His imagination knows no bounds. His initial trailer park tenets have expanded to hotel rooms, city parks, dive apartments, and now, far off roadside locations. His cast, almost exclusively made up of “found” talent among the fringes of normal society, continues to surprise with their acting adeptness and acumen, and no one understands the inherent facets of filmmaking (and how to deconstruct them) better. In a realm dominated by studio supplied splash, he’s the last remaining independent and as he continues to produce and distribute his own unique cinematic vision, Giuseppe Andrews finds new ways to explore and examine his muse.
This time out, we have a trio of films left over from a failed Troma package. Along with the previous reviewed Doily’s Summer of Freak Occurrences and Long Row to Hoe, they highlight a mighty middle period in the young man’s moviemaking majesty. Known as “The Soup Trilogy” (for the foodstuff’s importance, narratively), Actor, Babysitter, and Grandpa show the unlimited infinite nature of Andrews’ artistry, as well as his ability to find immeasurable truths in even the most unusual and/or unlikely places. Dealt with individually, we can see where these particular entries fit in his overall creative canon, as well as what they have to say about the particular human experience being illustrated, beginning with:
Bronze is a down on his luck thespian who needs a break badly. Literally living off his one recognizable moment in the TV cop show Boys in Blue (he played a TV stealing criminal), he spends his days hustling, his nights arguing with his live-in companion, a transvestite Christian rock wannabe. After a beer can robbery goes wrong, Bronze gets his songwriting pal an audition. When that falls through, he hits rock bottom. A bout with cellphone-induced ear cancer and an incident with a haphazardly thrown can of soup seals his sad fate.
As character studies go, Actor is a classic case of talentlessness and temptation. Miles Dougal delivers a killer performance as a wayward young performer, lost in a world of missed opportunities and unlikely alliances. He’s a journeyman who has watched luck pass by him time and time again. Auditions go poorly and get rich quick schemes stumble before they even start. While Bronze bellyaches quite a bit about his sorry lot in life, he does seem stricken by a dark cloud of misfortune. There is a sequence near the middle when he tells the story of a racehorse that could have been his, had he simply followed his gut reaction. Instead, he rejected the offer and ended up kissing away the keys to Easy Street. Similarly, his inability to keep his ego in check results in a disastrous audition/performance by his cross-dressing companion. Andrews digs deep here, using obvious scatology and skewed symbolism to illustrate the standard Tinseltown riches-to-rags (or perhaps better put - nominal-to-nothing) tale.
As he does with all of his movies, Andrews finds the roles that best fit his accomplished group of amateur cast members and then allows them to deliver his deliberate dialogue with off the page/cuff cleverness. Trailer park titans Walt Dongo and Tyree are especially effective as the sexually ambiguous rocker and a casting agent who needs closure for a particularly troubling onset relationship. Andrews constantly screws around with gender identity and clarity. We often wonder if the characters portrayed are gay, straight, somewhere in between, or utilized like they were in ancient Greek theater (men playing women, for example). But this is Dougal’s film, and it rises and falls on his tour de force efforts. We don’t always sympathize with Bronze, but we definitely understand his downward spiral. The end events, hinted at throughout the film, highlight just how far into the limelight landfill Hollywood will drive a struggling cinematic cast-off - and if he’s anything, this bad actor is a true piece of celluloid refuse.
Plop - named after the sound he made upon his birth - is a notorious infant caregiver wanted by the police. Apparently, unwitting parents (including a particularly proud gay couple) have hired the semi-retarded redneck nanny under the pretense that he takes good care of his toddler charges. Instead, Plop beats and humiliates the children, taking out his own sad mental issues out on them. Thanks to an ex-girlfriend. However, the cops are hot on his trail. It won’t be long before the long arm of the law, or a mangled baby with a can of soup, ends Plop’s cruel crime spree once and for all.
