(Release Date: April 21, 2006 [Gainesville, Florida - COSMOS International Film and Video Game Festival])
I, for one, am as big a fan of the Mockumentary as one can get without actually being followed night and day by a bored camera crew just waiting for me to say something funny. As you regular readers know... that can be one hell of a long wait.
This brings me (forcibly tied up in a side-car) to the subject of today's review: The Proper Care & Feeding of an American Messiah... where my love of ultra-indies has collided in full velocity with my love of Mockumentaries. It's hard to call this an amateur film, and near impossible to call this a "Student Film", especially because co-writer/ director Chris Hansen is a Professor at no less a college than Baylor University. It's also hard to call American Messiah anything less than Indie Gold after watching it.
Let me try not to blow too much smoke up the collective asses of the cast and crew here. The Proper Care & Feeding of an American Messiah starts with a great idea. A young, bald, goofy loser named Brian B. (last name bleeped by request of his family) decides that he is a messiah... oh, no, not THE Messiah, just one of them. Somehow, though he has a discipleship of two (and both of them are his siblings), a camera crew begins to chronicle his (slow and low) rise to religious prominence, and captures every foible, failure and fanaticism poor Brian has up his puffy sleeve.
Unfortunately, St. Brian (perfectly portrayed by Dustin Olson) is totally clueless. He's just "Decided" he's a "fourth generation messiah" (though he can trace his messiahship back only three generations), but his ministry is obviously a major work in progress.
Brian's mock-doctrines and bull-bulls are laced with such self-assured asides as "or whatever" as he extrapolates his own take on biblical dogma and compares himself to "J. Christ" and His mission on Earth. When faced with logic, science or even the true textual basis of scripture Brian B. either doesn't get it or decides to adopt these brand new ideas as part of his teachings ("I might steal that" he says).
What is he teaching? Well, he's not exactly sure, himself. Essentially, this is the story of a self-proclaimed, messy messiah, plagued by lower gastro-intestinal issues, determined to save the world from such Tummy-Tum-Tum ailments with the help of a blessed Antacid called "Aunt Acid". To this grand end, Brian, along with his disciples Aaron B. and Miriam B. work toward a large-scale "Messiah Rally" at his town's convention center. The main problem is... God hasn't truly revealed to Brian just what his true calling is to be!
Along the way, Brian the messiah (or, sorry, "a" messiah) leads his little group on such small scale fund-raising efforts as Beach-Side Baptisms (for $1.18 each), and door-to-door spirit cleansings. And oh, if only those were the extent of his "miracles". In addition to the ability to consume mass amounts of fatty food without porking up like Rosie, and the startling gift he has of shaving only once per week, Brian also has magical stories of mysterious returning shoes, and one "Miracle of the Fruit" which simply has to be seen to be believed.
I saw it, and YES, HALLELUIA, I am a Believer!
Hansen (who also plays the voice-only part of the Interviewer) and co-writer D.M. Lovic seem to have a perfect quarrel of ideas with which to lob, arrow-like, at the unsuspecting audience. The amazing thing is just how often these attempts hit the bull's-eye dead on! What makes American Messiah work is its easy, natural feel. At few points, if any, does the star, Dustin Olson, really FEEL like he's "acting". Instead, he feels more improvised and natural, like a real-life deluded guy being interviewed for a documentary. Even in the hard times, Brian seems as confident that he's on the right path as ol' George W. in any given press conference. Good satire like this starts on the page, builds with the director and is nailed by the actors.
Actors plural, yes indeed. Olson isn't alone here. As dense and drowning in illusion as Brian really is, his brother Aaron (played in classic deadpan by Joseph Frost) takes the cake, drops it on the floor, has an icing fight with it and then, eats the damned thing anyway. Uh... proverbially speaking, of course. Aaron amounts to more than just Brian's comic sidekick (let's face it, Brian is his own foil). It's scarcely a wonder why Brian think's he's the unquestionable king of all he surveys with poor ol' Aaron as his easiest comparison. However, it's Sister-Girl Miriam (Ellen Dolan) who steals most every scene she graces. Miriam is loyal but smart and one can't help but think, every time she offers what could only be called "Sound Advice" that she really, truly does know better. The same, sadly, can't be said for Brian's scatter-brained wife, the put-upon Cecilia B. (Heather Henry). She realizes she (and her never-seen kiddo, Brian Jr.) may not have the best man around (especially during "Messiah Time"), but he does pay the cable bill. As for Dustin Olson... well, what can one say about Dustin Olson here except "He's not really bald."
American Messiah generally feels like a documentary, and I mean that in a good way. It didn't have the highest budget (making the great film this is all the more noteworthy), but it doesn't have the tell-tale color and sound issues that most ultra-indies have. This one looks and sounds like it's ready for a theatrical run (albeit, in art houses only). That said, this isn't quite perfect. True, most of the little flaws actually seem to be intentional, but there are a few (very minor) pieces to this puzzle that are left dangling. One or two scenes don't quite feel like they would really have been shot by a documentarian in the real world. However, folks, the same thing can be said (and in most cases, more so) about almost every Mockumentary out there, including A Mighty Wind and Take the Money and Run. In truth, Hansen appears to be embracing the box he's put himself in and has an almost perfectionist bend to make this flick not only quality, but funny as hell, even given its budget. Hansen even seems to spoof the perils of independent filmmaking with Brian's ill-fated "Messiah Rally" television commercial, which all three siblings simply shine through.
And that, my friends, is the true "Life of Brian". Even considering the subject matter, The Proper Care & Feeding of an American Messiah never bows to cheap shots, offense or blasphemy. Well... almost never. It's a hilarious, amazingly natural and brilliant Mockumentary for the thinking person. Stay through the credits for a final clincher scene, well worth the wait. All that AND a fittingly bizarre cameo appearance from Tony Hale. Four and a Half Stars out of Five for The Proper Care & Feeding of an American Messiah. And that's not on an Indie Curve, either. If anything, the fact that Hansen and Theoretical Entertainment have made a movie this smart, this funny and this complete on a budget like theirs is a credit to the innovative spirit of our Baylor Prof and his Amigos! Take my word for it... I know from whence I speak, Kemosabes... no need to verify! Ah, doubters in the fold, eh? Well, my children, I command you to visit the official site at AmericanMessiah.com, check the Festival schedules, take in a screening and you will see how right I am. Then you may continue to quote me, my followers. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to run... It turns out that I'm NOT the World's Greatest Critic. Turns out my sister is. I wish finding that out didn't have to be so painful. Humph. See you in the next reel, Bible-boy!
|What's New?||Alphabetical Listing of Reviews!||SearchThisSite:||Advertise With Us!||About...||Lynx Links:||F*A*Q|