Ronnie Gardocki Holiday Humor #2: Pottersville
The horror, the horror…
What stoked my interest in Pottersville was primarily the poster; within it were horrors of Photoshop that are oft discussed but rarely witnessed. Nothing is congruent and each actor’s clothing and demeanor raises more questions. Is Michael Shannon wearing a sweater for his shirt or is that a strange apron-like device? Is Ian McShane drunk and if so on what? It’s as though the graphic designer put in a lot of effort to make the poster look as haphazard as possible, a dadaist statement on the futility of creating organic art from disparate pieces of production imagery. Before I started watching the thing, I feared the poster promised more than the film could actually offer. I am happy to tell you that is not the case. Pottersville is an ill-conceived catastrophe inexplicably festooned with memorable screen presences, a Simpsons episode with the wit forcibly extracted from it, translated by Martians into a product for Saturnians who, with great disgust, sent it back to Earth, whereupon Netflix acquired it.
Nobody told me I was gonna have to read cursive.
Michael Shannon (13) is Maynard “May” Greiger, the Pottersville general store shopkeep and proprietor of seemingly the only business in town. There’s no concrete evidence other establishments exist. The only other location is the sheriff’s office. In an instance of playing against type, Shannon cuts a laidback, almost meek figure, never raising his voice or using his heat vision to pacify those who fail to kneel before him. He’s a nice, kind of awkward guy whose quiet hides no intensity of emotion. His idyllic life in a lifeless shithole is shattered when he walks in on his wife (Christina Hendricks, Hunger Point) and the sheriff (Ron Perlman, Rats) in rabbit and wolf costumes, respectively. Yep, they’re furries. The furry fetish/community comprises about 20% of Pottersville‘s plot. It’s at this point the viewer realizes the film is going to be something different, either a subversion of Hallmark Channel holiday dreck or the passion project of a fetishist. There’s no real information out there on director or writer so it’s possible that a furry or furry sympathizer birthed this project in an attempt to bring the subculture some legitimacy.
“Duffle bag, you and me got a date with a clocktower!”
At least it’s not an affair; Perlman goes on to explain it’s about the costumes, not his buddy’s wife specifically. Naturally, the normally teetotal Maynard gets fucking wasted off elk meat dealer Ian McShane (Death Race)’s moonshine. “I went out to breathe some life and then life decided to take a poop on my face. So, I ended up breathing poop instead” he tells Judy Greer (Miss Guided), whose name is most often preceded by “underused” or “criminally underused”. She exists to be the voice of reason and the love interest. It’s still a better role for her than the ones in Jurassic World, Ant-Man and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. In a fit of drunken inspiration, Maynard puts on a gorilla mask and “rampages” through town as a yeti creature. Sure, why not? Of all the things to do to win back one’s wife, pretending to be a cryptid is middle of the list at worst.
Am I watching Trigger Happy TV?
Unfortunately, everyone in town believes him to actually be Bigfoot, and Maynard wakes up with a hangover and a town abuzz with Sasquatch fever. It’s like Willow Creek, only nobody gets murdered. Sorry. Two assholes are selling the hell out of monster merch at the general store and tourists from all over are coming to Pottersville for the chance Maynard dons the costume again. He does, because he’s a good guy, a people pleaser. Enter: Thomas Lennon in a 9th generation xerox of a Steve Irwin parody (complete with awful attempt at an accent), host of the imaginatively titled Monster Finder show. It’s through this character that we get to the deathly third of the movie that ends all momentum whatsoever. In an uninspired Jaws parody, he, Ian McShane and Ron Perlman go out into the woods alone to find/catch Bigfoot. It lasts about 40 minutes and has no jokes. Even their intrusion on a Furry party underwhelms. Who would’ve thought Christina Hendricks, after Mad Men, would be spending much of her time in a bunny suit?
Michael Shannon, realizing this movie will come out the same time as The Shape of Water.
This is a hilarious movie, but that’s not to say it’s funny. Every joke attempted in Pottersville lands with a thud. For some reason Pottersville repeats the joke that Michael Shannon thinks Ron Perlman’s fursona is a squirrel when it’s actually a wolf about 19 times. Its other targets of mockery are well-worn, almost quaint in their obsolscence. For example: turns out people in show business are phonies! They’re interested in wearing makeup and getting takes right and queer shit like that. Who would’ve ever guessed. The Australian jokes make the stereotypes I hurl at an Australian buddy of mine seem fresh and exciting by comparison. (When was the last time anyone even thought about Foster’s?) Nothing landing adds to the mystique of Pottersville, though. If even one of the jokes worked it would signal that this was a failure in execution, an attempt to create a lighthearted yarn that fell flat due to either mediocre directing, a dodgy script, performances not properly calibrated… no, that EVERYTHING is botched suggests good company: Plan 9 from Outer Space, Birdemic, The Room. Is this movie as unintentionally amusing as those? No, I’d never stake such a bold claim. Yet its incompetence amidst all these stars makes for interesting spectacle. One would think these talented people would take the rotten material and wring something entertaining out of it, but no.
