now streaming

Checking in on Netflix’s Original Movies: February 2022 Edition

Bigbug. Photo: Netflix

One of the motivations behind month-to-month coverage of Netflix original films is to salvage the standouts that the studio’s, shall we say, “selectively focused” promotion team can let fall through the cracks. To wit: This month, the service quietly added a new film from Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the guy who directed one of the highest-grossing non-English-language releases in American box-office history. The loopy Bigbug is February’s standout, backed up by a kitchen-sink German horror show, a fetish-play rom-com in from South Korea, and a Polish character study with better-than-average acting and writing. That, and Tall Girl 2, in which there are two tall girls. Much to pore over as singletons and couples alike stave off the post-Valentine’s blues; read on:

Essential Streaming


In Amélie director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s farce about a group of humans locked indoors while the robot uprising of tomorrow takes place outside, he can come off as pro- or anti-tech from one minute to the next. That’s because he makes the fine distinction between the dependable honesty of analog machinery (represented by the goofy household droids who dream of learning what it means to be human) and the cold, impersonal automation of digitized AI (embodied by the “Yonyx” cyborgs bent on world domination). Wedged in the middle of his qualified take on Luddism, there’s a boisterous knot of sexy subplots concerning the thinly drawn homo sapiens, all of them defined by the direction in which their libidos point. The two pieces of this film don’t always plug into one another so smoothly, but the dissonances still make for a daffy good time. The bag of bolts pulling a gotcha by saying “new COVID just dropped!” should give you an idea of Jeunet’s off-kilter sense of topical humor.

Also Showing

My Best Friend Anne Frank

Why do people keep making films that try to process the staggering horrors of the Holocaust through the innocent eyes of children? My guess is that The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Jojo Rabbit, and this similarly noxious Dutch import rely on their juvenile perspective to lighten up somber subject matter until it’s been rendered palatable for a wider audience, a cowardly instinct that leads to disaster in this instance. The young Hannah Goslar (Josephine Arendsen) gets shipped off to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where’s she’s shocked to hear the voice of her long-lost friend Anne Frank (Aiko Beemsterboer) on the other side of a hay-covered wall. The ensuing mission to get her BFF a couple crusts of bread has a foundation in fact, but director Ben Sombogaart’s kid-gloved treatment of humanity’s darkest chapter does a grave disservice to history by sanding off its more shocking edges. The immensity of genocide is shrunken and made sensible, an affront against the sobriety and candor of Frank’s actual journals.

Tall Girl 2

When we last checked in with the six-foot-one Jodie (Ava Michelle), she’d found her confidence, gotten the guy, and lived happily ever after. To sow discord in her charmed life, this sequel introduces a rival for the sweet beta-male Dunkleman (Griffin Gluck) in the slicker Tommy (Jan Luis Castellanos), cast as Jodie’s opposite in the school production of Bye Bye Birdie, as well as an even taller girl (Johanna Liauw) in from Sweden. But these shake-ups serve only to bring her down the same path to self-assurance, her impostor syndrome represented through a screamingly literal voice-over. That’s bad enough without the abundant EDM-ified covers of the Broadway standards, a subplot’s shameless recycling of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’s premise, and the feeble attempt to address and neutralize the criticism that being slightly taller than your peers is not the social nightmare this film makes it out to be. In the disreputable pantheon of Netflix teensploitation, this one’s close to the bottom.

The Privilege

Let no one deny that German filmmaking duo Felix Fuchssteiner and Katharina Schöde have packed a lot of stuff into this genre-hopping sundae of sci-fi, horror, action, romance, and coming-of-age tropes. There’s sleepwalking, suicide, ancient rituals involving naked geriatrics, hallucinations, pod people, and hordes of bugs, all of which amount to little more than confusion at the inability to commit to a concept or tone. Swerving through the icky body-mutilation plot is the awkward love triangle between teens Finn (Max Schimmelpfennig), his totally platonic best friend Lena (Lea van Acken), and his crush Samira (Tijan Marei), despite a lack of any visible spark between them. Overextension can sometimes lead to hectic, all-over-the-place amusement, but all the ill-fitting pieces in this jumble share a common sluggishness. When you throw a bunch of equally uninteresting things together, the combination isn’t much greater than the sum of its parts.

Into the Wind

A viewer can spend most of this Polish drama waiting for a hook that never comes. The gloomy med student Ania (Sonia Mietielica) and what remains of her family go to a resort to cheer themselves up as they approach the five-year anniversary of Mom’s death, and she recovers some of her joie de vivre by shacking up with a hunky kitesurfing instructor (Jakub Sasak). There’s no distinguishing wrinkle to this hidebound getting-your-groove-back formula, but it doesn’t need one. With more restrained, lifelike acting and sparser, truer dialogue than most, this film reminds us why the wheel got so popular in the first place instead of reinventing it. Handling grief and love and self-discovery all in a profoundly human performance, Mietielica in particular exudes a measured balance of confidence and insecurity reminiscent of Saoirse Ronan’s greatest roles.

Love and Leashes

Entry-level kink play allows a pair of South Korean office drones to loosen up and access their true selves in this rom-com that’s more sex-positive than sexy. The no-nonsense Ji-woo (Seohyun, formerly of mid-aughts girl-group sensation Girls’ Generation) is seen as humorless and icy by her colleagues, while the doofus Ji-hoo (Lee Jun-young) lacks direction; by accepting her role as dom, she embraces the sterner side that a patriarchal society has told her to resist, while he finds purpose and discipline in submission. It’s a forward-thinking and saucy setup, but suffers in the details of its execution. Both halves of this couple must occasionally act very stupid for the purposes of moving along the story; their lumbering dialogue tends to back up that image; and their amateur-hour BDSM mischief focuses on sweetness over naughtiness. The film calls its own safe word long before it can go far enough to tap into the feeling of transgression that makes their sexual experimentation so titillating.

Love Tactics

Correct as they may be, writers still using the clichés of businessmen and influencers as a vocational shorthand for vacuity are guilty of the same quality themselves. “Vapid” is the overarching theme of this rom-com that translates the putrid men-are-from-Mars rom-com The Ugly Truth into Turkish, as a lifestyle-brand ambassador (Demet Özdemir) and C-suite chauvinist (Sukru Ozyildiz) set out to woo one another using their opposite seduction styles. Little by little, they become marginally less insufferable versions of themselves; she learns to drop the whole fake-beatific bit and live authentically, whereas he is de-douche-ified to a very slight extent. The read on gender politics feels like a lunge backward into the ’90s, though the upside of that era — the feather-light charm that made those rom-coms so watchable, despite their predictability — is nowhere to be found. The obligatory best friends who exist only to support the protagonist don’t even get the saving grace of being funny!

Checking on Netflix’s Original Movies: February 2022 Edition