Phobias. They affect millions of people on a daily basis. Some, like the fear of the dark, public speaking and spiders, can be sympathized with. But having a fear of just about everything, up to and including laundromats? Well, that’s downright crazy, and Jack (Simon Pegg, “The World’s End”), the man who suffers from said afflictions, tells us so himself shortly after he is introduced to us in A Fantastic Fear of Everything.
He also explains that his paranoia has become more pronounced since he put down the pen he uses to write children’s books and started researching a book on serial killers titled “Decades of Death.” The better part of the first half of Crispian Mills’ film shows the effect it has on the hapless author. He looks disheveled — unkempt hair flops on a ratty bathrobe that covers stained underwear — and skirts around his dark, filthy apartment with butcher knife in hand afraid to answer the phone or open the door to young carolers. It’s basically a one-man show and Pegg with his neuroses and adeptness to physical comedy are up to the task. And right when it begins to drag on for too long (there is only so much self-loathing one can watch) the film, thankfully, changes course.
Jack having finally built up the courage to take a call, gets some good news (but interpreted as bad by Jack) from his literary agent, Clair (Clare Higgins, “I Give It a Year”). A mysterious producer, she tells him, has interest in adapting his unfinished book to screen. The catch is Jack has to leave his dingy fortress of solitude to meet with him. In two hours time. And so, after a lengthy talk with his psychiatrist, Dr. Friedkin (Paul Freeman, “Centurion”), he’s off to face the laundromat because, you know, having dirty clothes and no one to wash them for you is an important part to winning the hermit game.
The fluorescently bright launderette (for our British readers) offers a momentarily welcome change of scenery and allows Pegg some room to breathe easier since carrying the film atop his shoulders is no longer his cross to bear alone. Audiences will learn far more about washing their clothing than they probably care to know, however, as he seeks guidance from a cadre of miserable, poorly dressed women and bumbles his way through washing his delicates in hot (or was that cold?) water with and without scented detergent. It’s here his muse in Amara Khan (“The Darjeeling Limited”) is introduced.
It’s a timely introduction as all Jack’s worst fears soon roll into one another to make for a pickle of a situation and, as we all can attest to, misery is a lover of company. What they find themselves in, unfortunately, is as obvious as it is patently ridiculous. No matter though, facing off with a fear is the surest way to overcome it and Crispian Mills (who also wrote the screenplay) needed a way to get Jack back to a place where adorable hedgehogs seek to flow from his brain back onto paper for the enjoyment of children everywhere. Personally, it’s not how I would have liked A Fantastic Fear of Everything to conclude. A manic Pegg for me is a more entertaining Pegg.