Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Ass Backwards (2013): Girls can be idiots too!

Ass Backwards (2013)
dir: Chris Nelson
wr: June Diane Raphael, Casey Wilson

One of the criticisms of the film industry is that there aren't enough female writers or directors working. And, of the responses is "Well, write something! Direct something! Do it for youself!" In this case, two comediennes who frequently work together decided to write a movie for themselves, and got some up and coming guy to direct it. What came out was off-the-wall and absurdist humor whose built-in audience will have to pass it on to other people.

Ass Backwards takes the usual gay-friendly chick comedy and flips it on its head. It's the inverse mirror world version of Romy and Michele's High School Reunion. Stop me if you've heard this set-up before. Two airhead girls who are unhappy in their situation find an invite to something from their past. That something has a lot of pain associated with it because they sucked at it. But, they decide to return to their past to try to reclaim it for success and win over their ex-heartthrobs.

In Ass Backwards, that something isn't high school, but a beauty pageant where one girl totally botched the question portion of the test and the other girl botched the talent portion. But, because there are very few interpersonal relations in pageant life to exploit, Ass Backwards makes the movie more episodic road trip and less final scene. More Pee Wee's Big Adventure than Romy and Michele.

Along the journey, Kate and Chloe discover that one of their father's is deep in debt because they can't get a job and are using his money to live beyond their means. They meet up with an addict from an Intervention-style rehab show. They find their way onto a lesbian compound. Along the way they fight and discover they can see each other plainly, though they accept each other with their flaws.

One could easily argue that Ass Backwards is a facile movie. It's trying to be the next Wet Hot American Summer, with a built in absurdist bent so that the "go to town" montage is stretched into the whole movie. But, it's problem is that it went a little overboard with the hipster irony.You're ironically laughing at Kate and Chloe for being such idiots. You're ironically laughing at the situations they get placed in. You're ironically laughing at the people in those situations as well. The whole movie becomes one big wall of irony where you don't really give a shit about anybody because you're supposed to be laughing at them all.

Nelson, Raphael and Wilson have created a movie which is the definition of aloof. By making everybody and everything a target, including their characters, the movie ends up a soulless catalog of detached amusement. Unlike other hipster comedies, Ass Backwards is too detached from its characters to have much heart to it. It isn't a knowing, loving movie which nudges you because it knows that it's creators are really geeky for making such a compendium, a la Wet Hot American Summer. It doesn't have that insider feeling that Portlandia has, where the targets are the people they interact with and love. Ass Backwards instead pokes at everything. But, it isn't even poking fun at itself, a la Freddy Got Fingered.

And, unlike the Go To Town montage, Ass Backwards never goes DARK. Sure, there's misunderstood rape and crack use, but it doesn't ever get into the sticky black depths that either Wet Hot American Summer went, nor Freddy Got Fingered or even Observe and Report. Because everybody on board stays above the material, and that keeps Raphael and Wilson from plunging the depths they keep attempting to plumb.

That said, there's an audience for Ass Backwards. They're the kids in the leather jackets who will sit behind you in a theater just to rip apart a director's choices. Or, the kids wearing the shades in the park commenting on the yuppies playing frisbee, and how they go to the gym. Or, the kids talking about how a band sold out. This is the movie made to laugh at everybody and everything with detachment and derision. It has an audience. That audience is not me.

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