Alive & Lubricated
Laugh With Them / Laugh At Them / The Butlers Did It
Mark these words: you read it here first. If the Butler Bros. (Jason & Brett) don't implode, explode or just plain plode, then I fearlessly predict you're going to be seeing a lot more from these cinematic siblings from Canada's Big Smoke.
And I'm predicting future success for these odd bodkins of the brutal boulevard based on the recent release of their two (count 'em) featurette flicks -- namely, Alive & Lubricated, a hilarious fantasy about sex-obsessed friends circling the wagon around a cuckolded comrade, and Bums, a more structured comedy/drama about the wacky interactions of six preternaturally wiseguy twenty-something slackers.
Now, I'm admitting up front I don't know a lot about Indie films don't see a lot of them but when I think Indie I tend to crawl towards the gravity-thick end of the emotional spectrum, with heavy characters talking heavy things with heavy intellectual baggage. All PoMo cool, with a red dress on.
These ain't one of those.
Basically, what we have here are a couple of coming-of-age comedies which have been twisted by budget, script, acting and production values into screwball works of affect and effect. In other words, you're going to laugh with them and at them. It's that fluctuation between suspension of disbelief and improbability of the action that gives these flicks their special sauce and probable cult following, once the word gets out
Talkin' It To The Streets
The temptation is to talk about these flicks alphabetically, as the Butlers seem to be trending towards having their third movie's name start with a "C". And although both Alive & Lubricated and Bums are pretty well the same looks at the same subject material twenty-somethings trying to figure out relationships A&L for my money is the funnier of the two. But that's just my opinion.
Can I summarize the basic plot of Alive and Lubricated better than the Butlers? Probably not. Here's what they say: "Dickey", a retail veteran, just got ditched by his gal. Attempting to reconcile his feelings of lost love and sex with some beer banter, skewed philosophizing, and a few grins, Dickey and his buds have one memorable weekend. Alive and Lubricated offers an unsettling portrait of guys interacting in their own environment, where one-upmanship is as common as thinking they have the answers.
They are equally succinct with Bums: "A day in the life comedy, Bums follows the lives of six friends as their relationships blur together to produce love, laughs, lethargy and a loose cannon. Bums is an insightful and provocative look at life neither here nor there on a day like any other day when you don’t have a clue what you're doing but all the time in the world to do it."
Not bad covers all of the Main Point, which is that everybody in both flicks is completely obsessed with sex. All of which is pretty natural, given the heavy hormonal state of the protagonists, but rarely will you find a collection of oddball characters so damn, well, erudite on the topic. Trouble is, they never shut up about it, either.
And that, my friends that inability to turn off the verbal tap (except to pour in more beer) is what makes these movies very funny in their own unique way.
Yes, a negative as a positive may be faint praise, but now we’re encroaching on the raw realities of making a 75-minute movie for basically $3,500. Let’s face it, dialogue is cheap to shoot. And when you’re working with an all-in budget of just $50 a minute, you’re gonna get a lot of dialogue. Problem is, if I may screw around with one of Homer Simpson’s most famous lines, excessive chatter can end up as: “dialogue the cause of, and solution to, all a filmmaker’s problems”.
And these bozos can bark. The Seinfeldian banter, Right Man monologues, Wildean aphorisms, and McLuhanesque observations, couched in a raging torrent of scatological name-calling and sexual slang, washes out of the stereo 2.0 or 4.0 surround sound and over you like a tsunami of hilarious secular truths about the way it is, cause “these are the rules I don’t make them up, I just pass them on to the uninformed”, as Ben says to Dickey in Alive and Lubricated’s opening moments.
And pass the rules on they do, with relentless zeal.
