James Harris about The Birthday!
By James Harris (*)
There’s a timeline between 2004 and 2013 that I’m not familiar with or at least one man’s timeline that has escaped me, Chucky Namanera aka Eugenio Mira. Perhaps it is because I was first made aware of his talent with his most recent, 2013 effort Grand Piano, a feature film that blends the tension of piano strings with onscreen suspense wrapped in neo-Giallo clothing resting on the shoulders of some very talented actors. Before that… I cannot say that I had heard of Mira or Namanera until this past week when I sat down The Birthday from 2004. The Birthday is our focus today, but Grand Piano IS today, and I hope it is appreciated and enjoyed in much the same way that small cult following has lovingly embraced The Birthday. The Birthday a genre bending movie; a stylistic adventure into dark comedy that pits actors of great diversity and skill against the strange forces of a rather cumbersome, emotional script.
To the party we shall go…
Corey Feldman plays a man in love, having been separated from his perceived love of his life for a short while who is thrust into an uncomfortable situation wrapped into an awkward affair. The leading man, Forrester (Feldman), has the good fortune to meet the parents of his perspective true love, Alison Fulton (Erica Prior) on the same night that her father’s birthday is to be celebrated as a last hurrah to a hotel that will soon close its doors. When things go awry, Forrester takes to the advice of others and manages to find himself in the lighter side of a strange religious battle between the powers of light and the would-be God attempting to attain the world’s throne that very night in a conspiracy theory turned reality.
What starts off as a movie that follows young lovers jumping through the hoops of normal relationships quickly dissolves into a psychodrama of trust and intrigue. What Forrester (Feldman) understands to be true could just as easily be the drunken ramblings of a creative and untested new boyfriend especially to a distrusting father in courtship expertly played by veteran Jack Taylor. From one perspective the entire movie is actually about the young lovers and uncovering their sincerest motivations and emotions. Even when the whole bloody affair turns into a Lynchian tour du gonzo, the focus is still in the laps of two seemingly star crossed lovers who are imperfect and modern. I suppose there are no new love stories. Parents will be parents, and no matter how old you get you’re still their little girl. It’s a story that balances trust with a healthy dose of well-timed comedic bandages that salvo the bleeding hearts of one Fulton and one Forrester looking to bring hearts and families ever closer.
While the hearts and minds story that follows our protagonists is familiar, the backdrop is far from it. The amalgam of a familiar love story and family drama combined with the horrific realities of religious zealotry is startling and intentionally disjointed as if the whole film were made with psychedelic drugs in the film can. The humor, however dark and often sad, is the glue the blends these to strange bedfellow narratives seamlessly. The viewer is too busy laughing at Feldman’s best Jerry Lewis impression while guests are murdered at random but with validated reason. When a giant seething mass of humanity is bumbling and stumbling across the floor in a near amateurish display of what a God might begin to resemble, the dead pan and facially evocative Jack Taylor puts forth a moment of sincerity that is so out place it forces the laugh from your belly.
The Birthday is surreal and fantastical combining several genres into a one great piece of accessible fiction. The challenge of a work that tests an audience is where the line is drawn when it comes to disturbing its sense and stability of reality. While it might be easy to take a purely visual surreal tangent like a Jodorowsky or Dali, Mira is light on the visual surrealism and focuses instead on placing audio queues deep in the mix of uncommon version of 50’s and 60’s pop songs. From the audio dropping out altogether too high pitch explosions of sound meant to signal an oncoming freight train of action, it’s possible to feel unsettled and out of mind without random image montages or cut and pasted shots meant to evoke instability. The use of sound in Mira’s most recent work, Grand Piano, should prompt an examination of his The Birthday to truly understand how Mira creates a story and casts an actor in stereo.
Having been previously unaware of The Birthday, my initial impression of the synopsis and cast lead me to believe I would be watching a completely different movie. To me, Corey Feldman is a Frog Brother. He is Eddie Duchamp. He’s a Goonie. He’s seen Gremlins. Jack Taylor was in Pieces and The Vampires’ Night Orgy and even one of my favorites, The Night Gate. To put these two men in a room together as perspective son in law and dad strikes me as a joke, but it isn’t a joke. It’s supreme pleasure provided of course you can find yourself identifying with Feldman’s character and that you ultimately find the humor in Taylor’s bland flavor. The Birthday is a pure example that proves that as a filmgoer, I can still be surprised even when I think all the cards have been laid on the table.
To consider The Birthday a guide to meeting your perspective in-laws might be a far-fetched statement, but after experiencing firsthand the awkward conversation, the beautiful forced melodrama and a touch of pure, unrequited insanity, it’s possible that no other movie could state better the practical in’s and out’s of strange social faux pas, resentment, power play and utter theatrical performance that accompanies “the great sit-down”. Even if it does take place in the middle of a religious rite to raise a malicious deity. Isn’t “meeting the parents’ a strange rite all its own filled with ritual, chanting and the breaking of bread?
(*) From the bowels and brains of American International to the rib cage and eye sockets of Amicus, Dr. James Terror will write your eyes shut with, well… TERROR!!! (and perhaps a bit of camp now and again for flavor). The focus of DOCTERROR.COM is to enjoy and shape the horror-verse for the horror community. We review a variety of horror and science fiction titles with a focus on positive or constructive reviews meant to guide the audience rather than create a negative environment. You’ll find retrospectives, lists, faux movies and faux video games as well as giveaways and tributes.Writing Your Eyes Shut From the Pre-History to the Post-Apocalypse of Horror. In addition to DOCTERROR.COM, Dr. Jimmy also contributes to The Liberal Dead, The Dead Air Horror and Genre Podcast and The Little Punk People Blog. Look for his annual Italian Horror Week mid-July featuring guest writers, giveaways and 8-Bit Faux video games by Hacktvision based on some of your favorite Italian Horror features.