Tag Archives: Comedy

SLAMDANCE 2021: APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: A FAMILY (2019)

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DIRECTED BY: Jayden Stevens

FEATURING: Pavlo Lehenkyi, Liudmyla Zamidra

PLOT: Emerson hires a cast of amateurs to play his family in his home movies, but a walkout derails his ambitions.

COMMENTS: “Protagonist” describes A Family‘s leading man on only a technical level. (Even the term “leading man” lends him a bit too much weight.) Emerson is in his late 40s (I’m guessing) and has no real family to speak of (I’m guessing). I’m guessing a lot because other than what’s shown on screen, there is no backstory for this oddball—a man who appears to be one bad day away from becoming Erwin Leder’s serial killer in Angst. If you’re looking for an awkward “family” comedy, nothing could be more apt than Stevens’ feature debut.

Located just before the cutoff for “antisocial” on the personality spectrum, Emerson (Pavlo Lehenkyi, channeling some sort of After Last Season dramatic persona) is a perfectionist with a knack for inept communication. The affable folks he’s hired to play his “father”, “mother”, and “brother” all try their best (the “brother’s” scripted reaction to his Christmas gift, “A puzzle! Seven-hundred-and-fifty pieces!”, is picture-perfect over-enthusiasm), but the newly cast “sister”, Olga (Liudmyla Zamidra), throws a spanner in the works. Her personal life interferes with Emerson’s strange production, and after a wage dispute, the others quit in exasperation. This forces Emerson into the unlikely position of auditioning for the role of “husband and father” in Olga’s own dysfunctional family.

A Family‘s strength lies in its social-realist approach and complete lack of explanation for any character. The opening shot of Olga’s “sister” audition cements the distance right from the start. The “scripted domesticity” scenes are, oddly, the most conventional-feeling element in Family. With the “home movies,” we see what we’d expect to see, for example, a family Christmas get-together (albeit a sad, sad, awkward one). The corny acting on display whenever the “family” is filmed rings true to the thespionics gracing millions of home movies the world over.

Emerson is a perfect example of the “how is this person even real?” archetype. That’s not to say there isn’t an authenticity to his character—I believed every moment with him—but by focusing on one of the oddest of ducks ever captured by film, Stevens constantly wrong-foots the viewer. His unscripted conversation suggests almost alien behavior (“My car travels up to ten times the speed of the average cyclist”; “You should never blame a frozen treat for your form”; “Do you serve nachos? I’ve never eaten them, but I’ve seen them on television”). The fact that these statements come from such an obviously broken man spikes the hilarity with sadness. A Family seems to be about life’s quiet desperation and the importance of loved ones. At the same time, it’s probably best to hire good actors if you want a quality family life.

A Family is currently playing Slamdance (online).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Unfolding in spaces shared with Atom Egoyan, Yorgos Lanthimos, Aki Kaurismäki, and Charlie Kaufman, A Family nonetheless finds an unsettling absurdity that is all its own.” -Anton Bitel, Eye For Film (contemporaneous)

READER RECOMMENDATION: FREDDIE GOT FINGERED (2001)

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Reader recommendation by June Culpepper

DIRECTED BY: Tom Green

FEATURING: Tom Green, Harland Williams, Marisa Coughlan,

PLOT: Gord Brody (Tom Green), a slacker with a dream of becoming a cartoonist, goes to California to get his cartoon made.

Still from Freddy Got Fingered (2001)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Panned by critics to this day, this film is a -esque prank on both the film industry and the audience, more of a nightmarish combination of Sweet Movie, Adaptation, and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie than another Jack and Jill.

COMMENTS: Tom Green did not want to make a movie. After his meteoric rise from Canadian public television to MTV fame with “The Tom Green Show” (a late night talk show that combined gross-out stunts with surrealist humor, predating “The Eric Andre Show” by two decades), Hollywood most certainly took notice.  “We don’t understand him, but the kids seem to love him,” the execs probably said. “Let’s give him 15 million dollars.” After handing him the check, Tom went back to a shack in the middle of the Canadian wilderness, and came out nine months later with Freddy Got Fingered.

Freddy Got Fingered works as a sort of deconstruction of the gross-out comedy schlock of the era, taking every trope of these sorts of films and stretching them to their absolute limit, to the point where the audience is left to wonder why they liked these gags at all. The angry father who disapproves of his son’s wild dreams is played by Rip Torn, a screaming warthog in a human skinsuit. The love interest, who in most of these films is just there to satisfy the lead’s sexual needs, is a wheelchair-bound Marisa Coughlan, who is obsessed with rocketry and fellatio.  Green takes the essential pillars of gross-out comedies and breaks them down to the point where you can never build them up again.

