by Natasha Theobald
I've been searching my brain for the trouble with "Vulgar" (the movie, not the clown), and I think I've come up with something. It's bipolar. It's highs are really high, marked by genuinely funny and sunny moments of levity and/or dark comedy. It's lows, on the other hand, sink to layers beyond the basement, into the dark, dank depths of the worst of what is humanly possible. The problem is that the mood swings don't really take the time to find any middle ground. You are either dizzyingly high or dangerously low. And, the sudden trips from one to the other will probably make you, at the very least, nauseous.Will (Brian O'Halloran) is "Flappy," a clown who entertains at children's birthday parties. He has the white face, the big red nose, the rainbow-colored, curly hair. The kids kinda like him, but the adults around him, particularly those who want money from him, are starting to wonder if he has anything more to offer. His mother (Jay Petrick), who makes Livia Soprano look absolutely nurturing by comparison, makes the visits he must feel compelled to have with her torture from the moment he steps into her too small, no T.V.-having room at the nursing home. He needs money to shut her up, as well as the bill collectors, etc.
"Definitely not for everyone."
While looking through ads for other employment opportunities, Will gets a great idea. He'll take his clown act to the next level. He'll hire himself out as a girl clown as a joke for bachelor parties. The guys will get a kick out of seeing his hairy ass in some slinky lingerie before the real stripper comes. Won't that be a hoot? And, because of the crudeness of the joke, the clown will be named Vulgar. Things go horribly wrong on Vulgar's very first time out. She is met with a family from somewhere South of Hell, the Fanelli father and sons, and these boys (Jerry Lewkowitz, Ethan Suplee, Matthew Maher) have something less comic and decidedly more sinister in mind. They rape Vulgar and videotape the crime for later gratification.
Will is able to pull himself together and decides never to report or retell the incident, except to his friend, Syd (writer-director Bryan Johnson). His fortunes change as an opportunity presents itself to save another person, a young girl, from violence. He gains notice and fame for his heroism and is offered the chance of a lifetime (by Kevin Smith as "Martan"), his own show -- "Flappy's Funhouse." It is then that the Fanelli family decides to see what more they can get out of Will. The choice Will has, then, is whether to let Vulgar's past interfere with Flappy's future.
Brian O'Halloran does a good job with very difficult material. I sat there trying to think of someone really famous, anyone, who might be able to pull this off, and no one really sprang to mind. This clown is definitely the crying-on-the-inside kind. The performance is wrenching, particularly in the dark and silent moments following the rape, when all he wants to do is go home and find a way to be clean again. I felt repelled, and I felt the need to watch at the same time. O'Halloran almost bumped this to three stars for me, because his bravery deserves some recognition. I won't be rushing to see this movie again, but I can't say that it didn't have any impact on me.If you already think clowns are creepy, or you don't have immediate plans to visit the circus, you might give this movie a chance. However, if anything I have mentioned horrifies or offends you to a large degree, perhaps you should seek lighter fare. I mentioned the laughs, but I didn't tell you I was the only one laughing. If you don't think you could find the silver lining, it might be best to steer clear of this clowd.
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originally posted: 03/05/03 21:45:52