Tuesday, September 25, 2007

­BFF: In The Land of Merry Misfits

There's independent film, and then there's stuff like In the Land of Merry Misfits. It's hobbyist filmmaking, which is a cool idea; no form of art should be reserved by corporations or anyone else primarily worried about what other people think. A great many people paint, play music, cook, and write not to get paid for it, but because the urge to create is a force in and of itself.

And it's kind of cool that festivals have a spot for this sort of do-it-yourself movie, but I occasionally have trouble figuring out what I should say about them, if anything. On the one hand, I figure a prospective audience member is going to paying the same ten bucks and deserves to have it treated the same way. On the other hand, it's more personal; it's not just criticizing a product. It feels bad.

(And it's seldom this objectively good thing; film is by nature collaborative enough that someone is going to screw things up, even if the motivating force is a genius)

In the Land of Merry Misfits

* * (out of four)
Seen 19 September 2007 at AMC Boston Common #17 (Boston Film Festival 2007)

For all I know, the most amusing part of In the Land of Merry Misfits won't even be included when it finally gets whatever sort of distribution it winds up getting. The festival screening opened with a rapid-fire summarization of how the film got made over a period of years, and the true story of the filmmaker going from sausage vendor to writer for MTV's Singled Out to doing construction over the course of its filming is as entertaining as the feature that follows in much less time.

The story (such as it is), has Matt (Mitch Malem) trying to take a short cut through Bethany, MA, to get to Salem and declare his love for Risandra, his girlfriend who is about to leave for Europe. His car breaks down, though, and he finds the town almost entirely populated by the odd. He's assured that George (Wayne Previdi) can fix anything with wheels and that Heather (Danielle Weeks) can rent him a car, but both of those look like dubious prospects. Besides, some guy named Lord (Keven Undergaro) is calling Matt a "chosen one" who will lead the quest for the Grail of Popularity.

To state the movie's plot like that doesn't give a full impression of how peculiar everything is - it misses the mayhem that occurs at a Bunny Scouts meeting, George's need to do his repairs in the nude, the sword Matt pulls out of Pigboy's butt, that there is a character named Pigboy (Mark Phinney), the spiritual advice of "Friar Chuck" (played by former wrestler Bob Backlund), the fued with the McDeeval car dealership that goes back to high school, or the casting for a play that involves Santa Claus and Hitler. There's a new and bizarre thing on screen every couple minutes, and John Waters is narrating it.

It's the sort of self-consciously weird material that can, quite frankly, get kind of annoying. Matt is constantly complaining about wanting to get back to "the real world", and roughly two thirds of the characters are entirely defined by how they in particular act cah-ray-zee. I know I wanted to smack Junkie (John Comerford) with a shovel about two minutes after seeing him, and that's about the level of subtlety filmmaker Undergaro uses with the whole "weird guys are nice but seemingly 'normal' people are jerks" thing. Consider that the acting is just about what you'd expect from a group of friends making a movie on a lark, and the whole thing can be cringe-worthy.

It does have a certain amount of mad energy to it, though. Maybe not enough to recommend, but there's a certain goofy charm to certain scenes: Matt calls a friend, for instance, and his bits are a funny reminder that there's crazy everywhere; the sheer randomness of certain sequences is funny even when the scenes in question don't make a lick of sense ("in George's honor, let's play this game of paintball... naked!"). And while using non-actors can be minefield when they're required to read lines, there is often something unquantifiably genuine about them.

I can't imagine that I'll ever be tempted to watch Merry Misfits again, and I was truthfully quite glad to leave when the screening was over. And without the introductory piece, I'd probably be much harsher on it. But when it's made so clear that it's just a thing the people involved started as a lark and finished because they cared about finishing it, a critic can't really say the people involved did anything wrong... Even if he can't recommend spending actual money to see it.

Also at eFilmCritic.

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