Comedy Oddities: The Brass Teapot

the brass teapot indexIgnoring some of her more mainstream efforts Juno Temple’s had a pretty impressive career so far with her starring in some great films like Killer Joe, Magic Magic, and Away, but it often surprises how often some of her films go underneath even my radar, and 2012’s The Brass Teapot is such a case. That came as even more of a surprise given that it co-stars Alia Shawkat, Thomas Middleditch, Jack McBrayer and Bobby Moynihan, but now having seen it it’s pretty understandable why it didn’t become a huge hit.

A high concept piece which could be a twisted episode of a slightly perverse Twilight Zone style series, Alice (Juno Temple) and John (Michael Angarano) are a young couple who are struggling financially, she’s out of work while he hates his telesales job, and so after crashing their car outside of an antiques store Alice pops in and steals an expensive looking teapot. It initially seems like the answer to all of their dreams as well, as every time one of them hurts themselves it spits out money and soon they’re rolling in it – but will they take just enough to get by? Or become ridiculously greedy shits?

You can probably guess the answer but as to how far they’ll go is the main question the film poses, and it becomes an odder, more unusual work when they realise that it’s not just their own pain they can generate money from but that of others, and then later they discover they can also earn money through psychological torture too. That leads to them viciously cruel to each other and revealing their deepest, darkest secrets just so they can earn money, but then John starts having regrets, setting up the end of the film.

It’s frustrating because there are certain elements that make it fairly enjoyable at times, seeing the couple explore just how they can earn money by hurting each other physically is initially pretty funny, both show a certain flair for physical comedy and when they start tormenting each other mentally it really hits its stride and some of their verbal barbs are darkly amusing. But despite having these elements which do make it entertaining at times there’s a major problem with the film, and that’s that John and Alice are kind of unlikeable.

That’s partially by design when they become rich and greedy but we’re definitely supposed to like them initially (despite Alice’s casual racism towards Dr Ling, and the way they treat others in general), and definitely when they start to regret their actions, but I found it impossible to do so and found myself hoping that things would become much worse for them rather than better. It’s also a film which doesn’t quite add up too, like why they stop witnessing the pain of others to earn money and just become horrendously mean to each other is never really explained, and that it takes them so long to realise that they can exploit the mental suffering of others suggests they’re not the smartest in the world, though that wasn’t quite so much of a surprise.

There’s a few other plot holes that aren’t ever really explained too, like how Alice and John worry about the IRS discovering their secret early on but that doesn’t prevent them from buying an enormous mansion and various other things without ever considering doing a bit of money laundering on the side, but it’d probably be a bit pedantic to pull the film up over such a thing, especially when it has much bigger problems. It also wastes its talented supporting cast, its structure is dull and predictable, and it contains an ending which is set up so blatantly obviously that it made me groan when it finally took place, and even though there’s a tiny twist it’s an annoying one that didn’t make it any better.

It’s a film which probably would have worked better as a forty five minute episode of an anthology tv series, but even then the writing would need to be a much sharper, the characters initially a little more likeable, and a satisfying ending would have been nice too. As it is this is definitely a disappointment, a film which has a few decent moments and the odd clever idea but all too often fails to deliver on the promise occasionally shown.

★★

Alex Finch.
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