Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Brass Teapot (2012): How far will you go?

The Brass Teapot (2012)
dir: Ramaa Mosely

America's financial crisis is still affecting America's youth. The upcoming Cheap Thrills forces us to take a look at the form of our financial system, under the guise of asking how far would you go for financial security. The Brass Teapot asks us directly how far we would go for a couple dollars, and who would you hurt along the way.  It also gives the Gen Y argument for bowing out of the rat race.

The Brass Teapot centers around a couple of Gen Y college graduates, John and Alice, who are married but poor. Alice just finished getting a bachelor's degree in Art History. John is working as an underpaid and overworked computer insurance salesman/telemarketer.  Alice is trying to break into management, but can't get a job, and so the money woes keep rolling in.  Then, Alice steals a teapot.

The titular brass teapot is an ancient teapot that gives you money for pain and suffering.  In a striking fit of racism, the teapot is adorned with the Star of David on both sides, and had previously rescued from a Nazi concentration camp. You know, because, Jewish people are the foundations of greed and will do anything to get money.  The reason it was in a concentration camp was Hitler was trying to find the teapot, but the Jews wouldn't let him find the source of their money.  Alice steals the teapot from an old Hasedic Jewish woman who causes car accidents to get money.  And, throughout the movie both Alice and John are continually beaten and robbed by the Hasidic sons of the old woman.

Leaving aside that troubling racism, John and Alice bring the teapot home, where Alice, by accidentally burning herself with a curling iron, figures out that she can get money from the teapot.  John loses his job, and so they resort to hurting each other for money. A lot of money, actually.  They buy a nice house in a nice neighborhood.  They get nicer clothes.  They go to decent restaurants. They start hobnobbing with the friends who became successful after high school.  They start ignoring the friends they had when they were poorer (one of whom is working a second job at the mall to make ends meet).

In trying to learn the origins of the teapot on Antiques Roadshow, they attract the attention of somebody who knows the origins of the teapot.  In yet another, less troubling, fit of racism, we're introduced to the one Asian character in the film.  This is the Asian mystic who knows the origins of the teapot and is coming to save John and Alice from its powers through his benevolence.  The only other minority character in the movie is Alia Shawkat, the half-Iraqi actress best known for playing Maeby Funke, the daughter of two white folks on Arrested Development.

The Asian mystic tracks down John and Alice, and tells them that the teapot will ruin their lives, which they summarily dismiss because they have money and they can control themselves.  Meanwhile, the Hasidic descendents of the old lady track down John and Alice and start taking the money, which they say was supposed to be their inheritance.  They also warn of the dangers of the teapot, but John and Alice dismiss them too. And they keep hurting each other to get money.

But, the teapot gives less and less.  And, Alice discovers that the teapot actually responds to emotional damage.  So, they first start out by inflicting emotional damage on each other.  Revealing affairs, lust for other people, magnifying each other's faults, etc etc.  But, soon, they get greedy...again...and then inflict their damage on other people.  They reveal other people's affairs and other such things.  And, as such, the stakes for greed get higher and higher.

In the end, they give up the teapot, sell their belongings, give their money to their poor friends, get pregnant and move to Mexico on nothing more than their love.

Wait...what?  Oh, right. It's an allegorical ending.  John and Alice, horrified by the greed which they display, decide to give up everything consumerist and reject the American Dream.  Aside from the still completely troubling anti-semitism of the origins of the pot, the movie is only filled with white folk because that is still representative of "mainstream" America.  Even on television and in movies, it is hard to get a minority character who isn't playing a servant, a victim, or a criminal.  But, some at least acknowledge that stereotyping actually exists even as it is doing it (see Breaking Bad and its character Hugo).

As a critique on the current state of the American Dream, The Brass Teapot stands with Cheap Thrills in trying to get society to re-examine how it gets its riches.  It is off their own pain and suffering?  Could it be from the pain and suffering of others?  Perhaps even their death?  The Brass Teapot isn't concerned as much with the classism concerns of Cheap Thrills. It is mainly trying to articulate the Gen Y's growing dissatisfaction with the inability to get ahead by hard work alone.

Now, for a movie about pain and suffering and inflicting it on others, The Brass Teapot takes a bright effervescent tone compared to Cheap Thrills' down and dirty shock techniques.  Where Cheap Thrills goes for the jugular, The Brass Teapot goes for a refined, almost twee, tonality that runs counter to the actual content of the movie. It's kind of like how Third Eye Blind's Semi-Charmed Life was a poppy upbeat song about the depraved roller coaster of being a methhead. Yeah, it's exactly like that, except for occasional downturns where John and Alice check in with their morality until they realize they're OK with what they're doing and then we're back to bouncy!

If you like your comedies dark but peppy, The Brass Teapot is really entertaining, if a bit long.  At 101 minutes, it is a little flabby on the sides and could use a bit of trimming.  But, then there's the troubling racism and white privilege that completely pervades the film (and I haven't even gotten to the weird classist portion of how John and Alice's first landlord is a trailer trash ex-classmate who also has a bitching and expensive new 4x4 truck). And, if it wasn't for that anti-semitism and the rest of the white middle-class privilege, this film would be a knock out.  As it is, you have to take the good with the bad, maybe?

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