Thirtysomething angst abounds in "No Sleep 'til Madison," in which one by one, a group of old pals wiggle their way out of their arrested development. "Madison" follows an annual road trip coordinated by Owen (Jim Gaffigan), who just hit the big three-oh and views high school hockey at his last-ditch connection to what he truly feels were the best years of his life. Not high school per se, where he did not fit in, but its hockey team, where he finally found acceptance for a few short years. To be so overwhelmingly stuck in teen-glory past is an enormously sad place to be, and this movie finds a warm spot in its heart for this poor soul as it gently nudges him toward adulthood.
Each year, Owen gathers his best friends, and off they go across Wisconsin to revel in high school hockey, all leading to the state tournament. They talk up the wonders of the sport - unlike those overpaid pros, high school sports has a raw amateur glory to it. It's hard to tell if Owen's friends believe this, but Owen seems to hold this ideal close to him. He keeps meticulous notes at every game, analyzing and re-analyzing the stats, even taking note when a team from across the state has a new uniform design.
Young Dave (Ian Brennan) is Owen's teenage sidekick, charged with the task of videotaping the entire experience, all while learning the ropes of anal retentive stat-keeping from the master. We learn that Dave, an outsider at his school, met Owen at a hockey game; both were ogling the cheerleaders. We're not sure who's sadder, the grownup who hangs around high schools, or the high schooler who attaches himself to this lonely mentor.
Owen's other friends - the ones his own age - are growing tired with their pal's antics, having realized that adulthood has finally beckoned. Greg (T.J. Jagodowski) is the married one, and his wife spends every minute fretting over the health of their newborn. Tommy (Michael Gilio) can't leave his work behind. As for Vern (Jed Resnik), his numerous physical ailments (worst among them: gout) leave him with the energy of a man twice his age. One by one, they abandon the road trip and return to their grown-up lives, and Owen can't understand why they'd want to go.
Jim Gaffigan is a great stand-up comic, as you probably know. Here, he is also a great actor. It takes a lot to get us to root for someone as unlikable as Owen, who seethes with contempt with Greg's wife makes a surprise visit, who views Vern's trip to the hospital as a slight against him, who lives in his own selfish little world. Gaffigan finds the sadness behind the me-first attitude. Late in the film, Owen delivers a monologue about how he's finally realizing that he needs to embrace adulthood, and Gaffigan's low-key approach makes us want to give the guy a great big hug. (It's also very brave of the screenplay to ask us to care so much for a person who shouldn't deserve it.)
But "Madison" is not a drama. It is a comedy of the quirky-indie variety, and it doesn't always work. Many of the laughs come from watching these guys be the losers they don't realize they are, and the movie rides the fence between laughing with them and at them. The script, from Erik Moe and Peter Rudy, also fails to follow through with a few of its ideas; goofy scenes like the visit to the High School Hockey Hall of Fame don't seem to go anywhere. This may also be a case of too many cooks, as Moe and Rudy co-directed along with David Fleer. Their result is overly disjointed; there's no singular vision at play.
Yet there are also great big laughs throughout, keen ideas that earn loud giggles for the entire cast. And, of course, it is sweet and gentle when it needs to be, and that patches up a lot of the rough spots that pervade the film. "Madison" is a fun time with a complicated character, and worth a look.
Reel Indies is re-releasing "Madison"; the film first hit DVD a few years back courtesy of Cinema Libre. I'm not sure why the change of hands occurred or why a re-release was necessary, but here it is.
Video & Audio
Presented in 1.33:1 full frame (which, despite letterboxed opening credits, appears to be the film's original format), "Madison" looks passable in this release. The movie's low budget obviously leaves the thing looking somewhat cheap, but it fits with the story's low-key appeal. No digital transfer issues are spotted.
The soundtrack, in Dolby stereo, is equally serviceable, with no problems hampering the no-frills, talk-heavy track. No subtitles are offered.
All the extras from the Cinema Libre edition seem to be repeated here except one (the "five-minute film school").
Erik Moe and Peter Rudy team up for a chatty commentary track. They obviously had a fun time making the film, and their enthusiasm is infectious.
Very rough video footage reveals the audition tapes for Rebekah Smith, Ian Brennan, Jed Resnik, and T.J. Jagodowski. 15:24 total.
Something labeled "behind the scenes" is a teeny 83 seconds (!) of home video footage shot on the set.
A collection of previews, which includes the "Madison" trailer, rounds out the set.
Rough and clumsy but often highly enjoyable, "Madison" is Recommended to fans of Gaffigan and/or fans of earnest low-budget indies.