Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Unclassifiable, maybe certifiable: Tryon/ O'Connell's THE LIVING WAKE opens

Another one-of-a-kind movie? Already? Just yesterday, we covered Jessica Oreck's Beetle Queen, and now here's another oddball endeavor that flirts mightily with viewer alienation and in a few cases appears to have consummated it: At the recent press screening TrustMovies attended, there were walkouts. Still, THE LIVING WAKE is something else. But what, exactly? Don't ask. This strange, silly, at times nearly-moving movie seems to take place in some alternate universe that looks a lot like ours but where its citizens don't quite act like us.

This certainly goes for one of its leading citizens, a certain K. Roth Binew, played to a fare-thee-well by a fellow named Mike O'Connell (shown at right, who also co-wrote and co-produced the film), who evidently has a following, which did not, until now, include me. I'm still not sure even now how enamored of O'Connell's schtick I am, but he's certainly different.  (He reminds me most, not in appearance, but in attitude and demeanor, of Gibson Frazier who wrote and starred in Man of the Century a decade back -- a movie and character both longing for better, long-gone times.) 

Directed by Sol Tryon, shown at left, whose first directorial outing this is, the movie captures this alternate universe pretty well.  In it, the lead character, who has determined that he has but one day left to live, invites friends, enemies, townspeople and family to his own wake, which he will take charge of and moderate -- hence the film's title.  That's it for plot (the wake happens, no surprise), but the very odd characters and situations we encounter along the way should keep you amused and befuddled.

Our odd duck K. Roth Binew is accompanied on these rounds by his helper, Mills, an even odder young man whom Binew claims to have found in a broom closet and has now taken on as a kind of acolyte/son.  Mills is played by the ubiquitous Jesse Eisenberg (Adventureland, Zombieland), an extremely interesting young actor who has three films opening this month alone. Eisenberg always looks the same; there' no mistaking him for anybody else.  Yet he imbues each new role with such different characteristics that I think we've got quite the little actor on our hands.  This may be his strangest role yet, and he fills it to the brim with humor, heart, quirk -- and a seriousness that becomes quite affecting.

Though the movie ostensibly deals with death and the acceptance of it, it is really much more about life: success, failure and the acceptance of these -- and  how to "fit in" when you simply don't fit.  The movie's opening minutes are delightful and, as they tell the history of our "hero," also seem different from much else we've seen in this mode: whimsical looks at serious themes.

The whole movie could be described in this way, but whimsy is something best experienced in small doses, and occasionally the film threatens to overdose.  But there's always something odd and special to hold us -- in particular the "brief but powerful monologue" that K. Roth's vanished father has long promised to deliver.  Dad comes back, sort of, and mom is here, too, along with a very loving nanny, and a librarian who simply can't accept "gifted" books.

The Living Wake may remind you at times of The Seagull, of all things, or another bizarre look at bizarre people inhabiting their own alternate universe, Gravity Was Everything Back Then.  Love it, hate it or barely tolerate it, I suspect this is a film you will nonetheless remember.  Made in 2007, it finally finds a theatrical venue here in NYC this Friday, May 14, at the CinemaVillage .

No comments: