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.
World Premiere Featurette
Jasper the Colossal Concert Footage
Mike Canestaro Comedy Set