Yeah, I guess drinking a statue boy’s water piss is a fitting image for this movie.
Eventually, Maynard realizes he has a fucking duty to the town to dress up as Bigfoot and fuck around, causing minor property damage. Without him, the town’s economy doesn’t surge, tourism doesn’t boom, no one has a reason to even get out of bed in the morning. I compared this to The Simpsons earlier for a reason, and that’s because Pottersville behaves a lot like Springfield. It dives into a craze full-throated, with blind stupidity and a desire to milk it for all it’s worth, imbuing their own stupid farfetched dreams in this mythical figure. I could easily see that town become a locus for Bigfoot fever after someone mistakes Homer for Bigfoot, you know, something the show did 620 episodes ago. It’s only due to budgetary constraints that there’s never a riot. You take Springfield, remove all of the memorable, interesting characters, leave the base stupidity, extract all the jokes, you get Pottersville. The similarities kept me interesting during fallow periods in the film. I spent some time wondering whether or not Ron Perlman could affect a Edward G. Robinson impression and, if so, what that might sound like. It’s superior to ruminating on the content of a dispiriting redo of the last hour or so of Jaws.
“It’s impressive, Mr. McShane, how you’ve made yourself look like absolute shit for this role.” “Yeah… for the role…”
Here’s why that stretch of the movie doesn’t work. There’s no conflict because Maynard doesn’t have to become Bigfoot, so he can just let these assholes tool around in the woods indefinitely. And he does, pretty much, until a half-assed “heeding the call” moment occurs. The whole second act has no conflict. What would’ve been funnier is if Maynard never felt compelled to don the costume and we cut to the woods, 150 years later, and it’s just those assholes’ skeletons sitting around a campfire. But since he does go out into the woods, Maynard’s caught, the town celebrates capturing Bigfoot and perpetual voice of reason Judy Greer has to remind everyone that a guy in an obvious gorilla mask isn’t actually a legendary missing link in human evolution. To say Springfield, er, Pottersville is unhappy with the revelation is an understatement.
Why don’t you just have him eat shit.
For one thing, Thomas Lennon decides to sue the town for fraud, lying to him about having a boogityman in their midst when actually it was a cuckolded man whose mind goes to interesting places when he drinks. The town cannot afford such a lawsuit, so they basically have to ostracize Maynard. Those waiting for Michael Shannon to finally fucking unravel after more and more indignity is piled upon him, as his life falls apart, don’t hold out any hope. It doesn’t happen. Motherfucker glumly packs up his shop and prepares to go…I don’t know. Somewhere? It’s up to Judy Greer, apparent nagging mother figure to this community of dumbfucks, to remind them that the man they disowned runs the only fucking business in the town, at an incredible loss because – and this is the emotional moment – his ledger of what people owe him is blank. Seriously, how is he still in business. If he goes out of pocket for these people as regularly as the movie depicts, he shouldn’t be able to afford inventory. One might want to check the expiration dates on the food, guys; Maynard might be cutting corners by considering those as “suggestions”.
Hasn’t Harambe been overexposed enough?
In a rousing bit of anti-semitism, Thomas Lennon’s Australian natureman character is unmasked as an actor named Leonard Abromowitz, whose name comes it with its own set of triple parantheses, thus rendering the lawsuit that was definitely going to fall through ANYWAY moot. More importantly, Judy Greer successfully convinces the gathered representatives of the town (from the crypto-gay Bigfoot merchandiser to stoner joke repository) that, really, Maynard is the Jesus Christ of Pottersville. He loves the town unconditionally! You turned your back on him. I’m sure the Cimino cut of the movie included Ron Perlman denying he knew Maynard three times before a dude in a bird costume crowed. In an interview with a newswoman whose joke is she’s Hispanic and rolls the ‘r’s in her name like a goddamn foreigner, Michael Shannon sums up the movie’s thesis: “let’s just say that hope isn’t always the most realistic thing but it tends to make the world a better place”.
The characters in Trailer Park Boys have more modern technology than these people. I wondered what year this was supposed to take place in but then came to the conclusion that Hell doesn’t have a year attached to its cycles of damnation.
Sounds like sappy horseshit, right? But it’s what we’re doing now. All of 2017 has been about us trying to find distractions from the fact that Donald Trump is the president, the economy is a trap door for a generation of people, every man in Hollywood is either a rapist or complicit in rape, and Major League Baseball refuses to give a franchise back to Montreal. (That last one may just be me.) So we have Fiona the baby hippo, Cold Pockets, that New Yorker short story, that Sopranos character the President hired then fired over the course of a week, szechuan sauce, porgs and all the other shit that ranged from amusing distraction to nauseating distraction. If some dumbass put on a shitty Bigfoot costume and painted the town red some nights of the week he’d no doubt become a viral sensation. In an empty, godless universe with no meaning and no guiding principle besides those we self-ascribe, Maynard Grieger the alcohol gorilla-man is a ray of sunshine. So Pottersville is in favor of perpetuating The Big Lie if it keeps people happy, hopeful and awash in shitty merchandise profits. Seems the town can do that even after it’s been revealed, as the conclusion of the film sees the closed down mill reopen as a Bigfoot Museum. I’m not sure what that would actually contain. A stuffed version of Maynard’s costume, plus some bullshit… maybe a monkey with a fish taped to it? At least they don’t have to worry about being scientifically accurate or anything accurate.
FOX NEWS is happy that white people are coupling. Now breed, like…well, I guess Christina Hendricks was the rabbit, so…
I’m sure you’re wondering what happens to the Shannon/Hendricks marriage. Well, she wants him back (of course turned on by his Bigfoot costume), whereas he decides they ought to split up to find their own versions of happiness. For her it’s an annual sex club with people in animal costumes, and for him it’s Judy Greer. You know what, I’d make the same decision, since I’m sure you’re curious on which side I fall in the Judy Greer/Christina Hendricks debate. I almost reflexively went with Hendricks when Greer coughed out this whopper of a line “you thought you had to become Bigfoot to save this town, but you saved it a long time ago by just being you”, however. Pottersville did not earn the treacle, not by a longshot. That said, it deserves kudos for its strangely mature portrayal of Hendricks’ kink. It’s what she’s into, Michael Shannon recognizes that, they part company on decent terms. It’s a surprise given how much the visual of people in animal costumes is mined as a cheap laugh. Again, every so often something will transpire in this movie that makes you wish you were a fly on the wall during production.
What kind of loser loan officer has a name plate on their desk that just says “LOAN OFFICER” on it?
This is a Christmas movie which I think first mentions the holiday 69 minutes in. There’s plenty of holiday music overlaid and shitty fake snow, but Pottersville takes as long as possible to even attempt some pseudo Christmas message. Even then it’s a late addition that doesn’t feel organic; the movie could’ve been set any time of the year and it would make little difference. Again, one’s imagination of the ramshackle process that led to the creation, production, implementation and finalization of this film is more fruitful and entertaining than actually watching it. Whatever your mind comes up with to answer the question “why did Ian McShane agree to be in a family-ish seasonal picture?” will outpace his sub-Rust Cohle drunken slurrings on the meaning of existence and his Robert Shaw approximation that does a worse job than Dana Carvey in Master of Disguise. While several cast members sleepwalk, I will admit Michael Shannon brings his weird charisma to his role and Judy Greer is as good as she ever is in a thankless, underwritten role. They do a lot of the work to make Pottersville watchable.
“That’s a temp image, right? We’re gonna get something better for the movie, yeah?” “No.”
Still, Pottersville‘s sheer existence forms the large part of its appeal. Someone made this, and actors who don’t seem to need the money participated in it. That will be its lasting legacy; not any of the actual contents. It’s a stupid piece of shit that swings and misses every comedic opportunity it encounters and cynically portrays unearned sentimentality in the last 15 minutes, but its incompetence isn’t mesmerizing like The Room, it’s merely in line with other films of its ilk. It’s weird enough, but it should be much weirder. It’s not any good, but it has the base level of competence and professionalism that means it’s technically watchable, it’s readily available on NetFlix, and Michael Shannon plays so against type it’s worth seeing if only for that. Pottersville is a few adjustments away from being a brilliant deadpan Adult Swim parody of schmaltzy high concept Hallmark crap, and that it doesn’t quite make it there is disappointing.