[19 September 2006]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Giuseppe Andrews may just be the savior of cinema. His movies, idiosyncratic slabs of daily life unhinged, violate every rule of the art form, and function under their own arcane notions of narrative and structure. Throughout the half dozen features he’s helmed, the very foundations of film have been tossed aside, replaced with characters that enter and disappear without context and plots that can go from formulaic to incomprehensible, sometimes within a single scene. His dialogue defies convention, peppered with proverbs and obscenities, all in an attempt to capture how real people react and interrelate to each other. This mixing of the mundane with the irreverent, the sick with the sentimental, creates a kind of perverted pastiche; a backdrop onto which Andrews the artist can begin to explore his own insular philosophies.
A terrifying testament to the power of love, laced with farts and a fatalistic view of interpersonal relationships, Okie Dokie argues for the continued genius of this maverick moviemaker. Part personal ad come to life, part dialectic on the disconnect between men and women, it picks up where Period Piece left off, and ties together the various thematic ideals in the other offerings of his oeuvre, specifically Touch Me in the Morning and Trailer Town. Featuring the standard Andrews repertory company—Tyree, Walt Dongo, the always astonishing Vietnam Ron, along with a few fresh, unfamiliar faces—Okie Dokie uses interweaving stories of companionship created and relationships torn asunder to literally redefine the way in which we view romance, lust, depression, and death.
There are four main characters at the center of this surreal screwball comedy, a quartet of humanity hampered by their own flaws. In a dusty hotel room, a depressed husband (Lloyd Kaufman) reads a “Dear John” letter from his long suffering spouse. In another location, an old man (Tyree) tells the tale of his randy rollercoaster existence—and the hunchback son he fathered. In a trailer across town, a recluse (Vietnam Ron) is loosing his eyesight and reflects on his failed relationship with his blonde bimbo wife (Maryanne Spychalski). Elsewhere, a flamboyant real estate agent entertains clients and friends in a tumble down track house. Together they form the spine of a storyline that shifts between scatological discussions of intestinal gas and equally meaningful mediations on contentment, and the pursuit of friendship.
All throughout the fracture narrative, which cuts up the more or less linear tales and scatters them like pieces of a discarded love letter, Andrews explores the effect that isolation, both physical (Tyree’s extended jail stay, Ron’s self-imposed exile) and emotional, has on people. For once, removing graphic sexual content from the mix, the filmmaker relies on connotation and suggestion to deliver his usual pseudo-pornographic screeds. Granted, there are still the wonderfully wicked raps to the risqué, but they have been toned down here, making way for more individuality and creativity. Riffing on subjects as diverse as paternity, race, social status, and loneliness, Okie Dokie is a crazy quilt of a character study, a chance to peak behind the doors at the local trailer park and see how the other half live.
The outsider factor, the fringe dwelling dynamic, has always been a strong point in Andrews’ work. He enjoys pointing out how all people respond to life in a similar manner. Sure, in the case of his cast, they may celebrate their shit, champion their flatulence, and dig their dirty ball broth, but it’s all in the name of exploring what makes us human, and how we tick. Andrews is not out to excuse his cast’s seemingly senseless antics. Instead, just like the segments of storyline sprinkled throughout the film, he demands that the viewer pay attention, making the kind of connections that standard Tinsel Town fare frequently beats you over the head with. As a result, his puzzle box plots are all the more fulfilling. In fact, when fully understood, the personalities involved resonate with authenticity and thus generate respect.
There are many magnificent moments in this movie that stand as icons to individualism and symbols of stubborn uniqueness. It goes without saying that as Andrews’ superstars go, Vietnam Ron is a major mofo-ing mastermind. From his first, tentative turns in early works to his leading role here, this wild-eyed wonder in a manic mountain man’s beard, is so startling, so instantly engaging and doggedly memorable that you’d be more than happy to watch him glare and grimace at the camera for hours on end. Similarly, Tyree takes the long seedy soliloquies that Andrews supplies him and turns them into outright reflections of his aging, embittered hopes. Marybeth Spychalski delivers the typically dense dialogue with the most professional of acting expertise, standing in stark contrast to someone like Walt “Dongo” Patterson, who seems to be spewing his lines in return for another swig off his ever-present beer.
But in what has to be one of the movie’s many highpoints, Troma titan Lloyd Kaufman settles in, puts on his specs and reads the world’s longest—and most hilarious, laugh out loud—kiss off letter ever penned. Focusing on a persistent farting problem that drove his family away from him, Andrews fashions for Kaufman’s character more delightfully disgusting descriptions of brown spider barks than even the most learned stand up comic could come up with. Together with the thrilling songs the filmmaker creates for each of his soundtracks, Okie Dokie ends up painting a silly, sad, and substantive picture of people simply looking to bond with someone who cares. It also indicates that, as an artist, Giuseppe Andrews continues to grow. He shoves aside the quirks and gimmicks that defined his first films and continues to explore the very aesthetic of what makes a movie, and how such factors can be reformed to fit the stories he wants to tell and the people he wants to feature.
Like the adage-riddled song that Kaufman sings to woo an uninterested member of the hotel housecleaning staff, or the fourth wall breaking ‘personals’ provided by the cast, each one overloaded with the kind of saccharine slop that gives real love a big black eye, Okie Dokie is like a existential experiment in unraveling the human heart. It points out the undeniable truths about the unlikely truce between men and women, and envisions a few unique variations on health and happiness all its own. It’s outrageously funny and extraordinarily poignant, giving us momentary glances of individuals in the throws, and free-falls, of love lost, longed for, and lamented.
Like the obtuse Altman he threatens to become, Giuseppe Andrews’ movies aren’t always that easy to embrace the first time around. They require patience, and an equal amount of audience participation. But once you start groovin’ on his rebellious form of filmmaking and tuning in to his weird wavelength, you find an entire universe inside a single unfocused frame, a collection of cosmic truths in a repugnant dirty joke. Call him a scatological sociologist or an anthropologist of the real, but the masterworks made by this inventive and important artist are the blueprints for the upcoming cinematic revolution. With it’s penetrating insights and complex conclusions, Andrews and Okie Dokie won’t be dissidents for long.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/okie-dokie/