[30 April 2010]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Just when you think you have him figured out, actor turned auteur Giuseppe Andrews goes and confuses those expectations. First, he finds an inventive post-modern niche in homemade filmmaking, turning his video camera on the residents of a California trailer park and featuring them in his unhinged slices of way beyond the fringe life. Then he takes that basic idea and runs with it, moving from sensible narratives to surreal experiments in tone and genre. Just as you’re getting settled in, comfortable with the revolving door cast of real life characters and the frequently deranged plotlines, he again switches things up and take a lengthy sabbatical to focus solely on music (where he’s also a god). Now he’s back to making movies, and if The Fast is any indication of his latest direction, he’s returned bigger, better, and more brilliant than ever.
Pierogi is a recent convert to a raw food diet who wants to fast for 30 days. Naturally, this causes concern among his friends and family, including: a father whose stuck in a psychological warp involving mountain lions and tuxedos; an uncle whose had his blood replaced by coconut water; a brother who believes he’s unfit to be a dad; a newlywed neighbor whose obsessed with opossums; and another who wants to use his available land to construct a cemetery (for people or pets). Taking his issues to a local therapist, he finds some solace. Still looking for enlightenment, however, he seeks out a meditation guru who has a unique take on the practice. Finally content to be part of the process, not necessarily the cure, Pierogi tries to act as mediator between his warring relatives and the toxins tripping through his body. It’s quite a journey.
After years of constructing his stories out of the scattered pieces of his fractured sensibility, Giuseppe Andrews is back, rejuvenated, and ready to reestablish his outsider cinema dominance with the masterpiece, The Fast. Easily eclipsing the similarly marvelous movies he made in the last few years, it’s one of the rare instances where the filmmaker has taken a basic premise - a young man on a self-imposed water and juice regiment - and uses it as a jumping off point for a series of sensational vignettes. Structured to follow almost all of the 30 days individually, with some stop offs being less than a few seconds long, Andrews clearly wants to explore his recent reevaluation, to look at the decision he made a few months back to switch gears, and what had to be the Herculean soul searching that came with such a choice. The lifestyle change facet of the story symbolizes the struggle we all have to make ourselves over - and the effect it has on our perspective and personal growth.
The first few days see Pierogi visit his wealthy health nut uncle (played perfectly by Vietnam Ron, a subversive picture of vigor himself). Their discussion about family and the ill-feelings that often result is something new for Andrews, a reminiscence that seems to come from a private, not a perverse, arena. Similarly, when the brother character confronts Pierogi about his fears over being a father, Andrews sits the man down and has the kind of common sense heart to heart we aren’t used to in his films. Viewers expecting a nonstop barrage of sexual innuendos and explicit toilet humor will be flabbergasted to see the director working “straight” for once. Sure, there are a couple of scatological moments, but The Fast wants to deal with the heart, not the more offensive parts of the human body.
This becomes clear in a beautiful scene where Andrews’ Pierogi acts as wandering minstrel to the brother and his bride. As he sits on the RV sofa, strumming his guitar and singing his clever “June/Moon” love song, the camera pulls back, allowing the couple room to stand up and slow dance. It’s one of the most magical sequences in any of his movies. Equally touching is a scene where Ed, playing Pierogi’s dim dad “Dr. Tux”, serenades his aging dachshunds to sleep. It’s a quaint, sweet throwaway, but it also indicates a newfound maturity. Instead of running away from emotion, The Fast embraces it. It wallows in feelings of genuine caring and gets us involved on a deeper level with the people passing by before us. Even the scenes in the therapist’s office pose more intricate questions than New Age answers.
Andrews has found a few new faces to flesh out his always changing company. Old favorites like Walt Dongo and Walter Patterson make mere cameos, while the new featured performers appear like people in the throws of their own personal Hell. This is true of an incredibly masculine woman, faced smeared with make-up, who goes on a long rant about her boyfriend, his abusive nature, her motives, and why she won’t leave him. It’s heavy - and thanks to her stream of insanity style - rather hilarious. A little more frightening is a last act run-in with a guy who raises weasels…as food. Of course, when we end up seeing what he considers a critter, the sinister edge to his drunken appeal is more or less obliterated. Andrews has always been a genius at showing the real person behind the social stigma. The human wreckage he features here is definitely no different. But instead of the butt of some joke, they now become the truth behind the life we live.
By taking the lead himself, by putting his face (or at the very least, his voice) into every single minute of this movie, Giuseppe Andrews uses The Fast as an update and a revised primer on his current condition and what we can expect in the future. With his gaunt frame, full beard, and endless imagination, he appears recharged and ready to take on any challenge. After nearly a decade dedicated to exploring any and all of the dark recesses in his incredible imagination, watching him walk away creatively ‘clean and sober’, so to speak, is stunning. That he can still make movies as amazing, as thought provoking, as clever and as concise as this one is a toast to his talent. Usually, when a special artist states that he or she is stepping away from their muse for a while, the return trip back is troubled and strained. In this case, Giuseppe Andrews’ Fast has done him - and his audience - a world of good.