Saturday, March 17, 2012

Canadian Front 2012: SUNFLOWER HOUR (2011)

After sitting through Sunflower Hour, the debut feature from Aaron Houston, it might be safe to say that it's about time for filmmakers, both commercial and independent, to retire the mockumentary. Traced back to Albert Brooks' Real Life (1979) and the many films of Christopher Guest, who transformed the style into an art form, pop culture has officially overdosed on shaky-cam, zoom-happy comic confessionals to a probing fake documentary crew. While popular TV sitcoms like "Modern Family", "The Office", and "Parks and Recreation" continue to flourish in the format, big-screen comedies seem stuck in mockumentary auto-pilot, which is the chief problem of many with Houston's film.

The premise of Sunflower Hour is simple enough: a popular Canadian children's TV show, produced by a former porno mogul, is seeking a new puppeteer and a camera crew is hired to document the contest. The four finalists are made up of a closet case (Patrick Gilmore, with a permanent grin on his face) attempting to appeal to his conservative preacher father, a goth high school girl who has adopted the pseudonym Satan's Spawn (Kacey Rohl in an effective performance), an Irish loser with an unhealthy attachment to the leprechaun puppet that never leaves his hand (Ben Cotton), and a genuinely talented geek (Amitai Marmorstein) tortured by his older brothers for his less-than-hip hobby. Comic gold? Not really. One of the benefits of the mockumentary style is bringing the audience closer to the characters on-screen, as we learn about their private lives and develop attachments to them. This doesn't happen in Sunflower Hour. The film is practically bereft of likable, original characters, which wouldn't be such a hindrance if they just weren't that funny, either.

This isn't to say that Sunflower Hour isn't without its bright moments, often found in the casting. Rohl is quite good, even playing such a predictable character, and Johannah Newmarch is appropriately dry as the jaded double-penetration video star now charged with the task of recruiting a new puppeteer. Amitai Marmorstein tries really hard, and shows some promise. The most memorable element of the film, for me, is the use of plentiful KPM library music, an effective cost-cutting move; the TV show's theme song is Johnny Pearson's "Pop March", most familiar from the Russ Meyer films Cherry, Harry & Raquel (1969) and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970). Thankfully the soundtrack was a pleasant distraction from the predictable shenanigans. A mere handful of outrageously hilarious moments, the best of which occurs during Gilmore's homophobic audition piece, doesn't make the entire feature worth your time.

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