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Yanks but no Yanks! Why it often takes a European to make a great film about America

‘Hot Fuzz’ star Nick Frost plays a god-fearing American patriarch in a chaotic new horror comedy from two Dutch filmmakers. From Alan Parker and Wim Wenders to Lars von Trier, Geoffrey Macnab says it’s often the eyes of the outsider that get to the heart of the US psyche best

Friday 19 January 2024 06:00 GMT
A long and Wenders road: Nastassja Kinski in Wim Wenders’ ‘Paris, Texas’
A long and Wenders road: Nastassja Kinski in Wim Wenders’ ‘Paris, Texas’ (Alamy)

The Yanks have colonised our subconscious,” a character famously observes, partway through the 1976 drama Kings of the Road. The film’s German director, Wim Wenders, has spent much of his career scrutinising the American psyche – most famously in his 1984 masterpiece Paris, Texas.

Of course, he’s far from the only European to take a cinematic pickaxe to the American self-image. Some, such as Billy Wilder or Paul Verhoeven, have worked successfully in Hollywood – making quintessentially American films with a deeply subversive edge. Others, such as Lars von Trier, have launched their critique of the global superpower from afar.

The latest filmmakers to attempt this feat are Dutch duo Steffen Haars and Flip van der Kuil, whose punchy US-set comedy-horror Krazy House premieres at the Sundance Film Festival this weekend. In it, Hot Fuzz star Nick Frost plays a god-fearing American family man. The film starts as a spoof of gooey 1980s and 1990s sitcoms such as Who’s the Boss?, Full House and Family Ties. However, underneath the facade, there are complications: his wife (Alicia Silverstone) is neurotic, his kids are promiscuous drug users, and all are utterly exasperated by him.

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