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Film Review: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - Kimmy vs the Reverend

16 May 20 words: George White

After four seasons and 18 Emmy nominations, the makers of Netflix's Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt have now released a brand new, feature-length interactive experience. But is it any good? Our Screen Co-Editor, George White, finds out... 

Director: Claire Scanlon
Starring: Ellie Kemper, Tituss Burgess, Carol Kane
Running time: 80 minutes

Considering Kimmy Schmidt's story has consisted of living in a bunker run by a sociopathic doomsdayer, seeing her main love interest threatened with deportation and having a slightly deranged alcoholic as her therapist, she hasn’t necessarily had a life many are dying to experience for themselves. Yet that's exactly what Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs the Reverend allows the audience to do as they are invited to take control of Kimmy’s decisions and guide her path throughout the film.

Well, that’s at least how Netflix has marketed the movie. In reality, it is a pretty different story. Despite Kimmy vs the Reverend providing ample opportunities for the viewer to click buttons and feel in charge, they ultimately have little-to-no control over how the narrative plays out.

Rather than truly influencing the arc of the story, which follows Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) as she tries to free more of the reverend’s (Jon Hamm) cultist captives, the audience’s choices simply lead to short sketches - some funny, some cringeworthy - that end with an instruction on how to actually move the film forward. By the fifth time a character comes on to the screen to tell you you’ve made the wrong decision, it becomes tiresome, merely emphasising that you’re wasting your energy trying to get involved in the film. 

Not only does the interactive element have little effect over the narrative, it is also poorly executed - to the point where any immersion is shattered whenever the options bar crops up. Characters are so clearly waiting for the viewer to make their decision that there are extended periods of awkward silence. While sometimes used for comedic effect, these moments often act as a stark reminder that you’re actually just sitting at home drinking beer in your underwear, rather than joining these hilarious characters on their crazy adventure, spoiling any connection you feel to the developments on screen. 

Kimmy vs the Reverend does offer more of the absurd, meta comedy that was in full supply during the four seasons of the show, but there are moments that go too far with their stupidity. Entire sequences featuring a talking backpack, for example, feel far too immature for any adult comedy, emulating the sort of irritatingly cheerful humour adopted by the creators of many children’s TV shows.

The hard work of the cast is not enough to make Kimmy vs the Reverend a complete success

That said, there are also plenty of genuinely funny moments throughout the movie’s tight 80-minute runtime. As was the case in the series, the majority of these are provided by the show’s leading duo, Kimmy and Titus (Tituss Burgess). Kemper’s animated expressions and boisterous line delivery perfectly encapsulate the likeable, vibrant energy of her character. 

Yet it is Burgess who steals the limelight with his delightful eccentricity. Very few actors could make such ludicrous dialogue work, but Burgess’ comedic timing hits the mark more often than not. Titus is such a unique and enjoyable character, and that is largely down to the fantastic work of the four-time Emmy nominee.

Special mention should also be given to Jon Hamm, who clearly has a fun time in a more ridiculous role. While better-known for his more serious work, particularly on TV series Mad Men, Hamm’s comedic ability is second-to-none, enabling him to go head-to-head with the likes of Kemper without feeling out of place.

Sadly, though, the hard work of the cast is not enough to make Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs the Reverend a complete success. Fans of the show will appreciate this fresh dose of Kimmy Schmidt madness, but overall the film fails to live up to its potential, with the ‘interactive’ element feeling more of a marketing tool than a particularly necessary - or interesting - feature. Don't be fooled, this is just an extended episode of the programme, but one that takes extra effort to enjoy.

Did you know? According to an interview with EW, this role was written specifically for Ellie Kemper.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs the Reverend is now available on Netflix.