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One word that many thought would never be associated with those low budget titans of trash known as Troma, was mainstream success. After all, this is the sensational cinematic crap factory we're talking about here, a well-known name that instantly recalls cheesy monster movies and sleazy sex comedies while distributing some of the most daring dreck ever to stain the independent scene. As founder and chief freak Lloyd Kaufman continues work on his latest opus, the chicken zombie spectacular Poultrygeist, the company's determined DVD department continues offering up batch after batch of b-movie mania. And stuck smack dab in the middle, shouting its stellar reality like a wart on a supermodel's nose, is the amazing MAINSTREAM comedy LolliLove. The Troma connection is clear - the film features James Gunn, infamous for his work on Tromeo and Juliet (writer/actor/misc.crew). Yet it's Mrs. Gunn, Jenna Fischer, who steps up to deliver one of the best films of the year - a riotous comedy about charity and the homeless. Really.
As a new power couple in LaLa Land, Jenna Fischer and James Gunn are looking for a way to give back to the community. These well-meaning dreamers, able to call on their industry friends at the drop of a cell signal, want to find a foundation that will highlight their humanity and pimp their Hollywood presence. After running down a list of possible choices, they decide to defend the homeless - and their unique approach to the problem? Give each hardened hobo and drunken derelict a lollipop. That's right, real hard candy on a handy stick. Of course, these will not be standard lollys, but designer deserts with hand crafted inspirational wrappers (courtesy of James's artistic ability) preserving their freshness. As we watch Jenna and James go about the planning and execution of their charitable cause celeb, we get insight into the entire not-for-profit paradigm. Jenna has a hard time finding a financial backer. James is initially uninspired when it comes to pop-based motivational messages. Jenna scours the stores looking for the right sweet treat. James almost makes a mess of the presentation. Finally, the day comes when all the hard work is rewarded. The couple commandeers a few friends, and it's off to the local park to pass out bonbons to the bums. And you know what - these indigent individuals really enjoy their little slice of LolliLove.
LolliLove is the This Is Spinal Tap of celebrity mockumentaries. It rivals, and on occasion surpasses, the wildly inventive work of Christopher Guest and his clever company of ad-libbing satirists. It is Curb You Enthusiasm without Larry David's dour shrug or Incident at Loch Ness without the egotistical mean spirit. Though it seems like sacrilege to say it, Jenna Fischer, star of NBC's Americanized version of The Office and wife of Hollywood screenwriter James Gunn (Dawn of the Dead, Scooby-Doo), has perfected this kind of film. She has managed to infuse the terribly tricky genre with just the right amount of raucous realism. Authenticity is indeed the most complicated part of this cinematic gimmick, and when done poorly, or without focus, something supposedly funny becomes grating very, very quickly. But not LolliLove. This is one homemade humoresque that can easily stand tickled rib to split side with all those aforementioned classics. Indeed, what we get here is so special, so brimming with invention and originality, that it's like the otherwise overdone filmic formula is fresh and new all over again. If we didn't have examples, both good and groan inducing, coming out of our ears, we would swear that Fischer and Gunn made it up all by themselves.
This is a masterpiece of a movie, a witty and wise bit of self-deprecating and effacing brilliance. One of the major selling points for this sensational spoof is how genial and genuine it is. Fischer and Gunn know implicitly the target they are taking on - the self-absorbed, brain addled limelighter - and make it so much a part of who they portray (and, incidentally, who they believe we, the audience, believe that they really are) that the diversion becomes delicious and we dig in for every hilarious bite. This is a typical trouncing of Hollywood hedonism, a swat at all the Brads and Angelinas who head out to parts unknown to offer aid and comfort to the unfortunate and underprivileged...as long as it pads the publicity that is. Jenna even half-jokes at one point in the narrative that the rationale for forming a altruistic organization is to get in good with the new charity chic crowd. As she name checks the famous friends she will undoubtedly make, it starts to hit us...hard! She is already on their level. She stars in a hit sitcom, has an incredibly successful spouse, and both are acknowledged for their talent and their industry pull. Thus the farcical focus is not just on the quasi-fictional level (James is still a famous screenwriter, while Fischer is just the Missus) but on the people playing the parts as well.
And Fischer and Gunn are great. Not just great, endearingly superb. You immediately recognize this quirky, cavalier couple as the good natured nimrods that they appear to be, and pray that their plan is realized if only to see how sensationally it blows up in their faces. But this is another reason why LolliLove bucks the trend. Instead of using their cluelessness as a crutch, Fisher and Gunn are seen as almost unable to fail. Even as they perplex their friends over the core concept of the charity (none of them are sure how suckers make the homeless want to take charge of their life), they seem guided by forces fated to make them succeed in spite of themselves. When they make a presentation before an important corporate sponsor, a major mistake almost costs them. But thanks to improvisation and drive, the couple covers and completes the pitch. Later on, when it looks like a smack-talking tramp will ruin their homeless handout, Gunn does a series of silly defense moves that totally turns the tides. Arguments can be made for the excellent ancillary characters swirling around the pair, but it is Gunn and Fischer who we have to follow here, and we would gladly go with them anywhere.
