[23 May 2009]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Familial dysfunction is the very foundation of independent filmmaking. Without it, wannabe auteurs would have to rely on actual imagination and invention to create their wily no budget wonders. By channeling their own Mom, Pop, and various sibling issues, they can easily crank out the crap and never once have to deal with the actual demands of the artform. But the motion picture needs more than whiny crying whelps wondering why their parents never pampered them to succeed. It mandates more than morose takes on the entire brother/sister rivalry routine to present itself properly. Just ask someone who understands this all too well. On first glance, Dad’s Chicken looks the labored offspring of John Waters and David Lynch. But in the more than capable hands of trailer park troubadour Giuseppe Andrews, it becomes a fascinating free verse free-for-all.
Black Jesus just can’t take it any more. He hates his dying wife and his transsexual son - but not for the reasons you think. She won’t let him obsessively cut coupons, and he/she fetishizes guns to the point of distraction. His other daughter is a dope fiend, and his recently deceased father was an out and out pervert. And don’t even bring up autistic child prodigy Hobie. Desperate to play the violin, the partially blind boy spends his days roaming around the city, instrument in hand and toilet paper tube up to his bad eye. When the youthful talent meets European Ernie, it seems like everything will be all right. He coaches the child, and even suggests someone who might be able to teach him a thing or two. In the meantime, Mom and the sexually confused Shamu build a bomb. With Black Jesus out of the house, they intend to avenge the cultural attacks on religion once and for all.
With its oblique view of the American Dream and a demented approach that takes a standard straightforward storyline and scatters it like crematory ashes to the wind, Giuseppe Andrews’ Dad’s Chicken is social satire as insane stream of consciousness. As a statement, it manages to touch on several solid topics - the role of parents in a child’s life, gun control, autism, sexual perversion and predators, fanaticism, disease, aging, death and religion - without ever overstating its obvious points. This is a complex puzzle box of a film, a movie where scenes and situations happen almost at random. It’s only later, when bits of dialogue fall into place and information is revealed that we understand the relationships involved, the problems at hand, and the potential resolutions in place. During the last ten minutes, we are so wound up in fleshing out the enigma that we barely realize that Andrews has turned the whole thing into a thriller.
This is where the Lynch connection becomes vital. Like the celluloid carnival barker who tuned INLAND EMPIRE and Muholland Dr. into ersatz Hitchcock with his knack for suspense, Andrews uses the unanswered questions as a means of making the audience jumpy. It may all seem demented and disconnected, but when European Ernie provides Hobie with a helping hand, we can’t help but feel that something sinister is afoot. A lot of Dad’s Chicken is like that, from the constant references to violence to the last act fervor of our mother and son/trannie fundamentalists. Desperate times call for desperate actions and Andrews is not afraid to add in desperate individuals as well. There isn’t a single settled member of this miserable family. Each one has their own idiosyncrasies and issues, creating a complicated world of deception, disrespect, and the direst of situational straits.
But beyond the basics, Dad’s Chicken is a coldly calculated statement about present life in these jingoistic United States. Created before Barack Obama changed the political landscape with his populist pull of “Change” and “Hope”, this is George Bush’s ‘Amurika’ gone gangrenous. Under the guidance of God, old ladies build bombs, ready to spread their faith via obvious terrorist threats. In this close-minded world, anyone with gender issues must hide the truth, less they be picked on by the public at large. Even hopelessly untalented Hobie is constantly supported by a social structure that no longer tells people they are less than everyone else. Instead, Dad’s Chicken takes oddities and celebrates them as mediocrity. Indeed, it’s one of the few Andrews films that argues that everything in the U.S. of A. is lameness masquerading as eccentricity.
In one of the rare instance where he applies actual directorial flare, we can see what Giuseppe Andrews would be like with unlimited aesthetic freedom. Someone like Christopher Nolan (creator of the masterful Memento) has nothing on this filmmaker’s psychedelic storytelling. The random jumping around can be disconcerting at first, especially when we don’t have time to get to know all the characters. But then things start falling into place and the true passion of this motion picture Picasso comes through. The one clear concept behind Andrews’ approach is that he stays true to the material. He makes the movie calibrate to the people and the circumstances he is working with. When the style needs to be simple, it is. When it needs to copy the crazy, unhinged nature of the individuals involved in the often surreal stories, he simply shoots from the hip and tells logic to take a flying leap.
Like the artist he most clearly resembles, Giuseppe Andrews takes Jean-Luc Godard’s desire to make “everything” cinema and realizes it over and over again. Dad’s Chicken, for all its cogent contemporary edge, is literally linked to the notion of putting a universe of elements in front of the lens and letting the audience make up the movie as they go along. Success derives not from shot selection of a clear sense of narrative drive. Instead, the cerebral wonder of invoking your own meaning of seemingly silly precepts turns celluloid into literature, prose into poetry, meaninglessness into myth, and finally, the miscreant into the masterful. In a world where film was not marginalized as mainstream product marketed by studio suits into perfectly calculated and focus grouped niches, Giuseppe Andrews would be his own New Wave. Instead, he is a cult survivor reinvigorating the true spirit of independent art. Dad’s Chicken explains his lasting importance all too well.