It should be noted that we (Brent and Adam) attended the gala premier of GravyTrain with tickets provided by the film-makers. April and Tim have been nice to us in the past with posters and cd's to give away as prizes and are generally all around good people. That being said, I (Brent) feel that this review is still balanced and if you listen to the show you know I'm not one to play favorites either in terms of reviewing.
GravyTrain is the latest film by Canadian independent film makers April Mullen and Tim Doiron who last brought us the Rock, Paper, Scissors: Way of the Tosser, a film that was a really interesting little indy film set in the world of Rock, Paper, Scissors tournaments.
GravyTrain follows the story of small town cop Chuck Gravytrain (Doiron) and his newly assigned partner Uma Booma (Mullen) as they try to track down the elusive Jimmy Fish Eyes, the town's notorious criminal mastermind and killer of Chuck's father. The film features performances by Colm Mochrie, Tim Meadows and Alan Frew of 80's rock band Glass Tiger.
And for me, unfortunately, it's a film that doesn't completely work. BUT it may work for you. Just keep reading and I'll explain and I promise it's not a cop out.
Humor is hard. It's the hardest thing in the world to get right with everyone. What I find funny and what you find funny could be two totally different things. Neither one of us would be right or wrong...unless you like Bruno...and if that's the case, what the hell is wrong with you?
Where the film works (for me) is the world Tim Doiron created. Tim wrote GravyTrain as well as being the principal actor and to both ends he did a great job, especially for only his second feature. The world of Gypsy Creek really grabbed me. I love the fact that it had a whorehouse that the law didn't care about, a bar ran by what could only be described as the love child of Meadow's Ladies Man character from Saturday Night Live and Issac the bartender from The Love Boat and a local tv channel so poor that their main anchor has to do the news's opening theme song.
Not to mention Alan Frew.
Now I've never been and never will be a Glass Tiger fan but Frew as the local homeless man, Ewan McCauley, was a stroke of genius.
April Mullen and Tim Doiron also pull off very well as a comedic duo. April is a classic straight woman to Doiron's absurdity. Both have grown into much better as actors since the last time we saw them in Way of the Tosser.
The town and it's people were just fascinating to me. If you've seen shows like Little Britain or League of Gentlemen (or the Kids in the Hall version Death Comes to Town), it's got a similar vibe to it but totally original. No rip off characters, no stolen ideas, just a similar sense of humor to it. A town where common sense has been thrown out the window but yet it still makes sense.
In fact the town and it's people are so interesting that I didn't care for the actual plot of the film which is where my main problem with GravyTrain lies.
The plot about Chuck trying to find Jimmy Fish Eyes almost seems secondary in comparison with the world it is in and I found myself wanting to see more with Full Serve (Meadows) or the newscaster then I did actually wanting to see a resolution to the central plot.
In fact, if I were April and Tim, I would think about re-working this a little and pitch it as a series. I really think that Gypsy Creek and the adventures of it's towns people and of Chuck and Uma could hold it's own given the popularity of Adult Swim cartoons and the like.
Now on to the technical side.
April Mullen served as co-director on Way of the Tosser and has graduated to directing solo on this one and she has gotten good.
I mean real good.
The directing and cinematography (thanks to cinematographer Daniel Grant) behind GravyTrain is really solid. Mullen's developing a style that works well with in her current genre of films but could lead to some interesting work outside of comedy if she so chooses. It reminds me a lot of Jay Chandrasekhar (Super Troopers, Arrested Development, Chuck) but a bit more cinematic. If April ever decides to give up acting entirely, she'll have a solid career as a director to go into.
So you can see where my review is a bit weird. I rather liked everything about the movie but the actual main story to the film itself. There is obviously a lot of talent at work here both in front of the camera and behind the scenes but for whatever reason, the movie itself didn't fire on all cylinders for my tastes.
Now as to where these young film makers should go from here, Adam, Alex and I discussed it a bit after we exited the theater and we kind of came to a consensus.
Making an independent film is tough. In Canada it's even tougher. Due to budget concerns alone, you have to wear a lot of hats. In an ideal world what I'd like to see for their third film is one of the following:
1) A film written and directed by the pair but not starring.
2) A film starring Tim and April but where they're not writing and directing.
I think at this stage in the game it would do them good to have a bit of separation from the work in one form or another. Both Mullen and Doiron are talented both as actors and director/writer respectively but I think a bit of distance from the work would sharpen things up a bit. Given the nature of the world of independent film, this may not be possible but I'd like to think that given the obvious talent that's involved here that someone will give these folks enough money to make a movie where they can concentrate on the writing process and concentrate on the directing process without them having to worry about getting into hair and make up or hitting their marks. I'd also like to think that someone would see the talent of these two and try them out as a duo in their movie and just have them act together. With either scenario I see really good things happening.
For more details about GravyTrain (including where you can see it for yourself), you can find the official site here