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Awkwafina’s Fine as Romantic Interest in Vampire Comedy

by Jana Monji, AsAmNews Contributor

Awkwafina plays an honest cop hindered by corruption until she meets Count Dracula’s familiar in writer Ryan Ridley’s Renfield. Based on an idea by The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, this comedy focuses on the redemption of Robert Montague Renfield, the count’s bug-eating buddy.

Director Chris McKay (Robot Chicken and The Lego Batman Movie) goes doesn’t dwell on gore and there won’t be anything psycho-sexual here because although this Count Dracula (Nicolas Cage) wants “a handful of nuns, a busload of cheerleaders,” he warns Renfield, “Don’t make it a sexual thing.”.

Head and limbs will fly, flies will be eaten and F-bombs won’t be the only thing that explodes, but the psychological aspect of Ridley’s script is the co-dependent relationship between Renfield and Dracula.

Renfield began as a married English real estate agent, hoping to make a financial killing only to become the staff of one in charge of literally killing to satisfy Dracula’s “special dietary requirements.” Wife and child long dead, Renfield has been alone attending to his master for centuries. Renfield’s employment comes with a hard-to-beat health plan: Dracula keeps him forever young, eating bugs give him superhero strength and the Count has a cure for even fatal injuries.

Dracula sometimes requires time to a “transitional periods” to recover from things like being burned to crispy but not entirely to ashes by the sunlight. During these episodes which usually involve a sudden relocation, Renfield has much more time on his own, but must still gather victims. Dracula needs blood, particularly from innocent victims help him regain his youthful ghoulish appearance, but what does Renfield need?

“I just want a normal life again, but this modern world is a dangerous place.”

Now in New Orleans, Renfield joins self-help dependency anonymous meetings. Deciding on helping others, he plans to serve the toxic significant others to Dracula, starting with a certain low-level drug dealer. Unfortunately, this lowlife and his friends have stolen the drugs from a large crime organization, the Lobos, and the son of the top dog, Teddy Lobo (Ben Schwartz),  has sent in his goons.

Renfield bites the bug and beats up both sets of bad guys sending the head of one of the biggest henchman, Apache Joe (Marcus Lewis), flying smack into Teddy’s car. Teddy takes off and gets stopped at the DUI checkpoint by traffic cop Rebecca Quincy (Awkwafina). Despite the trepidation of her partner Chris (Adrian Martinez), Rebecca sees this as a chance to take down the Lobos and avenge her father’s death.

Teddy’s mother, Bellafrancesca (Shohreh Aghdashloo), is the head of the Lobos and, after getting Teddy out of police custody, she doesn’t believe Teddy’s story. Teddy becomes determined to take down Rebecca but that in turn leads to Renfield saving Rebecca during a restaurant shootout.

Rebecca is grateful, saying, “Thank you. You saved my life. Did I just watch you cut a guy with a decorative platter?”

Renfield replies, “It’s all in the wrist.”

The needs of the Lobos, Renfield and Dracula will cross and considerable collateral damage will ensue. Even the members of the self-help group will find themselves at the center of a vampiric rampage when Dracula realizes they have filled Renfield with sunny visions of a future without Dracula.

For diversity, besides Chinese-Korean American Awkwafina, the cast features Ben Schwartz who is Jewish, 70-year-old, Tehran-born Iranian American actress Shohreh Aghdashloo, Camille Chan as Rebecca’s FBI agent sister Kate, Nicaraguan and Dominican Latino actor Adrian Martinez, African American James Moses Black as Rebecca’s superior, Captain Browning and a masked Marcus Lewis (stuntman for Black Panther) as Apache Joe.

The reality of New Orleans’ demographics is 58% Black or African American, 30% White, 5.6% Hispanic/Latino and only 2.7% Asian alone. 

Director McKay pays homage to old Dracula films in flashback sequences. Hoult and Awkwafina have a goofy, friendship-falling-into romantic partnership possibility chemistry.

Nicolas Cage chews up the scenery with his campy megalomaniac Dracula which is counter balanced by the earnestness Nicholas Hoult’s Renfield finding his inner hero. Aghdashloo’s Bellafrancesca is a perfect match of evil and ambition against Cage’s Dracula. One imagines she’d make the perfect bride for him. Awkwafina is the straight person here, the not-so-helpless observer of a wacky world she didn’t know existed. Renfield is gory fun, a parody of vampire films combined with a modern view of toxic relationships formed between the commoners and the aristocracy.

Renfield was released in the US on 14 April 2023. The film made its world premiere on 30 March 2023 at the Overlook Film Festival.

For a longer review, visit AgeOfTheGeek.org.

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