Yet the most astonishing aspect of LolliLove is how outrageously funny and cutting it is. This is not some light, lame comedy where kid gloves and tiptoes are used to find the humor. This is dark, daring material, brazenly tasteless in its level of wicked, wired wit. Since the vast majority of the material onscreen is centered around the ad-libbed conversations between Fischer and Gunn, we gain a new appreciation of how clever and quick they really are. Gunn is particularly winning, able to sell jokes about sex, death and atrocity with a goofy greatness. Fischer is more interested in the finesses of funny. She will utilize the slow burn, the dead pan and the ambiguous gesture to steal scenes away from her clearer crazed partner, saying more with a phrase than an entire page of putdowns. Certainly there are elements that feel slightly underdeveloped (Gunn's germ phobia, Fischer's fame obsession) but they don't detract from what is otherwise a faultless film. About as pitch perfect and brilliantly executed as moves of this type can get, LolliLove is instantly one of the best from the 2005 season, and one of the best DVDs to be released this year.
Shot by Fischer and her writing partner Peter Alton, LolliLove has one of the best homemade movie images this critic has come across in quite some time. The Troma transfer is amazing, the 1.33:1 full screen picture rich with detail and expertly correct colors. There is a real sense of cinema here, of carefully crafted compositions and artistically minded framing. The balance between outdoors and indoors is professionally maintained, and the film never once gives away its camcorder creation. Among all the flawed presentations and full frame disasters dished out by Troma, this is one good looking DVD.
This critic has also complained in the past about Troma's less than acceptable problems when it comes to their DVD's sonic situations. Gladly there is no such issue here. The Dolby Digital Stereo is superb, clean and crisp. The dialogue is delivered in a wonderfully modulated and easily decipherable mix, and the minor music cues never overwhelm the conversations. Like the comments made concerning the visuals, everyone's favorite Indie company has finally delivered a pristine aural package.
And the digital presentation just keeps getting better. Troma has loaded down this disc with over three hours of added content - material just overflowing with information and fun. First up is a full length audio commentary with Fischer, Gunn, Alton and producer Stephen Blackehart. Starting off with some strange sentiments about being sick and tired of talking about their movie (they obviously recorded the secondary audio track after all the other making-of elements), the group finally gets into the groove, dishing dirt on which celebrities are the biggest assholes, and offering anecdotes about the nearly three year process it took to realize the film. Alton gets most of the jibes since he apparently ruined several scenes with his behind the lens giggling, and Blackehart makes several rude and ribald jokes about members of the cast. It is a wonderfully wacky track, and really accentuates how clever and creative these people are.
Next up is a 40 minute featurette highlighting the 'behind the scenes' story of the film. Fischer explains how she got the idea, and why she had to reprimand Gunn over his proclivity toward anal sex jokes. We see scenes from the first version of the project (the couple originally filmed some improvs that would become what we now know as LolliLove) and see some of the backstage screw-ups that constantly hampered the production. The majority of this material is saved, however, for the outtakes reel. It is here where we witness Alton messing up as the camera shakes with his uncontrollable laughter. We witness Gunn breaking up Fischer and she returning the favor. While it doesn't add to the storyline, it is fun to watch. If you're looking for more Lolli-lunacy, check out the 35 minutes of deleted scenes. Here you will find longer versions of key sequences like the laundry list of causes interview or the dinner with Scooby-Doo star Linda Cardellini. There is also some of the original footage from the first configuration of the film.
But wait, there's more. We are also treated to interviews with Gunn and Fischer from the now classic Make Your Own Damn Movie DVD boxset, a glimpse of LolliLove's 'premiere' at Tromadance and AFM, and a promo trailer. Troma also adds some corporate content here, pimping Gunn's efforts for Tromeo and Juliet (including a trailer and a clip) a preview for the book All I Need to Know About Filmmaking I Learned from the Toxic Avenger (a book Gunn co-wrote with Lloyd Kaufman) and a look at other Troma titles. Overall, this is a perfectly executed package, adding the necessary context that independent films need to thrive and survive.
It should be pretty obvious now how this disc comes out in the overall ratings equation. LolliLove earns this critic's first DVD Talk Collector's Series score of the year, and it's not just for the magnificent movie at the center. No, Troma has finally stepped up and delivered a definitive digital package to expertly compliment and perfectly supplement this stunning cinematic achievement. While you may wonder if all the hysterical hyperbole is warranted, one viewing of the couple's sensational sales pitch, the lollipop production party, or the man convinced that he will one day meet "the God made of Meat" should be enough to win you over. Come to think of it, we better get used to thinking of 'Troma' when it comes to undeniably great mainstream entertainment. If you've never given the company and its cavalcade of crazy titles a try before, LolliLove will instantly win you over. It is without a doubt one of the funniest films in a long time and a remarkable mockumentary achievement - and that's saying a lot.
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