'Pop Art,' based on a short story by Joe Hill, is just about the most touching and mystifying fifteen minutes of film I expect to see this year. It does full justice to the tale Christopher Golden — and I agree — called 'transcendent...the single best short story I have read in years.'Writer/director Amanda Boyle streamlines Hill's story, focusing on the relationship between lonely schoolboy Toby (Bill Milner) and Arthur, or Art, an inflatable boy. Hill never explains how an inflatable person can exist. Neither does Boyle. Art simply shows up in class one day, introduced by the teacher as "special." He can't talk, so he scribbles out notes. He's pretty much like any other boy except that he fears puncture.
The friendship between the boys develops naturally and unsentimentally. They tease each other, sit around and shoot the breeze. Toby's mum died a year ago, and his dad still hasn't gotten over it (this part reminded me of Paul Hornschemeier's brilliant graphic novel Mother Come Home); the family dog sits neglected. In Hill's story, Toby's mom ran away when he was three, and his dad sat around the house all day on disability; the dog had to be blockaded from Art or else he'd bite him to shreds. The changes Boyle makes suit the smaller, more intimate story she's telling.
Pop Art ends ambiguously, without the breathtaking button of Hill's final line (his story jumped forward a few years to find Toby getting married to an inflatable woman — I mean one like Art, not as in Lars and the Real Girl). No actor is credited as playing Art, even in the shots in which there could be someone inside an inflatable Art suit, so I have to assume he's the real deal all the way. And yet this plastic bag of air, who can't talk and can't emote, winds up making us feel for him and his final decision. I was stunned by how much of the feel of Hill's story made it into this primarily visual, not very talky short, and I was surprised at how moved I was."Pop Art" was made available for one week in May 2009 on the BBC Film Network site (http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/filmnetwork/A49258524); it may still be accessible if you try. If it turns up as part of a film festival near you, or surfaces on a DVD compilation, I can't recommend it more highly. It is, if you will, the flip side of "Up"; both films are rooted in sadness yet express the longing to float up, up and away.