Sometimes a movie catches you by surprise. Creative forces come together to transcend budgetary restrictions, and bring something new and fresh into the world. A sharply observed script combines with energetic direction and fresh performances from unknown actors to something or other yadda yadda yadda…enough already.
This is not that movie.
“We Are The Hartmans” is a dire comedy that would strain the patience of a Trappist monk, if it didn’t put him to sleep first. Richard Chamberlain plays Hartman, owner of a local rock club and bar, whose estranged daughters come back to town after he has a heart attack. The club is put up for sale to pay his medical bills, a benefit concert is staged, and the club’s disparate free-living patrons are eventually forced to drastic measures to keep the concert and the club open. You know, like Mickey and Judy and the barn show, if Mickey and Judy were stoked on bongwater and armed with digital video.
In the script by Laura Newman and Peter Brash, no whimsical eccentricity is too easy, no sit-com plot device is too obvious. Brash is a veteran of daytime television writing, and the script carries all the nuance and subtlety of a Jerry Springer episode , from the shrieking drag queens to the nudist grandpa to the anti-gentrification pandering. Jokes and plot events land like pianos in a Road Runner cartoon, and charmless performances hoover out what humor there is, leaving labored “quirkiness” and the moral authority of an erectile dysunction ad. Like the men in those ads, everybody here is either trying too hard, or not trying hard enough. And either way, the end result is limp.
Newman, who also directed, has taken on a subject full of satirical possibility--community life and resistance in the face of our society’s accelerating corporate homogenization. But it’s difficult to have it both ways—slag off crass commercialism while at the same time crudely mining conventions of highly commercial entertainment. Feel-good montages scored to pop songs aren’t going to chalk up too many points against the evil empire.
Alternately nappy-time dull and hang-nail irritating, “We Are The Hartmans” strives for relevance, but sinks under the weight of its mediocre execution, and a capitulation to the lifeless big-box-store formulas its characters rail against.
The DVD is presented in 1.78 widescreen. No extra options in viewing set-up.
The sound quality is adequate. Also, no options in audio set-up.
--behind the scenes promo video that was used as an internet fundraising tool. You get a feel here for what the filmmakers were aiming for, and how far short they fell.
--a silly music video for Chappo’s not-bad song “Come Home”
--most interestingly, a short film of video footage shot by Laura Newman during the eviction of Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zuccoti Park in New York. If only the film itself had half the conviction of the protesters interviewed here.
A weak-willed cage fight of a comedy film, where cardboard characters battle leaden formula, and no one comes out unscarred, especially the viewer. But at least its only 81 minutes long.