Medium: film
Year: 2000
Writer/director: Bryan Johnson
Country: USA
Actor: Brian O'Halloran, Bryan Johnson, Jerry Lewkowitz, Ethan Suplee, Matthew Maher, Scott Schiaffo, Susanna Jolly, Paris Petrick, Jay Petrick, Michael DeNigris, Jill Robertson, Kevin Smith, Tim Miller, Scott Mosier, Tobias Carroll, David Klein, Melissa Rayworth, Deanna Rowe, Bob Farley, Joe Mullins, Jason Mewes
Format: 87 minutes
Website category: Other
Review date: 18 January 2012
It's not an easy watch, since you'll be cringing in anticipation of its loser hero's life going down the toilet. (Maybe it will and maybe it won't, but that's a different thing from anticipation.) Did I enjoy it? No. However I'd have to call it a good film because it's clearly succeeding at what it's trying to do.
The weird thing is that it's a View Askew movie, produced by Kevin Smith. This feels improbable. Admittedly I've never seen any of Kevin Smith's movies (except Scream 3 and Daredevil, if you think they count), but aren't they meant to be funny? Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, etc. This on the other hand takes you into a faintly seedy and unpleasant world, in which the only thing scarier than the apparently inevitable failure of our hero (Brian O'Halloran) is the even more alarming possibility of his success. When you're being hoisted on the dubious shoulders of TV executives, that just gives you further to fall. It also raises the stakes that O'Halloran is a clown at children's parties and that the storyline includes gang rape.
The direct Kevin Smith link, by the way, is merely that he's in it and he's an executive producer. However Bryan Johnson has no movie career except in Smith's films, while similarly you can follow a View Askew trail through almost all his cast. O'Halloran made his debut in Clerks and Mallrats, Johnson himself plays the best friend, Jay Mewes (Jay And Silent Bob) has a cameo as a gun-seller who likes drugs and so on.
So... O'Halloran's character. He's a nice guy, but he's got "loser" painted on his forehead. (That's not literally true, obviously, but there's a good chance that it's written on his scrapyard car, which has more graffiti on it than paintwork.) He's devoted his life to being a clown at children's parties and thinks he'd be a sell-out if he looked for other work, despite the fact that he's thirty years old and owes money to church mice. We first see him late for a gig. A fat neighbour is sleeping in the back seat of his car, teenagers throw water balloons at him and when he finally arrives at the birthday party, he finds the police dragging away the child's dad. The mother apologises and tries to pay him for his time anyway... but O'Halloran tells her to forget it and says he'll be there for the girl's birthday party the following year instead.
This should be a heartwarming moment, but unfortunately we see him in character as Flappy. You can see why he's making no money as a clown. I wouldn't hire him. You can't say he doesn't believe in what he's doing, but he's also a negative pessimistic whiner who's pretending to be extroverted. It doesn't work. I found him slightly creepy, to tell the truth, in a dead-eyed politician way. The children apparently like him, though.
So that's our hero, sticking resolutely to a lifetime's ambition at which he's fundamentally ill-suited and wouldn't be much to write home about even if he were. I don't think I've mentioned his mother yet, by the way. She's a vile old harridan in a nursing home who'd sooner swallow her own tongue than say anything positive about her son, but you can see her point. She thinks he's wasting his life. This is hard to argue with. Anyway, O'Halloran comes up with an idea to make extra money, which he thinks is brilliant and at which all other human beings (i.e. us) will be cringing. Needless to say, it goes badly. Afterwards I'd assumed he was dead, which is a hard trick to pull off with the protagonist of a movie.
...and so it goes. O'Halloran bumbles along like a fly looking for a car windscreen and you're practically hiding behind the sofa. Occasionally the stupidity and failure becomes so extreme that it's funny, e.g. the most important interview of O'Halloran's life, at which I was laughing out loud. It's not black humour, since that's normally taken to mean comedy about death or hideous injury. (Actually there is one scene like that too, but I digress.) Instead it's just dark. It's the kind of darkness in which you almost want O'Halloran to hurry up and start drinking meths because at least that way he'd have saved time and got it over with. (Or maybe that's just me. It probably is.) Fortunately it doesn't ultimately work out like that and the film has a happier ending than I'd been expecting, but until then I'd have put long odds against any such outcome.
You could almost call it horror. Freddy Krueger didn't get this much tension from me.
This movie got horrible internet reviews, but the people who like it seem very enthusiastic. I can see both points of view. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone looking for entertainment, but I think it's very effective at what it does. Indeed, in its low-budget way, it's almost perfect. This is a nasty but oddly optimistic little story, self-contained and uncompromising. I liked O'Halloran's character, but he's an idiot. Occasionally the film made me laugh with how far it was prepared to take its mission statement from hell, but it doesn't feel like a comedy in the slightest. The tone is slightly oppressive. If you like films that aren't interested in focus groups and in being audience-pleasing, this one's for you.
"Have you ever heard of karma? Okay, then."