Yes, the scripts. These movies don’t have “plots” per se yes, the characters do get out and move around a bit -- but the basic action in both flicks is to get people together in different groupings and have them rap about each other, bitching/bragging about the past and bitching/bragging about impending possibilities. No matter, the Butler Boys have lots to say about how crummy it all can be when you're young and yappy, but if you're not one of this gang you may find some of the subject material is very specific to the Butler’s demographic whatever you call going nowhere twenty-somethings these days. And when I say "specific", I mean "unblinking".
To wit, perhaps it would be best to give you some examples of What The Butlers Saw, and how they express it.
One of my fave scenes in both flicks is the already-infamous “candy bar” exchange in Alive and Lubricated. To quickly set the scene main protagonist Dickey is running the vid store when his friend Ben arrives. After some small talk about porn films Ben asks Dickey if he’s been successful picking up women who rent chick flicks. Dickey snorts no, and then explains why .
Dickey: It’s the candy bar industry, man it is the root of all video clerk chastity picture it here I am, making the most blatant sexual overtures to these honeys
Ben: Pathetic as they are
No kidding. And The Butlers are going to ferret out as many hidden agendas as they can from the fertile field of youthful interpersonal relationships. Both flicks are a hot and steaming grab-bag of observational grub-clusters, and I could reprint a zillion similar examples of smartass humour from both movies.
Needless to say, these movies may not be that female-friendly, unless you know females like the ones portrayed by the Butlers chicks who like to swear a lot, drink & party, screw and never shut up.
Is there really any point in giving you plot summaries? Bobby Dylan might say when ya ain't got nuthin', you got nuthin' to lose, but in this case the banter is really the action, and following the scenes as they go from conversation to more conversation is a treat I'll leave for you.
In all art, however, there are patterns to be discovered -- in this case, probably unconscious stuff left for englit snoops like me to find. Here's a typical idea that seems obvious: the three male leads of Alive and Lubricated come across like a fragments of the "adult" sexual male the action strains to achieve. Willy Boy can be nothing more than the Id -- and nice going on the childlike/penis name, Ben is the Superego, always reciting society's rules & regs, and Dickey is the not-yet-developed Ego, damaged and disillusioned by a scheming, predatory female. Each deals with the action in their pre-supposed psychological manner, and it is part of the intellectual pleasure of Alive and Lubricated that Brett Butler's script stays true to this fragmented characterization, and that the object of this frankensteinian fadscination, the biblically-named Rachael, acts as the proper catalyst to allow Dickey his rite of emotional passage.
All of which means there's enough substance here to come up with jive-ass bullcrap analysis like that sike shit, and this flick isn't just a series of talking heads all being perfectly funny in a most literary way. Hell, maybe it's even all a satire. Bums is the same thing times three, as the six characters inevitably split into three sets of couples, and the camera follows their actions in a series of tv sitcom cutaways.
The Bad & The Ugly
OK, if the script is what’s great to Laugh With, then everything else falls into the Laugh At category. However, to be fair, Laugh At is a direct function of financing, as you can only do so much with a production budget of $50 to $100 a minute. If we break these flicks down to script, acting, and production values, then the latter two are The Bad & The Ugly.
Acting with amateurs you want people who can get their lines out and minimize their self-consciousness. These amateurs are almost up to it -- they can talk but they can’t ignore the lens. Jason Butler is pretty good, but he's had some acting gigs in LA (see below), as is his brother Brett, but by and large you’re chuckling along at their zany delivery, their wooden “acting”, and sly, surreptitious glances at the camera. And the costumes. All the boys wear wifebeaters and baggy hiphop jeans -- even Ben, the successful corporate stooge, is indistinguishable from the slackers around him.
Bottom line, acting is The Bad, but not so bad it detracts from the overall zaniness of the script.
Production Values again, with no dough there’s no knead to expect anything but half-baked. The Butlers solve most of their production problems by keeping shots simple, and by adding whatever visual/audio goodies they can afford in post-production. The cinematography is all over the map, but wild fluctuations in F-stops are minimized by the predominance of static shots, where the camera sits safely on a tripod and the actors sit in front of it. There are a few lurid pans, some attempts at using a moving camera, but most of the topography in this cinema is one dimensional.
