by Jay Seaver
SCREENED AT THE 2009 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "You Might as Well Live" is a solid moron movie - the type where the lead character's quite astounding stupidity is just balanced with his innocence in such a way that we can laugh at him while still rooting for him somewhat. It's a precarious balance, because this film's Robert Mutt has a really stunning amount of stupidity that needs countering (to the point where the innocence starts resembling even more stupidity), but the movie careens from one hugely crude joke to another just well enough that it only fitfully becomes tiresome.Mutt (Joshua Peace) is making another unsuccessful suicide attempt as the film opens, and this time it gets him committed to the loony bin. It winds up being the first place that he ever fits in, but a new doctor (Julian Richings) uses this to prove that he's capable of surviving on the outside. Of course, when he does get home, he finds that his neighbor Fred Seinke (Stephen McHattie) has the whole neighborhood thinking he's a pedophile. His friend Hershey (Dov Tiefenbach) and Hershey's girlfriend Cookie (Kristen Hager) take him in, and just when it looks like Mutt has every reason to give up hope, he has an alcohol-related vision of Clinton Manitoba (Michael Madsen), the one-time star player of the local independent-league baseball team, who tells him that all he needs to be someone is a girl, some money, and a championship ring. So now he has a goal!
"And you might as well laugh."
So, if you're making a little independent Canadian comedy, how do you stand out from the big budget competition pumped out by Hollywood? You could go for smart, black comedy filled with biting satire... Or, alternately, you could amp the crudity up a couple notches. You Might as Well Live , as you may have guessed, goes the second route, with suicide attempts played as goofy slapstick, an unobstructed view of Mutt being chased through town naked, and, because it seems like even PG-rated movies are showing folks vomiting nowadays, we get to watch Peace drop trou and take a crap (truly, I don't want to think of what the next frontier is for gross-out comedy).
Nothing wrong with going for the gross-out, though, as director Simon Ennis (who co-wrote the screenplay with star Peace) is pretty good at taking things that are, objectively, fairly mean-spirited and casting them as absurd. Similarly, he finds a lot of fairly scuzzy locations around Hamilton, Ontario, to give the place a working-class atmosphere without disparaging the characters for being poor or crude. He avoids pounding too hard on any one joke, so while there are a lot of bits in the movie that may not be to all tastes, no particular thing is going to make people grit their teeth and say to end it now.
And, most importantly, Joshua Peace gives the film what it needs. It's no great performance, but he's totally committed to Robert Mutt being rock-stupid but good-natured in spite of that. The key, I think, is that those two traits are completely separate; Mutt isn't friendly because he's too dumb to be otherwise, but because he doesn't enjoy being mean. So, when he gets in trouble by being a nice guy in a stupid way, it doesn't put the audience in an unforgiving mood. He keeps Mutt in a nice area between sad-sack and hopeless optimist, which is not an easy spot to hit.
He's got nice folks to work off, too. Some of them are surprising folks to find in a movie like this - Clark Johnson has to have better stuff to do than show up as the mental hospital orderly that believes in Mutt, right? Similarly, Michael Madsen is a really odd guy to pop up in this sort of movie, but he's all in as Manitoba, whether in Mutt's delusions or real life. Stephen McHattie is also a stitch as the boy scout leader somehow fooling everybody but the audience about who the guy with the kiddie porn collection is. Tiefenbach and Hager are fun friends and accomplices, and every other hapless, obnoxious character brings something funny to the proceedings. Special kudos go to Liane Balaban as a potential girlfriend for Robert, who is as far out there as he is, though in a completely different direction.More than enough funny to give the movie a decent amount of jokes succeeding versus bombing. "You Might as Well Live" is plenty rude and crude, but it mostly avoids being mean. You've just got to be ready for a movie in which anything goes.
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originally posted: 09/10/09 09:39:27