Comedy is one of the most difficult film genres to do well, not least because it relies heavily on idiosyncratic genius in performance and the mastery of timing. For a filmmaker to move from low budget horror (which is notoriously easy to do well, at least well enough to gain an appreciative audience) to low budget comedy is something of a feat. Henrique Couto manages to pull that feat off quite well in his Depression: The Movie.
The film focuses in turn on four people: Lenny (Corey Montgomery), Bruce (David Neely), Bill (Mike Canestaro), and George (Moriah Yux). George, in case you haven't guessed, is a young woman. A snippet out of each of their lives is shown, in all their pathetic glory. Lenny is plagued with unstable girlfriends, and seems to only be attracted to those that are unavailable or otherwise unworkable, even passing up perfectly good, beautiful, enthusiastic and available girls literally right next to him. Bruce sits around in his underwear all day, snorting coke, drinking whiskey straight from the bottle, and writing music. His life is turned upside down when he discovers that his grandfather died months before and no one told him. Bill is divorced and seemingly untethered from anything approaching meaning or purpose, and can't work out his feelings for a young friend. George sells drugs on school playgrounds, and struggles to get out from under the shadow of her very successful older sister and her prissy husband.
None of these are particularly empathetic characters. They're generally stuck in traps of their own devising, making bad decisions, self-destructing at every turn, unable to wrestle their way out of the morass of their lives. But that's sort of the point. Couto is teasing out the nuances of their inability to succeed, and showing us the humanity and pain and fumbling toward enlightenment and happiness of these basically likeable schlubs. All the stories eventually come together at the end, and we're treated to something of an up ending, as if to say that, yeah, life can suck sometimes, but there's always hope.
Be warned, this isn't a wacky, gag filled satire or romp. It's grounded in an often sobering and painful reality. It would probably be more accurate to call it a dramedy, or whatever ridiculous name they're giving to comedy dramas these days. There are moments that are not intended at all to be funny, and can be quite stark and emotionally wrenching. But these make the moments of sweetness and humor all the more effective. Don't expect too many big guffaws, but lots of smiles, giggles and knowing laughter, especially when we recognize ourselves or those we know in the characters. Of course, there are also fart jokes, sex jokes, drug jokes, and a naked woman in a Mexican wrestler's mask. And since this comes from the director of such horror gems as Bleeding Through and Faces of Schlock Vol 2 there is also a bloodthirsty serial killer at one point.
This is a very low budget film, entirely self-financed as Couto points out in the commentary. If you're expecting super slick production values and impossibly beautiful plastic molded actors, you won't find them here. But there are all kinds of benefits to this kind of independent production. For one thing, the actresses look like real people you might meet at the mall or neighborhood barbecue, which is refreshing, though several of them appear entirely naked, so avoid this if that kind of thing offends you. Also, a low budget allows the filmmakers to explore the kinds of things that interest them individually, and not whatever a studio executive thinks might be profitable. Sure, the actors might not be classically trained, and might not give the line reads that David Fincher would have insisted on getting after 100 takes, but they have an honest frankness that makes up for it. Couto is a master of awkwardness and uncomfortable situations, and is able to draw these out and wring every dribble of humor out of them.
And he's able to able to somehow make a few thousand dollars feel like significantly more. Depression: The Movie looks about as good as this kind of ultra-indy possibly can, with surprisingly high production values, strong performances and top notch camera work and editing. This certainly isn't a film for everyone. It takes its times, avoids obvious gags or broad humor (excepting the fart jokes), and is highly personal and idiosyncratic. I'm quite sure there are folks out there who will hate it. But it has an awful lot going for it, and will be especially endearing to those who seek out unique independent films. Recommended.
The video is 1.78:1 widescreen, and looks quite good. The image is crisp and bright, the colors pop, and it's free from any major flaws, other than occasional and very mild posterization. This is surprisingly nice for such a low budget film.
Audio is Dolby digital 2 channel, and sounds pretty good. No hiss or other issue can be heard, and the dialogue is always clearly audible. No subtitles or alternate language track are included.
There are a few extras here. They are:
World Premiere Featurette
This runs about six minutes, and has the introduction by Henrique Couto at the world premiere in Ohio, and a filmed introduction that was also played, involving an audience sing-along. It's quite endearing.
This is just under five minutes, and has flubs, unused takes, and general silliness. It's funny.
Jasper the Colossal Concert Footage
Moriah Yux is the guitarist for all girl band Jasper the Colossal, and some of their music was used in the film. This is some concert footage from them, and it's pretty cool.
Mike Canestaro Comedy Set
Mike Canestaro plays Bill in the film, and is a standup comedian in real life. This is a short comedy set of his. It's mildly funny.
This is the most substantial extra, and features writer / director Henrique Couto, and actors Moriah Yux, Mike Canestaro, David Neely and Eric Widing. These folks are all friends, and some of them have known each other for many years. It's clear that they are comfortable together, and are quite entertaining, though Couto does most of the talking. He shares set anecdotes, personal details and real life events that inspired scenes in the film, and the obstacles to making a low budget film. At times, Couto was the only crew member, holding the boom mike and handling the camera. At one point, they shot sixteen pages of script in one day. They filmed without permits. People were bruised and sore. It was an ordeal. This film is clearly a labor of love, and the commentary adds considerably to the enjoyment of the viewing experience.
Depression: The Movie isn't a traditional comedy, and is in fact quite emotionally brutal at times. It has no name actors, no budget to speak of and a deliberate pace. But it is a heartfelt, unique and honest movie, and pretty funny too, though without the slapstick and over the top satire that's normal today. If you want something introspective and interesting, this is one to check out.