52nd Chicago International Film Festival Screening #9: “Middle Man” (USA)

“Middle Man” (USA)
Directed by  Ned Crowley

ckcmpm_uuaemv0iWhat a joy to see a wholly American film that is as wildly irreverent and dark as “Middle Men”. Made with mostly Chicago talent, this horrifyingly funny road movie, about a wannabe stand-up, is incredibly subversive in its ability to make you laugh at horrifying action. In fact, due to its show-within-a-show nature, the varying levels of funny…sometimes within a single moment…are dizzying.

Ned Crowley’s script is packed with laughs, reverential references to Hollywood dialogue, utter strangeness and over-the-top (and therefore, hilarious) violence & gore. But it’s his pacing that’s really the key here. It never has a minute of distraction or slowness. His characters interact with precision, yet never feel “scripted”. Most impressive of all, however, is his ability to somehow maintain a sense of innocence throughout the blood baths and vomit that fill the second and third acts.

This is mostly achieved through the writing and the INCREDIBLE performance of Jim O’Heir. If ever there was a role that shows how ready (and overdue) an actor is to breakout and move up from playing supporting roles, this is it. It is a virtuoso comic performance…displaying personal loss, excitement, discovery and, obviously, great stand up chops, in one lovable character. Everyone in the film is strong, but special mention to both the creepy, yet somehow brotherly, antagonist, Andrew J. West, and our dear Chicago ex-pat, Anne Dudek, who is both sophisticated and fragile as the iconic roadside diner waitress.

I’ll be honest with you, while I remember loving the music – ESPECIALLY the bizarre, on-camera crooning and guitar accompaniment of Kelly Mantle – I’m not sure if it was composed by anyone, as there is no “Music By” credit anywhere. Regardless, there were no aspects of the film that did not fit, so…I’ll give the score (or licensed music) a thumbs up.

This is a very, very funny film that is also dead serious in its violent nature. If the idea of a Tracy Letts’ rewrite of “King of Comedy” intrigues you, seek this film out!

Written on 10/20/2016

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