Friday, March 17, 2017

Movie Review: Anderson Bench (2016)

Anderson Bench (2016) - USA (Louisiana) - Black Comedy - Unrated (mature themes)
Directed by John Schneider
Starring Jordan Salloum, Maddie Nichols, Brande Roderick, Dane Rhodes, Chasen Joseph Schneider, Phil Redrow, Duke Davis Roberts, Ann Dalrymple, Steven Esteb, John Schneider

A twisted plebeian morality play, minus the morality, takes an excursion into the theater of the absurd in a most wickedly delightful way that will have you laughing inappropriately, and slapping yourself because you did.

Anderson Bench is stuck in a road trip of life that has no off-ramp. He follows the rules having a pothead for a boss to whom comprehension is a myth, a nagging shrew for a wife he maintains yet keeps his heart locked away, and only finds a soulmate in a mouse. Then he meets Bethany, a brash girl several years his junior who not only has the contradictory quality of a deliberate spontaneity, but a homicidal tendency to go with it. Ahead is the road to hedonism, but its off-ramp is a dead end.

Black comedy is a double-edged sword in theater: it is simultaneously easy to do, and difficult to do well. Anderson Bench is black comedy done well. Its humor is a surreal escapism thoroughly drenched in hedonism. Throw your mores out the window while viewing this or you may find yourself offended; and if you're not offended...the shame, the shame!

I love independent films. I've watched several big budget movies in a row and been disappointed with every one of them; it obviously wasn't a good week. I rarely don't like an independent film, for the reason that they are not cut and paste but somebody doing their own thing. Anderson Bench is definitely its own thing; you haven't seen this before. Elements of the film, yes, but not crafted and told like this. I get the impression that some seeds of this were sown in a youth spent at Saturday matinees in the 70s.

This may sound strange, but I sometimes find beauty in the abject. In the opening scenes of Anderson Bench we are introduced to the surroundings, of dilapidated motels, rustic corner stores, a road we know does not lead to prosperity. The beauty is not in the poverty but in the sustenance of the people. As a child I grew up in some of these communities, communities like them, in the south. I found the brief tour reminiscent, and appropriate. Like Anderson Bench the exteriors are wearing away; Anderson Bench finds no beauty in his abject world.

Anderson Bench is an experience, or experiment if you will. If you're looking for straight lines from A to B with no detours, you won't find it here. What you will find are moments where you question why you are laughing at something. In John Schneider's cameo scene I found myself roaring, and questioning why because it's so disgusting, and yet I'm still laughing. That's one scene out of many that may have you questioning how well you know yourself.

The music is wonderful. In an unusual use of music it plays continuously throughout the movie, save for a stark silence to emphasize a statement. At times I did find the music to be overplaying the dialogue. I was using headphones though and that can happen with headphones, so open speakers would likely be a better option.

All performances in this movie are great, with an obviously talented cast having fun with their roles. Jordan Salloum and Maddie Nichols have excellent chemistry together with Jordan bringing to fore the frustration of Anderson Bench and his rapture he finds in Bethany played so excitingly and even frighteningly unpredictable by Maddie.

I do want to call out Brande Roderick for her wonderful performance. I had no idea that was her, as her face is not revealed until later. I like that John Schneider chose to do her character this way as I found myself focusing on the behavior of the character, and surely did not expect her to look like that. It's also a good lesson for the whole of the movie: make no assumptions.

My Rating: 4 Fingers

You can get it on DVD or as a download at John Schneider Studios.

Find out more about his films and music at John Schneider's Official Website.

You can also watch the trailer and/or rent the movie on Vimeo

Toxic Fletch

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