Welcome back to Look of the Week, celebrating the best in TV and film sartorial excellence, past and present across sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and other genre classics!
Spanning a variety of time periods and genres, new Netflix miniseries Maniac takes us on a 10-episode journey that includes a Lord of the Rings-looking fantasy, ‘40s noir and a post-WWII alien invasion conspiracy with nods to Dr. Strangelove. It's set in what looks very similar to the present day, but with a twist. No one appears to have a cell phone; instead, they use old computers and dot-matrix printers. But there are disturbing technological advancements in pharmaceuticals and advertising.
Without giving too much away about the plot, Maniac follows two strangers drawn to a three-day pharmaceutical trial at the Neberdine Pharmaceutical and Biotech facility in New York City. Annie (Emma Stone) is dealing with a personal tragedy by abusing a mysterious drug called “A,” while Owen (Jonah Hill) has experienced serious mental health issues that simply get referred to as “a blip” by his wealthy family. This trial is meant to help them confront and then be free of the problems plaguing them. Of course, it isn’t as simple as that.
Fantasy is Annie’s least favorite genre, but there is a reason she spends two episodes looking like Legolas’ sibling. She is joined by her sister Emily (Julia Garner) in this experience as they quest to find the Lake of the Clouds. Across the various dreamscapes in Maniac, costumes are incredibly accurate in the genre they are depicting, which only adds to the surreal vibe. The level of detail is striking, and the belting, fur, and texture are all exquisite; this would make for one hell of a cosplay.
Speaking of action, in a scenario that pits one shady organization against another as aliens threaten to invade, Annie, dressed in a red suit and fishnet tights is working under the guise of being a CIA agent. But what appears to be a skirt is actually a pair of culottes, which visually mixes the post-WWII period of time this experience is set in with a contemporary sartorial twist. Egan explained that the culottes decision was a result of the number of stunts Stone would have to perform in this sequence.
This felt very reminiscent of the extraordinary long corridor sequence in Netflix's Daredevil, again giving a taste of what we can expect Fukunaga to bring to the James Bond table. Of course, Fukunaga is no stranger to action set-pieces, particularly the ambitious kind, as the exhilarating True Detective six-minute tracking shot is a testament to this style of filmmaking.
The drug trial allows Annie and Owen to experience a variety of periods and places which don’t look anything like the world they actually live in. Outside of the fantastic rainbow stripe-adorned Neberdine Pharmaceutical building, Annie sticks to a limited wardrobe of cropped baggy pants, T-shirts, a brown duster coat and boots. It looks a little ‘80s in the styling, which, coupled with the old computer technology, gives the impression that Maniac is set 30 years ago — when really it is a version of the present day (Justin Theroux’s character mentions he was born in 1977).
This outfit is also very Hope Pym (Evangeline Lilly) in Ant-Man and the Wasp, a look I was thinking of attempting this fall. Meanwhile, Owen wears suits to match his corporate wealthy family, but his white sneakers set him apart — he is not like them.
When they start the trial, they are given matching utilitarian-looking grey uniforms and patented Neberdine shoes straight out of a space travel adventure. It could almost be an homage to the flight deck attire of the Nostromo crew in Alien, right down to the arm patch.
Annie’s white vest, which she wears underneath, is a nod to Ripley’s iconic tank top moment — but instead, the journey they are taking is into the unexplored recesses of the mind where inner demons take the place of facehuggers and Xenomorphs on the scare scale.
The world of Maniac looks like ours but isn’t completely ours. The genres that feature in the dreamscapes are familiar because fantasy helps make sense of reality. There is no easy fix when it comes to the mind, but on Maniac connections with other people are important — right down to how we dress.