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DIRECTED BY: Wendy McColm
FEATURING: Wendy McColm, Alicia Witt, Jonathan Tolliver
PLOT: Pursued by the police, Marla is dogged by memories as she attempts to get a grip on what happened after a fateful evening at her mother’s home.
WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Presented as a thriller, McColm’s intensely personal film explores guilt and inter-generational trauma in a style reminiscent of Lynch, Tarantino, Fincher, and even . Thus equipped with its own storytelling tool-kit, Fuzzy Head shifts gears faster than you can say “unreliable narrator.”
COMMENTS: From what Marla can piece together, her mother is dead. The fact that she has not slept in almost a week doesn’t help her understanding of the situation. It also doesn’t help that she’s faced years of emotional abuse from mom, interrupted by moments of emotional clarity and ineffable love. Marla’s own tragedy consists of her being forced to cope with oblique hints from her mother, “a woman who was never heard in her pain.” McColm translates the disorientation of “fuzzy head”—a semi-clinical condition whose symptoms include problems with focus, memory, and logic, often stemming from a sense of hopelessness, worthlessness, and guilt—onto the screen with intensity at times, softness at others, absurdity, despair, sympathy, and humor. All the while, they thread a narrative whose focus is woven from muddled tatters into a crystalline whole.
Blank asks Marla, “What happened to your mother?” Marla is screaming, flailing; Blank is her best—and only—friend. Marla wants to kill her mother. Perhaps Marla did. Police have questions, but not as the string of faceless therapists Marla endures as she attempts to discover what happened that one night, and what has happened her entire life. Her brain snaps back to a memory of triumph: firing a six-shooter into the air when she successfully rides her bicycle without training wheels. Her mother stands by proudly. Her brain snaps back to a memory of debasement: being forced to walk across the shards of a kitchen glass she dropped. Her mother stands by in disgust. Marla’s memories crash upon her as she navigates her life, waking up in a cheap motel serviced by a strangely insistent housekeeper. Memories mingle with present-day experience, and she doesn’t always know what’s real, particularly when interacting with Blank.
For those out there baying for symbolism, Fuzzy Head comes up aces. On her journey toward redemption, Marla’s dreams give her access the worst parts of her self and her experience. A sign to hang on her door for the maid. A key dangling from Blank’s rear-view mirror. The six shooter she buys back from a sympathetic local (“I think I killed my mother with that gun”, she admits; “Yeah, we all feel that way sometimes,” the seller replies). Lynchian touches include a theremin solo in an empty nightclub. Tarantino time-loops and snap-cuts keep up the pace. Fincheristic perception-humor takes the edge off when events become too stinging. And the cast of recurring, unreal-maybe-real personae bring to mind the continuous efforts of the guardian angels secreted in Jacob’s Ladder.
Fuzzy Head is a stylish and stylized film. Pondering the influences, Wendy McColm might be accused by some as being derivative. Not by me. As with just about any and all filmmakers, the methods they use are lifted (and altered) from those who came before. Indeed, the last “new” movie I remember seeing came out in 1991. The directors I’ve mentioned have developed a language of cinema for those of us who are frightened, disoriented, confused, and amused, and Wendy McColm’s second feature film shows an already mature storyteller finessing to convey “fuzzy head”: desperate sadness, acute loneliness, and traces of confused amusement. In so doing, McColm tells a decidedly personal story in such a way that spectators like ourselves can look on with satisfaction.
No word on Fuzzy Head‘s post-festival distribution plans at the moment; we’ll let you know when we know more.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY: