I saw “The Independent” at the Fantasia film fest, here in Montreal. It’s sort of an “Ed Wood” by the way of “This is Spinal Tap!”, and it’s a very clever, very funny comedy. It stars Jerry Stiller as Morty Fineman, director extraordinaire of 427 B-movies in the last 30 years! The film introduces us to him and his œuvre through a blend of archival footage, interviews and straight narrative of Morty going along with his daily business, which involves a lot of floating around in the pool and desperate efforts to bring back to life his dying career. His latest production (“Miss Kevorkian”, about a heavily armed babe in favour of assisted suicide!) has been shut down by creditors, and now his massive back catalogue of features is about to be seized. His protégé Ivan (Max Pelich) and his daughter Paloma (Janeane Garofalo) try to raise some funds by setting up a Fineman retrospective at a film festival, but the only fest that has shown any interest is one taking place in a small Nevada town where the highest grossing industry is prostitution – the mayor is former porn queen Ginger Lynn Allen! Meanwhile, Morty is courting a convicted serial killer of 63 (Larry Hankin) into selling him the rights to his life story, which would make for a sure fire hit… musical!?!
“The Independent” is a lot of fun, thanks in no small part to the wonderfully over the top performance of Jerry Stiller, whom Seinfeld fans will recognize as the hot tempered Frank Costanza (“Serenity now!”). I don’t know if it’s just me, but I can’t get enough of his hilarious yelling fits! His acting style works with the role, too. Morty Fineman is a man who won’t cop out, driven by his love of filmmaking even though he obviously lacks talent. He’s like Ed Wood being so enthusiastic over his silly movies, or like “Boogie Nights”‘s Jack Horner, considering himself an artist with something to say even though people go to his movies to see tits and asses. Stiller also has more quieter moments, like his bittersweet scenes with his daughter, or with his ex-wife who lives in her car (played by Stiller’s real-life wife).
Let’s also give credit to writer-director Stephen Kessler, whose only other feature film is… “Vegas Vacation”. But don’t worry, his new film is much much better than his Chevy Chase bomb. The basic storyline is compelling, but what really got me is all the made up details about Fineman’s life and career. The movie is packed with cameos from well known Hollywood types being interviewed about Fineman, people like Peter Bogdanovich, Ron Howard, Karen Black, Ted Demme, Nick Cassavetes, obvious inspiration Roger Corman… Then there’s all the hysterically funny clips from Fineman’s monstrous filmography, with titles like FOXY CHOCOLATE ROBOT (starring Fred Williamson!), HEIL TITLER, DIAPER SERVICE, LSD-DAY, VENUS de MOFO, JOAN OF ARKANSAS, LEARN TO MAKE LOVE with Morty Fineman, THE MAN WITH TWO THINGS, KENT STATE NURSES, TWELVE ANGRY MEN AND A BABY, BALD JUSTICE, and the list goes on and on! (you can check clips, photos and reviews of Morty’s 427 films at www.finemanfilms.com)
I just loved “The Independent”; I found it funnier than “Scary Movie” actually. But after the screening, there was a Q&A with the director, and guess what I’ve learned: the movie doesn’t even have a distributor yet! That’s a shame, because if it doesn’t reach theaters, audiences will really be missing out.