Freddie Got Fingered also has a meta-cinema tinge to it, almost as if the film itself is the joke. The movie, in a weird way, is about the movie itself being made. Gord, who is obviously a stand-in for Green himself, has a meteoric rise to fame, in a way that almost feels out of his control. He then blows all of his money on pointless nonsense (the movie itself).  In his own words, “Easy come, easy go.”

This film is an over-the-top combination of meta-cinema, surrealism, punk spirit, and weird gross-out moments that caught me so off-guard that I don’t even want to spoil them. Tom Green got to make his perfect film, and weirdos making their magnum opuses are what this site is all about.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…this movie is super weird…  someday it will be acknowledged as a triumph of absurdist filmmaking.”–Andrei Alupului, Spectrum Culture

(This movie was nominated for review by “Frank,” who said ” I feel the farcical, insanity of Freddy Got Fingered is at least worth a look.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: TAMMY AND THE T-REX (1994)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Paul Walker, Theo Forsett, Terry Kiser, Ellen Dubin

PLOT: Mad scientists transfer Tammy’s boyfriend’s brain into a Tyrannosaurus rex.

Still from Tammy and the T-rex (1994)

COMMENTS: What can you say about a movie called Tammy and the T-Rex that the title doesn’t already tell you? The movie indeed gives us both Tammy (debuting 90s bombshell Denise Richards, whose earnestness as a dino’s gf helps sell this absurdity) and a T-rex (a 13-foot animatronic model capable of rolling its eyes, lowering its eyelids, curling its lip, and clamping its jaws—and not much else).

Obviously, the latter of those two is the star and the film’s raison d’être. Literally so: the movie’s producer funded the film specifically because he had access to the animatronic model for two weeks, and asked writer/director Stewart Raffill to create a screenplay to showcase the prop. All credit goes to Raffill for taking the lemon he was handed here and making reasonably palatable lemonade. Tammy and the T-rex garnered no awards—it didn’t even get a theatrical release—but the energy never flags, and it’s a reasonable way to burn 90 minutes.

Raffill’s checkered resume included the Star Wars spoof The Ice Pirates, the execrable E.T. ripoff/McDonald’s commercial Mac & Me,  and a forgotten sequel to Mannequin; so to say that Tammy and the T-rex is his greatest contribution to film may seem like moderate praise, at best. But the movie fills its “dumb fun” niche admirably. It’s helped by some lucky casting: Richards is joined by fellow then-unknown Paul Walker, making for an attractive couple of young leads. These two play their ridiculous situation relatively straight, while the comic mugging is left to the villainous mad scientists and the gay black sidekick (a stereotype, sure, but a pioneering character in 1994). Terry Kiser (Weekend at Bernies) shows what he can do in a non-corpse role, which is speak in a funny German accent, pose as a chain-smoking surgeon, and deliver lines like “We must remember that he’s going to a far, far better place… Helga, take him to the morgue.” That said, none of his antics are quite as funny as the scene where Tammy plays charades with the T-rex, or when the dinosaur checks a pay phone for quarters. The film is aware of its own cheesiness, but unpretentiously so; it hits the difficult mark of self-mockery that isn’t self-congratulatory, something that more recent spoofs like Sharknado miss badly.

The broad comic tone is like a film without the misanthropy and shock value. It feels like one of the campy, late night B-movies that used to run on cable’s “USA Up All Night” in the 1990s, movies edited for content to produce PG-13 versions of goofy-but-exploitative drive-in features. Which leads directly to the next point: although Tammy plays mostly like a PG-13 creature feature/teen rom-com, it does feature incongruous moments of R-rated gore—heads getting ripped off torsos by tyrannosaurus jaws, that kind of thing. The original film was released in most countries in a “clean” version, while the alternate cut with gore and more swearing played in Europe. The U.S. VHS tape, where most people originally saw the movie, featured the sanitized version. The “gore cut” was thought to be lost until Vinegar Syndrome found and restored an Italian 35mm print. I’m not sure the extra blood and guts adds too much (does making your actors clutch pig intestines to their abdomens ever add too much?), but it is a novelty, and it did provide an excuse to re-release Tammy to film festivals and in a deluxe Blu-ray set. Look for it to run as a second-tier midnight movie when repertory theaters reopen.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…ludicrously, brilliantly weird; a ‘bad’ movie that, by embracing its campy tone and demonstrating a slight-but-significant self-awareness, is really anything but.”–Shaun Munro, Flickering Myth (festival “gore cut” screening)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Kristie.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)