Movie Review - Middle Man (Portland Film Festival)
There has always been black comedy, comedy for morbid or even horrific senses of humor. Few films have asked to find murder humorous, laughable or even to be a punchline. There are films like Man Bites Dog (1992), Serial Mom (1994) or American Psycho (2000) where the murders are comical or played for laughs. Crowley could be commenting on films such as these, or trying to contribute to that genre if it be one. Whether it's a black comedy in film or even book-form, the audience is always one step removed. It's words on a page or images on a screen. There is an unreality that people understand internally, which can allow for humor and laughter.
We can watch a murder happen in a movie and think it's funny, but would or should one laugh if a murder or the perpetrator of one was right in front of us boasting about it, even if some part of it were a tad comical? Crowley's film here raises this question, but I'm not sure he necessarily answers it. Comedian Anthony Jeselnik in his Netflix special Anthony Jeselnik: Thoughts and Prayers (2015) makes jokes about being a serial killer and murdering people, but even he provides meta-context or a proviso immediately after. He breaks character as it were. Crowley's film premises the idea of Jeselnik not breaking. What if he came on stage, fresh from an actual kill, with literal blood on his hands and clothes and talked about it? Would or should we laugh?
Yet, Crowley's film wants us to accept that this would raise no eyebrows. No one in the audience would question it. No one would be appalled. This is quite the leap to make, particularly because O'Heir's performance is so good. He seems so distraught and so remorseful that I was moved. Yet, the audience within the film and every subsequent person sees it as just an act, as the greatest performance art ever, and there's something incongruous or inauthentic about it.
Andrew J. West (The Walking Dead and Dead of Summer) co-stars as Hitch, a creepy agent of chaos, a kind of foil in the literary sense to Lenny. Hitch is a walking inciting incident. Ostensibly, he's the talent manager for Lenny's budding comedy career, but he's more or less Lenny's kick in the butt.
Josh McDermitt (The Walking Dead) plays T-Bird, a rival comic who definitely antagonizes Lenny. He's perhaps the funniest person in the narrative. A condom and bottle of beer are used as a gag in T-Bird's routine and it's hilarious. T-Bird is arguably the most interesting too with a kind of failed comic back-story.
Chad Donella (Final Destination and Saw 3D) plays Flick, a police officer who might as well be blind or not in the narrative at all. He's completely inconsequential, which is a shame because if you've seen Donella in anything he's done, having worked steadily for 20 years, you'd know he's capable of so much more. His most recent AT&T commercial, "Longest Fumble," makes more use of his physical comedy and presence than this movie does. Donella at least gets to do pretty good impressions.
Another film though that tackles similar themes as this one or at least incorporates the same elements is Martin McDonagh's Seven Psychopaths (2012). McDonagh's film engages in those themes and elements a little bit better, but what pushes this movie without that level of engagement would have to be O'Heir's performance. He's really the glue that holds this whole thing together.
Three Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains violence, sexual situations and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 44 mins.
Premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival.
Playing as the Opening Night Film at the 2016 Portland Film Festival.
For a preview of more films at PDXFF16, go to The M Report on DelmarvaLife.
For more information on this film, go to: http://www.middlemanmovie.com/