As close to John Waters as he will probably ever come, Andrews’ brilliant Babysitter is a hoot and a half. It’s high brow comedy crafted out of incredibly low brow burlesque. True, the thought of some middle-aged man with an adult diaper full of Number Two beating a plastic doll baby stand-in like an MMA fighter may not sound like the stuff of major satire, but our multi-talented director creates one of the classic cult rubes with the pompadoured Plop. And the results are resplendent in their dumb humor hilarity. Miles Dougal once again shows his range and amazing mastery of the regressive son of soil’s psychosis. We simultaneously despise and delight in Plop’s personal dementia, a sleazy infantilism mixed with jaundiced jealousy to create a cracked comic kick in the head. By the time our child abusing bumpkin gets his canned comeuppance, we’re ready for the release. Andrews builds up so much ridiculous chutzpah over the course of this film that the finale acts like a brazen, blissful palette cleanser.
And Dougal is only half the story. Dongo and Tyree are back again, this time playing officer and tranny gentleman/femme fatale respectively. Their informal Q&A, providing most of the flashback insight into Plop’s particular problem, is hilarious, loaded with line readings straight out of a electroshock therapy session. They also trade roles, so to speak, the policeman stepping in for the lady to handle the necessary undercover work. Similarly, Dougal, dressed up in obscenely short overalls, a big bad wig, and even worse teeth, turns the common hillbilly into a thing of unabridged beauty, avoiding cliché while clinging desperately to every stereotype the character suggests. As usual, there are elements of juvenile joking throughout, including a character who has the ability to pass gas through his penis. But for those who known Andrews and his work, such telltale toilet humor is more of an ambient aside than a reason for being. The real meaning here is in the individuals and their idiosyncrasies. If Waters stands as the reigning Prince of Puke, Babysitter argues for Giuseppe Andrews rightful place as his post-modern protégé.
After a fall at a local bar, an elderly alcoholic asks his adult grandsons for one last favor. Seems several years ago he took five hookers to a remote hotel suite known as the Pony Room and spent the entire evening satisfying their every need. Now, nearing death and continuously soused to the gills, he wants Ed and Burt to take him back there for a weekend of reminiscing. The road trip will be difficult, especially with Grandpa’s lack of control (bowel or otherwise), but what waits there is even more disconcerting - a cursed can of chicken noodle soup.
Really three very fine films in one, Grandpa proves that Giuseppe Andrews is more than just poop jokes and sexual assaults. Sure, the material inside the Pony Room, co-stars Miles Dougal and Tyree trading liquor-induced, curse-laden barbs and corporeal tales out of college is right up the filmmaker’s foul mouthed alley. And the road trip element, with its diaper changing pitstop and hilarious In-N-Out Burger stand-off is again standard issue Andrews. But the moments between Ed and hired paramour Tiffany Naylor argue for a maturity and romantic atmosphere that - all oddball dialogue aside - shows how serious he can be. There is a warmth here, and a tenderness, that we just don’t see in the rest of his oeuvre. And Naylor’s bikini dance is sure sexy in all its natural big girl beauty. While his amateur actors are always up to the challenge of his crazed comedic conversations, our wining and dining couple deliver a kind of simmer onscreen chemistry that’s almost impossible to manufacture.
Which, of course, proves Andrews’ point. Grandpa is about losing touch with your past, about living off memories instead of striving for new experiences. When Ed abandons his relatives at the remote hotel, taking off to be by himself, we understand the main message. While going back to re-experience a fabled tryst might be fun, created a new one with someone special is far more compelling. These scenes between Ed and Naylor are nuanced, beautifully acted, and well shot. They match perfectly with the handheld mayhem of Dougal and Tyree romping around the Pony Room. Even the ending is unusual here, suggesting a kind of karmic reward (and plausible penalty) for each character’s particular path. Oddly enough, this is the one time when the entire soup subplot really doesn’t work. It seems thrown in haphazardly and doesn’t really flow with the rest of the narrative. Still, for what it offers elsewhere, this is a fine capper to a trio of talent-filled tales.
As they often do, movies like Babysitter and Grandpa offer insight into what Andrews could achieve if given the proper no strings attached mainstream movie deal. Certainly, any studio would have to accept his unusual casting calls and tendency toward full frontal nudity. They’d also have to accept a certain level of undeniably raunchy humor. But the trade-off is tremendous. As isolated incidents within each of these three films show, no one understands the authenticity and truth of human emotion and longing better than Giuseppe Andrews. While “The Soup Trilogy” may suggest something far more dirty and disturbing, this amazing auteur continues to craft masterpieces to the misbegotten. He remains a stellar cinematic prophet.