"Maintaining a penis is a simple task. You take care of it just like a little child: you give it a bath once a day, when it gets wet, you put a little rainsuit on it so it doesn't get sick, and you beat it every once in a while."
Ding-a-Ling-Less is about one man's search for a penis.
No, it's not that kind of movie, not that there'd be anything wrong with that. It's about Jack Peterson (Kirk Wilson), who ekes out a modest but comfortable life in a sleepy North Carolina town. He builds birdhouses for a living, pals around with his womanizing best friend Alan (Robert Longstreet), and lives in a nice little townhouse. There's only one thing he's really missing -- a penis. With his having been lopped off a couple decades ago, Jack's never been able to get close to a woman, even his doting, too-cute neighbor Jenny (Lydia Toon Fleuery). But hark! Medical advancements are made every day, and Jack's home of Swansdale, NC conveniently happens to be the epicenter of penile breakthroughs. Inching ever closer towards his dreams of dangling appendages, Jack musters a bit of self-confidence and really starts to hit it off with Jenny. She quickly becomes frustrated at their lack of intimacy and is convinced that Jack is hiding something, unaware that he doesn't have anything to hide. Jack glossed over the fine print for the medical procedure, which has a catch that could leave him incomplete for years to come. Or can't come for years. Something like that. Anyway, Jack explores other avenues that'll let him get closer to Jenny, all of which go hee-sterically awry.
"I cherish my genitals. I adore my cock. I love my balls. They may be between my legs, but I keep them close to my heart."
You'd probably expect Ding-a-Ling-Less to be littered with dick and cum gags, and...yeah, you'd be right. The movie's almost poetic in its ability to find dozens of different ways to describe male genitalia. Even though the premise of a movie revolving around a guy with no penis sounds like a bad Mad TV sketch, this isn't a vapid, one-note, sophomoric comedy. There's an underlying wit and intelligence beneath it all, as well as quite a bit of warmth. Who would have thought a search for a penis, he types with a sniffle, would find so much heart? Although there are a couple of particularly over-the-top sequences (back to back, even), most of the movie is played pretty straight, and the contrast between that approach and the off-kilter premise is part of what makes it so endearing. Having a strong cast on-tap also helps. Kirk Wilson is particularly good, and instead of playing the entire movie purely for laughs, he manages to make me feel kinda bad for Jack. Getting the audience to empathize with a character in such an oddball situation is a pretty impressive feat. It also finds a really great balance between all sorts of disparate elements, mixing in a dark, dramatic revelation near the end of the movie with scenes like Jack struggling with a way-too-fully-functional prosthetic prick in a restaurant and Alan raiding his refrigerator to give Jack a sexual primer, somehow managing to make the transition between them feel natural instead of jarring. Ding-a-Ling-Less is unabashedly vulgar but still smart and surprisingly sweet, and I'd recommend it to readers with a taste for off-beat independent comedies.
Video: With more and more independent filmmakers leaning towards digital video, it's nice to see a 35mm production like this sneak in, even if it was shot on short ends. This transfer for Ding-a-Ling-Less is pretty lackluster, though, sporting letterboxed but non-anamorphic visuals, anemic black levels, a lifeless palette, and middling detail. Otherwise, the source material's in good shape, and there aren't any severe authoring problems (a little bit of shimmer is about it).
Audio: Ding-a-Ling-Less features Dolby Digital 3.0 audio encoded at a bitrate of 448Kbps. It's pretty much what you'd expect -- the dialogue remains rooted in the center channel, with the film's music spreading out to the front mains. It's not going to put anyone's overpriced home theater rig to the test, but the soundtrack's pretty good: dialogue's clear and discernable throughout, and the songs have a decent presence. No complaints. However, if you're reliant on subtitles or closed captions, neither of those are offered on this DVD.
Supplements: Writer/director Onur Tukel and actor/editor Robert Longstreet contribute an audio commentary that's about as entertaining as the movie itself. It's not one of those somber, sluggish tracks -- Tukel sounds hypercaffeinated, and both of them have so much to say that the commentary barely stops to take a breath. They cover a lot of ground, everything from the stigma of bad words to screaming matches while editing to making a bar owner's jaw drop while on location. They're pretty honest about what they think didn't work, and it's interesting to hear them really debate some points, like the quality of the perhaps too lengthy scene between Jack and his parents. They also veer into discussion about filmmaking in general, and even though it's not entirely on-topic, it's always great to hear people who are really passionate about film start ranting, including a debate about the merits of Barry Lyndon and impromptu reviewing of My First Mister. I really enjoyed this commentary, and no, Onur, I'm not going to say it's too self-congratulatory or anything. Tukel makes a few references to "the other commentary", but I guess it was ditched -- there's only one track on this DVD.
There are four extended scenes -- Dr. Skinner chatting more about the fifteen inch penis of Gilda the Sperm-Gargler's husband (4:16), an eighty-year-old Larry Pallatta fumbling through some lawyer-ly dialogue (3:38), more footage of Alan shadowfucking a blow-up doll (0:35), and a lengthier bit with Jenny asking Jack over for dinner (1:05). Some of it's funnier more for the outtake-ishness of it all than for whatever scripted dialogue may have been excised.
Another feature compares three finished scenes with the original storyboards, including Jack's ill-fated encounter with a hooker, Alan making a heartfelt confession, and the last few minutes of the movie.
"Production Notes" on DVDs usually aren't worth bothering to look at, generally just rehashing a press kit, but the ones on this disc are much better than average. They're broken up into thirteen sections, covering everything from the amount of improvisation on the set, shooting the movie on a tight schedule and a threadbare budget, and "concealing the thigh viper". Each heading contains a page of text, and while it's a little cumbersome to navigate (a "next" button would've been welcome), it's worth that minimal bit of effort.
There's also a still gallery with 33 behind-the-scenes shots, each with a brief description like "This sweet lady was pulled off the street and asked to say the line, 'I wish I had a dick.'" The images can be viewed either individually or consecutively in a slide show.
Rounding out the extras is a trailer gallery, featuring clips from Horns and Halos, Ball of Wax, Ding-a-Ling-Less, and another of Onur Tukel's films, House of Pancakes. There's some very nice artwork screened onto the disc -- more memorable than the usual retread of the cover art most releases opt for -- and the DVD also features a set of 4x3 static menus and 28 chapter stops. That tiny group that inexplicably obsesses over this sort of thing might be disappointed to hear that there isn't an insert sheet, but no one else really cares.
Conclusion: Okay, you might groan at the idea of watching a comedy about a guy without a cock. Don't be turned off by that eight word summary, though -- Ding-a-Ling-Less is vulgar, sure, but it's also sweet, clever, highly original, and extremely funny.