In fact, there are so many static conversation shots these flicks could be dedicated to the memory of Sitting Bull.
The Butlers do try to spiff up the visuals in post, but all we get are basic jump cuts, split screens and various wipes, all readily available in common digi video editing software. Thankfully, these techniques are underused and don’t become intrusive to the foregrounded material.
Comes Complete With Music, Commentary & More!
Hey, just like real dvds, the
Butler Boys dress up their product with all the de rigueur extras:
Hilarious Filmmaker’s Commentary: These could be the real hidden gems of these dvds. Sure, the movies are funny, but listening to Jason and Brett talk about making the movies is often funnier. Could the boys be drinking as they comment? Maybe.
And More: There’s not much left in the can when these scavengers are finished. The More includes deleted or extended scenes, outtakes, original Trailers, 4.0 Surround sound and 2.0 Stereo sound, production photo albums, yadda yadda. Only for the hardcore and relatives.
Meet The Butlers
OK, I can hear you ask exactly who are these youthful auteurs? Exactly what I wanted to know so I asked them. Here is what they told me:
Brett Butler started out messing around with cameras and video in high school. He did every project on video “just because it was more fun”. Some years later at Carleton University in Ottawa he heard the call again and dropped out of Mass Communication studies to get back into film, realizing once more it was the "most fun gig in town -- an occupation that actually celebrated debauchery, and I could drink while working. Is there anything better?” Brett started writing Alive & Lubricated after dropping out of Carleton one credit short of his BA in film. Smart move. He describes the screenplay as a “kind of a love letter to times had and the vomiting up of that empty feeling caused by doing the same thing week in and out, and it wasn't changing even as I was moving into the supposed adult world. I had fleeting feelings that maybe there is something more than getting drunk and chasing ass.” About this time brother Jason returned from acting in Los Angeles (see below) and joined in on the writing of A&L. “We both just kind of rehashed the days of sitting around drinking, wanting to get out of the retail world, but not wanting a real job. All angsty bullshit that you have to laugh about. So it was kind of a meditation on guys just being guys, drunk, lazy, and wanting tang.
Jason Butler says he never really fooled around with anything artistic in high school or university, though he did attend high school with many of the actors on Degrassi High (a youth-oriented locally-produced CBC television show) -- "which had no impact on me." After graduating from Laurentian University the corporate world came calling, and Jason signed on with, as he says, “a large multinational with a three-letter acronym.” He claims, “early on in my tenure it became obvious to all involved I was acting like a corporate stooge, but was in fact not one. So I quit, tried acting intentionally, loved it, went to L.A., got in a couple indie films and moved back to Toronto. Once I started working in a little independent video store, and Brett was back in town, it became readily apparent that we were somewhat capable of making movies that were at least as crappy as most of the stuff I was renting out”.
Right on, bro.
Bottom Line: Buy Them!
Like I say, I’m convinced Alive and Lubricated will end up a cult classic, so why not jump to the deep end of the cool pool and be the one amusing your friends, rather than being upstaged down the road. Bums (did I say it was in colour?) localizes and examines the lifestyles of the young and unfathomable, and offers up the shallow end of the pool, so no diving, running or spitting.
And don't forget Jason and Brett's "director's comments" versions of the flicks. Very witty, quite revealing about techniques (for aspiring filmmakers), and indicative of the BB's affinity to standup observations, they may be the best dessert after the main course, depending, of course, on your preponderance for substance abuse, which I'm convinced would at least get you up to speed with the actors. These silly suckers are cheap at $12 each, both for $20, and are available from the boy’s website.
As for rankings seems unfair to compare these efforts to mainstream stuff, so I’m gonna give Alive and Lubricated 4 eyes for the script alone, and Bums 3 eyes cause I think it tries a tad too hard to be serious.
© Rick McGrath 11/ 2005
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