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"Today Is Stupid": 'Frankie in Blunderland'

Rambling, incoherent, magnificent, and ready to be embraced by a cult of completely insane film fans, Frankie in Blunderland is a miracle.

Frankie in Blunderland

Director: Caleb Emerson
Cast: Debbie Rochon, Aramis Sartorio, Thea Martin, Brett Hundley, David Reynolds, Gia Paloma
Rated: Not Rated
Year: 2011

In the realm of outsider cinema, there are those who want to make a statement...and then those who simply want to make it in mainstream Hollywood. Even with their outrageous ideas, lo-fi motivations, and unusual approaches, the vast majority simply want a chance at a place setting near the normative Tinseltown table. Few focus on vision, originality, creativity, or following their own particular muse. Instead, they try to mix their own aesthetic with an eye on their professional future. The most original movie artists, however, don't cotton to such crass overtures. Instead, directors like Giuseppe Andrews and Damon Packard march to their own unique drummer, even if said percussionist is banging out a beat that's arrhythmic and capable of raising the dead.

And then there's Caleb Emerson. A editor behind the scenes by day, an unmistakable motion picture agent provocateur by night (and on his off hours), his limited oeuvre belies one of the most brilliant auteurs ever making films with a bunch of his friends. His first feature, Die You Zombie Bastards, was a masterful deconstruction of the horror comedy, combining outlandish ideas with genre standards to fashion a solid seminal serio-spoof. Now, with his latest effort, a surreal splicing of Lewis Carroll, David Lynch, and Richard Linklater's Slacker, he proves his penchant for strikingly unhinged entertainment. Many will be confused by the masterful Frankie in Blunderland. The right people will praise it like the amazing motion picture messiah it is.

Written by the late - and clearly great - Marta Estriado (whose weird and wild worldview should be on permanent display at the Smithsonian) and featuring a cast comprised of perfectly in sync screwballs, the story centers on the title tool, a lamentable loser whose life is on the precipice of completely falling apart. His shrewish wife, Katie, doesn't really love him. Former friend (and self-deluded potential paramour for his spouse) Tommy Spioch has been freeloading in his house for over two years. While frustrated and sour, Frankie still feels that things can only get better. But when a domestic incident turns deadly - or at least seems to - our lead loses it. Then Tommy kidnaps Katie, hoping to force her affections. In the meantime, a lost and lonely Frankie roams the streets of LA, running into various oddities that either pledge to help or continuously hinder his chances of getting back with his bride.

Rambling, incoherent, magnificent, and ready to be embraced by a cult of completely insane film fans, Frankie in Blunderland is a miracle. It's like watching the splatter punk stream of consciousness flow from a perplexed peyote casualty and knowing, without fully comprehending, that the bizzaro-world brazenness makes someone...somewhere. Unlike Zombie Bastards, which wanted to play with dread conventions and gore, Estriado and Emerson clearly want to take on the antiquated adventures of a certain Victorian girl via crazy gluing them to the body art and Brand X inertness of the post-modern indie scene. Then the duo steep the beyond the loco looking glass storyline in a combination of carefully observed personality quirks, universal RomCom routine, and a page or two of voodoo humor. Then they make it really weird.

The end result is a revelation, a never know what to expect next extravaganza where aliens disguise themselves as Mormons (the better to get the many wives necessary to infiltrate the human species and overwhelm it with their offspring), butterflies are naked porn stars, and spiders speak of the complicated claims within the nu-human condition. It's a wild ride minus Mr. Toad, unless of course, said frog is oozing a hallucinogenic slime that the viewer constantly licks while losing their mind in this festive freakshow. Using a bit of blood, some CG coloring, a collection of amazing cameos (Debbie Rochon! Fellow filmmaker Packard! XXX hunk Evan Stone!?!) and the bravery of his acting collective, Emerson makes a movie that demands attention. You may not always comprehend what he's saying, but the bits do make for a joyful journey.

In essence, Frankie in Blunderland is summed up in the title. This is the tale of a contemporary male, emasculated and undermined by the latest round of social stigmas placed on him. He's always wrong, never right. Always comes in second, never first. He works to support his disinterested wife, lets a lothario pal camp out in his house without the ability to confront the freeloader, uses violence as a last resort (even though it offers no real recourse) and then wanders aimlessly through the rest of his days deluded into thinking he can make sense of things. For him, the world is a mysterious island, surrounded on all sides by oceans of ordinariness. He will never get to swim to the shores of conformity, and perhaps, he doesn't really want to. Instead, he will hang out with other members of his lost tribe and try to piece back together the only world he's ever known - no matter how nightmarish it is.

Within this psycho self-examination, Emerson uses symbolism and the nonsensical to underline his themes. You can barely see the nods to Alice and her trip to Wonderland, but they are there, buried beneath the hulking henchmen, humorless store clerks, and Cheshire grinning hobos. Even when he goes strictly for laughs (a duo of pot smoking dipsticks argue between themselves while picking on a particular inept 'pal' named Mike West), the filmmaker finds the deeper meaning. We are supposed to sympathize with Frankie as well as feel he is a miserable and malignant drone. He's his own worst enemy and yet the often outrageous things that happen to him (and the decidedly off-kilter individuals responsible for same) require a smattering of emotional connection. No one deserves his fate. That he may have manufactured it all himself is this narratives knotty underbelly.

Such a farcical bit of free association is not without its sticking points or slip ups. Indeed, a masterpiece often has a bad brushstroke here and there, or a fine if forgettable song amongst its otherwise stellar tracks. Frankie in Blunderland often walks the fine line between perfection and problematic, but it somehow always manages to stay directly within the contours of its maker's manic vision. It's a shame that more true artists don't take up the cause without seeing commercial ends as part of their potential. No one is suggesting that Caleb Emerson is in it solely for the recognition. By following his own mangled muse, however, he's destined to go down as one of the medium's most amazing crackpots. Frankie in Blunderland highlights this in hilarious, horrifying clarity.


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