A truly demented and darkly funny film
magellan | Santa Clara, CA | 02/05/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a very strange movie, but then, I wouldn't expect anything else from Australian director Shirley Barrett and Australian scriptwriter Jan Chapman, who did Love Serenade some years ago, one of my favorite darkly satiric, funny, and wacky movies. I really loved all the characters in that movie and the way their odd personalities and neuroses seemed to mesh (or not mesh) in the strangest and funniest ways.
This movie pokes fun at religion, religious leaders and followers, show business, the self-esteem movement and positive thinking seminars and the people who go to them, and even at nasty, dour, crippled people. I mean, normally one would find a paraplegic to be at least a somewhat sympathetic character, but the way Benita is portrayed one doesn't have much sympathy for her despite her tragic accident and situation.
In fact, all the women and men in the movie are pretty dour, cynical, nasty, and in general not very nice people. The only one who has a positive personality and outlook is Grasso, who truly seems to believe what he says about all the positive thinking philosophy, but who is surrounded by all the other dour, nasty people in the movie, and yet who refuses to get discouraged. On the other hand, he could be a complete phony, hypocritically mouthing all these platitudes about believing in your own success while he's cynically manipulating Benita for her money to bankroll his talent agency (which only has one client, a beautiful woman who really isn't a very good singer but who Joey is romatically obsessed with).
Is Joe Grasso's character meant to be a warning to people who go to these motivational seminars and groups, and then become blindly convinced they too can be a success (despite all the evidence to the contrary), and then make a mess of their own and even other people's lives, or is it meant to be a darkly funny satire? Not sure. On the other hand, many successful people will tell you that the only thing that differentiates them from the non-successful is they persisted and kept trying when a less determined or maybe more rational person would have given up. Is this the point of the movie (which I doubt), but anyway Joey certainly exemplifies this philosophy and approach in spades.
On the other hand, when Joey finally breaks down and confesses his love for the woman, she tells him he's just not her type (she likes big guys and Joey is only average height and build), but says she'll have sex with him anyway if he wants because she appreciates everything he's done for her. But Joey refuses, saying he doesn't want that kind of relationship.
I was wondering if Barrett had had some experience with the self-improvement industry and came away with a less than positive opinion of the area. I had a similar experience myself. In the early 90's I dated someone who kept brow-beating me to attend the self-improvement seminar they thought was so fabulous, and which was very expensive. They couldn't really afford it, but went to it anyway. To hear them talk, it was the greatest thing since sliced bread or the invention of sex. Part of the scam was they used your significant other to lean on you to pony up more money and go to the seminar too. I pointed out that most of this was just pop psychology that anyone could find in the popular psych books and which was hardly a secret and was much cheaper. This didn't earn me very many points and we broke up shortly after that.
Anyway, this isn't to say that all of these seminars are a scam or worthless; I'm sure many are put on by well-meaning and even qualified experts, and some are possibly legit and truly helpful, but I was wondering if that might perhaps have been the motivation behind Barrett's doing the movie. Without any real information, this is just speculation, but I've heard the Aussie's are a very practical, down-to-earth, and no-nonsense people who might regard the great-sounding but pretentious double-speak one hears from these sorts of seminars with a jaundiced eye, but who knows.
So however the movie came to be, it's a very weird and I think darker satire even than Love Serenade, and that's saying something. I'm not even sure I would call it black comedy or satire, maybe more like darkly funny, absurdist, and malignant nihilism--if there is such a thing, which I doubt--or if there is there probably shouldn't be. :-) Or maybe the movie is some sort of extreme, dark parable of life itself in the new millenium? Whatever it is, if you like totally demented and off-the-wall movies you'll probably like it too.