls as the parasite in voiceover about how much it likes Anne and how she “has no idea we’re going to get her back!”
The key to welcoming Venom into your heart, in the same way that Eddie lets Venom take over his vital organs, is to enjoy the film’s discontinuities. It’s both making fun of its own concept, playing Eddie and Venom’s relationship as part of a love triangle, and taking their love seriously. It’s not coherent as much as it is impulse, lumbering from one big swing to the next. When I interviewed Michelle Williams about Fosse/Verdon several years ago, I asked about Venom in passing, and she laughed, more with the movie than at it, and described how fun it was to watch Tom Hardy and screenwriter Kelly Marcel in process, coming up with ideas on the fly. Whether it was improved in the moment or always in the script, “Hey, I’m sorry about Venom” gets some of that energy. It’s a hasty segue that tries to pull together the irreconcilable halves of this movie together in a single sentence. Obviously, it’s not a natural phrase to deliver. Why would you want it to be?
In the years since seeing Venom, I occasionally mutter “Hey, I’m sorry about Venom” while going about my daily life. I recommend it if, for instance, you come up against a minor inconvenience — discovering your Metrocard has run out right as a train is coming or seeing that the grocery store is out of your preferred cottage cheese — and need to put things in perspective. Hey, something’s gone wrong; well, at least I’m not in a complicated relationship with a former journalist turned host of an alien parasite. With the release of Venom: Let There Be Carnage nearly upon us, I hope the story continues on with the same disjointed, delightfully weird spirit — and that it gives Michelle Williams more strange platitudes that she’ll deploy all her best acting skills to deliver. Please, make us not sorry about the sequel to Venom.