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‘Feel Good’ on Netflix: A story of happily (n)ever after

Poulomi Das | Updated on April 16, 2020 Published on April 16, 2020

Love isn’t enough: ‘Feel Good’ brings to the fore the injuries that one’s insecurities can inflict on their loved ones   -  IMAGE COURTESY: NETFLIX

‘Feel Good’, a British show now streaming on Netflix, takes rosy endings out of romance

In Netflix’s Feel Good, a sublime six-episode British series, the elusive happily-ever-after comes within five minutes of the opening episode.

Mae (Mae Martin playing a fictionalised version of herself), a struggling Canadian comedian based in London, makes out with George (Charlotte Ritchie), an English teacher, after the latter shows up at one of her shows for the third time. George is clearly persistent in her interest and Mae, as restless as a rabbit on a mission, is only too happy to give in. Minutes later, a cloyingly adorable love-montage bears witness as their passionate one-night stand turns into cheerful cohabitation. Before you know it, the shiny short-haired Mae, dressed in tattoos and an androgynous wardrobe, has moved in with George, the impeccably dressed pin-up brunette who never has a hair out of place.

Watching from a distance, it wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate to assume that George and Mae have made it, having turned their proclamation of love into a display of commitment. In fact, if this were a romantic comedy, their love story would have a “The End” plastered next to it. After all, Hollywood has perpetually treated the happily-ever-after as the romantic touchstone, almost as if two people being together magically erases the complexities of two people staying together.

But the semi-autobiographical Feel Good — co-created, written and produced by Martin — treats the “happily-ever-after” not as a destination but merely a pit stop that comes at the very beginning, straying from a convention that has routinely made falling in love look like a hard-won miracle. The emphasis has always been on the selflessness of lovers that makes their love play out forever. Over six impeccably written episodes of 25 minutes each, Feel Good takes the embellishment out of romance, keenly observing a couple as the reality of their selfishness takes the happy out of ever after.

In the show, even when George and Mae are in the throes of passionate sex, there’s a niggling sense of their relationship teetering on the brink of a breakdown. In one scene, Mae compares herself to Bart Simpson and calls George a “dangerous Mary Poppins”, underlining the oddity of their coupling. The problem isn’t just the celerity with which their romance evolves (they go from strangers to practically being roommates who spend most of their waking time with each other in less than three months). But it’s also the part of themselves that both of them choose to keep out of reach from the other.

Mae conveniently forgets to mention that she is a recovering addict, armed with a decade-long history of substance abuse that upended her relationship with her parents (Lisa Kudrow plays her mother in a winsome cameo) and even sent her to jail. The previously straight George, on the other hand, keeps Mae a secret, using the fact that she has never dated women before as an excuse to not introduce her girlfriend to family and friends. The collective baggage soon piles on. When George goes for a family wedding, leaving Mae alone for 36 hours, we find out that even in recovery, Mae remains an addict. She ends up so anxious that she blows up George’s phone with countless messages and breathless calls, forcing an exasperated George to impose a technological restraining order on Mae until she gets back.

Mae’s neediness signals an inescapable hold of drug addiction over her life that she is reluctant to acknowledge, one that undeniably puts a question over the legitimacy of the romance: Both the viewer and George are left wondering if Mae is really in love or if she just counts it as temporary addiction. George’s continuing denial about what publicly declaring her relationship with Mae to the world might signify — about her sexuality, for starters — doesn’t make things any better. If anything, it creates an almost toxic power equation where George, by virtue of withholding validation, has the upper hand. Even here, the viewer and Mae are forced to a similar spot: Does George really love Mae or is this a phase that she will laugh about years later?

Feel Good, as flawless in its emotional vulnerability as Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, focuses on this precise part — the injury that one’s insecurities can inflict on their loved ones. Both Mae and George have to shrink themselves to get on each other’s level, somehow not trusting the other enough to go all in. And yet, despite their mutual refusal to let the other in, they somehow delude themselves into believing that they’re each other’s balm. Effectively, Feel Good is as much about loving someone deeply as it is about not being able to love someone well. Happily-ever-afters don’t account for this distinction: That even when love feels like a lifeboat guiding you to safety, it still cannot save you from drowning .

Poulomi Das is a film critic with Arré, an entertainment content platform. She writes at the intersection of films, gender and social commentary

Published on April 16, 2020

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