Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Boston Underground Film Festival 2008: Who Is KK Downey?

One of the characters in this movie is named "Theo Huxtable". Let me just point out, as I must, that someone having the same name as an 80s sitcom character is not funny.

Who Is KK Downey?

* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 March 2008 at the Brattle Theater (BUFF X)

I wonder how many times a secret identity has ever worked in actual practice. Not living a double life, where you're just trying to keep two groups separate, but a bona fide secret identity where you're trying to someone you know from realizing that these two people they know in different contexts are actually the same person for an extended period of time.

Who Is KK Downey? is basically a secret identity movie. Young would-be author Theo Huxtable (Matt Silver) has written a book called Truck Stop Hustler that is about as far from his real suburban middle-class life as could be. His best friend Terry (Darren Curtis) is starting to realize that he's never going to be a rock star and can't stomach the thought of an ordinary life working in his father's helicopter factory. When a publisher rejects Theo's book, saying that in modern publishing, you're selling the author's persona as a package with the book and tubby whitebread Theo doesn't fit with his lurid narrative, they concoct a scheme - they would claim Truck Stop Hustler was a memoir, with Terry posing as its protagonist. With the package in place, the book is a smash hit, with only local critic Connor (Pat Kiely) hating the book - and to add insult to injury, "Downey" is soon stealing away Connor's girlfriend Sue (Kristin Adams)... who just happens to be Terry's ex.

The movie's big lie, of course, is that Connor, Sue, and everyone else that Theo and Terry know that isn't in on the gag don't immediately twig to the fact that KK looks and sounds a whole lot like Terry with a blond wig and a generic southern accent (and that Terry never seems to be around his old friends). We buy it, to a certain extent, because pretty much everybody in this movie's world is a cartoon character to a certain extent. Connor is the most ridiculous, the type of alternate weekly critic who doesn't actually like anything, and is so effete that one wonders why, in this sort of stereotype-derived world, he's dating a woman other than to make Terry miserable. Theo's ridiculous hair is always worth a giggle.

This isn't quite a one-joke movie, but its bread and butter is mocking the art world, especially the cottage industry that exists between the artist and the audience. Yes, there are jokes at the expense of artists (Sue's art is adding eyes to everyday objects, Theo initially acts as though adding more and stranger sexual escapades to K.K.'s history adds to the work's sophistication) and fans (people do seem to eat that book up), but mostly it's the idea of art as a business, and in particular its gatekeepers, that come in for mockery. Aside from Conner's snobbery, there's the publisher willing to engage in fraud and the very idea that an artist should be marketed, rather than his work; Theo becomes a monster once his book becomes a business. It's fertile ground, and the filmmakers never let up on it, tough they're not harping. It's also not their only trick; the characters are generally funny and ridiculous people.

These goofy characters are the work of a comedy troupe - Curtis, Kiley, and Silver write as well as starring; Curtis and Kiley direct. With that kind of collaboration, there's a lot of potential for disaster; the cast could easily go improv-crazy with no-one to rein them in. The acting is pretty over-the-top - Terry, Theo, and Connor are all broad caricatures - but its seldom out-of-character nuttiness or so far out as to not be funny. Kristin Adams is nice enough as Sue, but she's The Girl, and in this sort of movie The Girl has to be the mature one who explains why the relationship didn't work and just isn't quite as wacky as the boys. Dan Haber shows up toward the end to add a little extra craziness but packs a lot of funny into a relatively short appearance.

Crazy is what is called for; this is one of those premises which the audience might reject if they were ever given time to stop and think about it, even though the story is inspired by an actual incident. This isn't an indie comedy that's going to be praised for its subtelty or realism, but it is pretty darn funny.

Also at HBS.

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