'Bingo: The King of the Mornings' ('Bingo: O rei das manhas'): Film Review

Courtesy of Alisson Louback
I look at clowns from both sides now.

Based on real events, Brazil’s official Oscar submission charts the wild career ride of a drug-snorting porn star who finds television fame as a blue-haired clown.

Rounding off a vintage year for scary clowns on the big screen, Bingo: The King of the Mornings is a boisterous Brazilian comic drama charting the explosive rise and fall of a blue-haired children’s television star with debauched offscreen appetites. Oscar-nominated editor Daniel Rezende, whose credits include Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life and Fernando Meirelles’ City of God, does a pretty solid job on his feature directing debut. Currently screening in U.K. theaters following a successful domestic run, the film was chosen as Brazil’s official Academy Awards contender in the foreign-language category, though it ultimately failed to make the final shortlist.

Set in 1980s Sao Paolo, Bingo is closely based on the life of Arlindo Barreto, a former porn star who shot to fame in the main Brazilian franchise of the long-running U.S. show featuring flame-haired TV clown Bozo. Renamed Bingo here to avoid legal complications, this hyperactive mischief merchant makes for an alluringly amoral anti-hero, even if Rezende fails to flesh him out into a fully rounded character. Incidentally, one of the original American Bozo stars, Bob Bell, was a key inspiration for Krusty the Clown in The Simpsons, whose cackling venality finds an echo in Bingo.

Augusto Mendes (Vladimir Brichta) is an arrogant, womanizing actor whose career has stalled in soft porn and telenovela bit parts. A loose cannon with big ambitions, Augusto passes the audition to star as children’s TV clown Bingo by improvising vulgar lines that his pompous, monolingual American producer (Soren Hellerup) cannot understand. Disguised behind heavy makeup and a scary blue wig, he turns the show into a runaway ratings hit, spicing it up with racy pop divas and anarchic songs. But because he is contractually obliged to keep his identity secret, he cannot savor the acclaim and applause that come with stardom. Augusto’s actress mother Marta (Ana Lucia Torre), herself a former soap queen, recognizes his desperate craving: “We are moths; we need light in order to survive.”

Already a hard-core party animal, Augusto finds his runaway TV success as Bingo pushing him right over the edge. Neglecting his young son Gabriel (Caua Martins), his offscreen life becomes a blur of booze, cocaine and sex, including a lusty bout of backstage hospitality with what must surely be cinema’s first-ever clown groupie. When his religiously devout female director Lucia (Leandra Leal) proves resistant to his repeated seduction attempts, Mendes makes a casual boast to a colleague: “I bet you I can fuck her within a month.” These snapshots of more sleazy times strike a timely note in the current climate of post-Weinstein revelations and #MeToo confessions.

Of course, as Martin Scorsese movies have taught us, cocaine-crazed pride invariably comes before a dramatic fall. And so it proves for Mendes, whose Icarus-like ascent implodes into a calamitous career meltdown. Cinematographer Lula Carvalho frames his downward spiral with a series of bravura touches, including an apparently seamless extended shot that glides out of a high-rise apartment and sails over the city skyline before zooming in on a hospital bed. Elegantly done, however much digital trickery was involved.

Bingo: The King of the Mornings has a pleasingly retro aesthetic of lurid 1980s fashions, scratchy VHS video effects and perky period pop hits. Brichta gives a compellingly wired performance, his fast-talking energy recalling the inspired intensity of vintage Robin Williams or Jim Carrey. The guilty pleasure of witnessing a children’s entertainer going off the rails on live television, complete with inappropriately raunchy dance routines and drug-induced nosebleeds, generates a steady crescendo of car-crash tension.

Luiz Bolognesi’s script starts out promising to be a Brazilian Boogie Nights. Alas, it then becomes progressively more schematic, simplistic and repetitive, leaning too heavily on the kind of soapy melodrama that it initially seems to be lampooning. There is so little psychological shading here, we never understand how or why Mendes became such a self-destructive monster. His deepening estrangement from his devoted son is also pure sentimental schlock, while a redemptive final twist feels glib and didactic. Like a clown’s face, Rezende’s heavy-handed morality tale is ultimately painted in broad, garish brushstrokes that weaken an otherwise enjoyable debut.

Production companies: Empyrean Pictures, Gullane
Cast: Vladimir Brichta, Emanuelle Araujo, Leandra Leal, Ana Lucia Torre, Raul Barreto, Caua Martins, Soren Hellerup
Director: Daniel Rezende
Screenwriter: Luiz Bolognesi
Producers: Caio Gullane, Fabiano Gullane
Cinematographer: Lula Carvalho
Production designer: Cassio Amarante
Costume designer: Veronica Julian
Music: Beto Villares
Editor: Marcio Hashimoto
Casting: Luciano Carvalho
Sales company: Loco Films, info@loco-films.com

113 minutes

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