In fact I am sitting here about to review it and I can't really make my mind up about it.
In a weird way I want to hate it, I want to hate it for trying too hard to be weird, I want to hate it for being a pretentious pile of self indulgent strange crap, I want to get angry and rant about the need for so-called independent American cinema (read low budget studio fare with a fan base but no real market value) to out mumble, out weird and out quirk not only mainstream cinema but its independant rivals until it generally disappears up its own arse hole but I can't really because I quietly and pleasantly enjoyed this odd little slice of bland Americana.
I am going to try and describe it now, ok, so be patient. The plot is this, there is a quiet, inward, mumbly boy who dresses in either out dated threads, the sort you might find on the rack at a charity shop (thrift store) with stained walls, scratchy carpet smelling of stale coffee, or bizarre concoctions of his batty and incompetent mother, who is one of those insanely positive people that is either hiding some heavy trauma, has one screw short of a complete flat-packed, pine-effect Ikea cabinette or both. He is home schooled, well sort of, I think, but also attends writing seminars because he is a writer and the creator of a very childish, badly written but fairly inventive Sci-Fi story, that in truth is just a way to deal with his absentee Father issues. All the time we cut back to parts of the Sci-Fi novel acted out by Sam Rockwell in a series of ever increasing lunatic set pieces. The boy idolises a self-important, pompous and suitably oddball writer who turns out to be the judge of a writing course he's attending, who also has writer's block, has extended his advance with his publisher and needs something quick. The writer reads his story, changes the names, weirdly and unnecessarily camps up the protagonist (in some borderline slightly offensive and simplistically homophobic gay over-acting by Sam Rockwell that you'd expect from a BBC2 1970s sitcom but not in a modern film like this) and then flogs the book as his own. The boy meanwhile has fallen in with some other charming yet curiously, stupid and simple town folk who have a slapdash enterprise making quirky, no-budget, straight to video films and has agreed to give them the rights to his story. While they set about donning bad wigs, their parents clothes and creating bizarrely wonderful and shoddy props to make their film, the writer has released his book to general fan-based acclaim. It eventually all comes to a head, the writer first tries to buy the boy off but is eventually exposed as a fraud, the original book is published, the other one removed from the shelves, good is victorious, evil is punished and they all live together, happily ever after, in their quirky, non-conformist, out dated but in an obvious, intentional way, mumbly and odd ball household.
You can see how I really struggle with it because on the surface I just want to attack it for trying so desperately hard to be different, purposefully making every character dress and talk in a so-bland it's crazy way and not having any substance but I can't because it does, it has lots of charm and lots of substance. It essentially is all about the American Dream, which is a childish yet exciting idea that anyone can be anything they want and that there is always a corner in this enormous country where you can cultivate creative and enterprising interests if you are dedicated and passionate enough and it manages to say that simple, maybe patriotic, chest thumping and flag waving message without ever being sentimental, mawkish or any of the above. Also, I didn't feel, at any point like it was looking down or judging these small town folks but rather that the film maker is fond of them and considers himself lucky to be one.
It's essentially like Rushmore meets Be Kind Rewind via some wierd bluey green mid western dating agency video from the 1980s.
There are some bits that grate, for example, it would've been better and more likable if the book-come-to-life sections of the film had shown the book in question to be at all well written or interesting, instead of a series of weak, schoolboy sniggering innuendos contrasted with completely nonsensical and beyond surreal flights of fancy but maybe I am just not that familiar with the particular brand of Sci-Fi they were parodying.
The main cast, surprisingly except Sam Rockwell, are all excellent, watchable and game enough to put up with all the strangeness. Especially Jermaine Clement from Flight of the Conchords fame, who is phenomenally good and funny even when he's saying nothing, he just looks funny. Sam Rockwell, however, misses the mark which is unusual for him because he's normally terrific but it needed more of a strong personality in those scenes.
It's difficult to say if it was directed well because I have no idea what the film makers intentions were. I don't know if he knew it was all bonkers or if, for him, a lot of it seemed normal. What I can say though is that the directing style adequately matched the subject and tone of the piece, which I guess is just about all you could ask for. I usually like my satire/parody a little less broad and more subtle too but if its aim was to be exactly like a dingy, end of the high street charity shop (thrift store) come to life, complete with the straight-to-VHS B-Movie sensibility, the someone died in this in the 80s clothes and the script, like a well thumbed Sci-Fi novel by someone with an impressive sounding name but a front cover that depicts every orange-tinged, slightly viking-looking cliche in the book, then it succeeded mightily.
I am not sure if I would ever watch it again as it seemed a bit too slow, bland and needlessly quirky for my tastes but what I will say is, despite my reservations and it's slightly infantile nature, I really enjoyed it, it definitely won me over and by the end of it I was pleasantly happy to see it all work out for this likable group of misfits. It was uniquely American, fairly funny and worth watching if you want something that doesn't look, feel or sound like anything that's in your local multiplex.
6 out of 10 snakes in a baguette