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Perhaps unfairly obscured by the shadow of Avengers: Endgame, Mister America also represented a cinematic universe reaching a new watermark of scope and achievement: that of webseries "On Cinema at the Cinema," in which Tim Heidecker and Gregg Turkington play exaggerated comic versions of themselves. "On Cinema at the Cinema" started as a podcast before turning into a webseries and then finally being picked up by Adult Swim, and since then Heidecker and Turkington have spun the show off into an action program called "Decker," the C-SPAN-esque web special "The Trial of Tim Heidecker," and finally leapt to the big screen with Mister America. That long list of pre-existing material might seem daunting, but while the film will probably play even better for fans who are already in on the joke, the movie largely works without existing awareness of the material...assuming those viewers are on the filmmakers' obscure, awkward comic wavelength.
Heidecker, best known for "Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job" with Eric Wareheim (an executive producer on Mister America, is an acquired comic taste. He and Wareheim have a passion for a blend of anti-comedy, non-sequiturs, and gross-out gags that add up into something surreal. Mister America is not quite as extreme as some of their work, making it a bit more accessible, but this is still essentially a small movie for a specific audience. Here, he dials back the gross-out material, opting instead to use his character to satirize a certain kind of uniquely American persona. The Heidecker character embodies a certain kind of deeply earnest, totally oblivious tackiness. The laughs exist right between the fictional Heidecker's inflated vision of himself and the inescapably small-scale goals he's struggling to achieve, with a layer of additional comedy derived from his character's absurd history.
Decked out in a yellowish suit that approximates the puke-gold color of a 1980s carpet, Heidecker wanders around San Bernardino in 100+ degree heat, fruitlessly looking for more signatures for his petition, a quest that is often undermined by his own limited patience for everything, including talking to people, working with Toni (uploading mediocre campaign videos to a Facebook page that seems to have no visitors), and of course Gregg, who reaches out to Josh and essentially inserts himself into the documentary, which he seems to think could be re-edited to follow him instead. Although the movie incorporates a certain number of real people offering genuine reactions to Heidecker's character, the bulk of the film is pure fiction, and not a jackass: Bad Grandpa-style prank show. Throughout, the entire cast maintains an incredible illusion of authenticity that makes scenes simultaneously hilarious and agonizing to watch. It would not be unreasonable to expect Heidecker, who is vocal about his politics on Twitter, to take some shots at Trump, but the movie wisely angles away from of-the-moment topical humor that could age later. If the movie pokes fun at Trump, it does so through the Heidecker character's rambling arrogance, as he stumbles through stump speeches while bragging at the same time.
Stylistically, Notarnicola aims somewhere between crafting a real documentary and leaning on the tropes of a real documentary for comedy's sake. The way the camera trails Heidecker en route to important meetings, the random drone footage to try and make the film seem "bigger," the contrived final scene all convincingly echo the moves of real documentaries in a way that manages to suggest the fictional Lorton copying the moves he sees professionals making, while Notarnicola himself deftly weaves in the "On Cinema at the Cinema" backstory to the film's relatively scant 88-minute running time, and captures moments like Heidecker having a moment with a statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. with deadpan precision. Some of the scenes in which Lorton "leaves the camera running" are a bit contrived, but most of the movie's contrivances are canon, engineered by Heidecker's character as yet another scheme that, in his head, makes him look good.
For whatever reason, magnolia has decided to go DVD-only with Mister America (I suppose it's more advanced than Gregg's beloved VHS). The art, taken straight from the film (but given a new, more expansive backdrop), features Heidecker bending down to pick up some flyers that have fallen out of the back of his car's open trunk. Like the movie, this captures some of that oblivious tackiness that amuses Heidecker and his cohorts so much. The one-disc release comes in a standard DVD case, and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
Although I'm sure Tim and Eric/"On Cinema" fans would have liked a Blu-ray edition, it's fair to say that Mister America doesn't need much more than the perfectly adequate 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen video presentation or the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio presentation on offer here. Since the film is designed to emulate a low-budget documentary, the general softness of the picture and minimally expansive quality to the audio sort of serve the aesthetic of the film. The red-on-black title cards look a little bit mushy, as well, but on the whole, colors are nice and detail is fine. Sound is equally adequate, occasionally getting some richness out of needle drops on the soundtrack while the bulk is basic dialogue material. A closed captioning logo appears on the packaging, but there do not appear to be any disc-based subtitle tracks on this release.
The main extra of interest here is up first: an audio commentary by actor/co-writer/executive producers Tim Heidecker and Gregg Turkington, director/co-writer Eric Notarnicola, and producer Andrew Porter. Heidecker warns up front (at some length) that this is an out-of-character commentary, although Heidecker's natural vibe is plenty amusing as he and his collaborators discuss the way the film came together, stylistic influences, artistic choices that extend out of their thoughts on the characters that inhabit their surreal universe even outside of the frame, material that didn't make it into the film or which failed to survive multiple drafts, and the challenges of shooting the entire movie in only 4 days. At one point, they joke that a VHS of Krippendorf's Tribe is akin to "an unmarked grave in a pauper's cemetary." Both funny and informative.
Video extras begin with a single deleted scene (3:46) of Tim and Toni making separate sets of phone calls. Most of the clip is Toni material, including another bit of a running gag about pens. This is followed by campaign ads for Tim Heidecker (starring Joe Estevez) and Vincent Rosetti's campaigns (1:19, 0:39), the latter of which appears in the film itself. Finally, there is "On Cinema at the Cinema: Special Edition" (8:28), an amusingly passive-aggressive episode of the show that is meant to take place after the events of Mister America, but before either co-host has seen the finished film. Given the conversation, I'm guessing the episode played after the movie.
Trailers for Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie, Entertainment, Lemon, and Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, and a promo for Charity Network play before the main menu. An original theatrical trailer for Mister America is also included.
Mister America is sort of an in-joke for die-hards, the Tim and/or Greggheads, but it also serves as a relatively gentle introduction to the uncomfortable absurdity of Heidecker's humor, as well as working as a primer for the show that it's spun off from. Although it's a little disappointing that magnolia has only seen fit to release the film on DVD as far as physical media goes (you can get the movie in HD on digital platforms), the commentary is very funny and a worthwhile extra for anyone who enjoyed the film. Allowing for the caveat that Heidecker's comedy is an acquired taste, this one is recommended.
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