Comedy Oddities: O.J. The Musical

oj the musican indexIf I’m going to be strictly honest I didn’t hold out much hope for this low budget indie comedy, on imdb it had a 7.7 rating but only sixty nine people had voted at the time I watched it many years after its release, and I presumed a good few of those would be from people involved in the making of the film. There were also no user reviews and only three critical ones, plus one of the trailers didn’t help either as it made it look rather low budget and amateurish.

It’s strange as the film almost does work as an insight in to what it’s like to work on a low budget and slightly crazy play, but it screws up by making its protagonist far too weird and far too unlikeable. The first thirty minutes are very strong as its shot in a mockumentary format where supposed theatre director Eugene (Jordan Kenneth Kamp) decides to relocate from New York to Los Angeles and reunites with old friend Lawrence (Malcolm Barrett) and gets him onboard with a new production, which initially is supposed to be an musical version of Othello but then becomes the titular play.

Eugene reconnects with his ex-girlfriend Regina (Larisa Oleynik) as well and casts her as the female lead, and then hires other actors and stage crew, and there’s some very funny moments as he initially establishes himself in his new city, where he rents a garage to live in and then lies to the play’s Christian producers about what the production is. Paul Scheer has a fun cameo as Eugene’s therapist Dr Love, and Lawrence and the other actors have some great scenes as they rehearse this rather unusual musical.

Unfortunately it’s then revealed that Eugene has pretty much lied to every character in the film, he’s never actually staged a play before, and he seems to be only making this one so that he can get back with Regina. Even worse is that when she rejects him he all but stalks her, punches her new boyfriend Orlando (Owiso Odera), and then is an absolute shit to everyone, and these scenes make him horribly unsympathetic, crossing the border from weirdo to deranged psychotic. There’s a backstory about a dead mother that’s thrown in to try and make us like him, and he even almost commits suicide until he’s interrupted, but when the film tries to redeem him all it does is see Eugene give a couple of half-hearted apologies and then everyone weirdly decides to forgive him and put on the play, despite that no one’s being paid a penny and the director has been a demented shit.

If the film had fleshed out Eugene’s character more, given us a reason to feel sorry for him, and had shown him really become aware of all of the terrible things he’d done then it might have been more effective, but his redemption is over and done with within a couple of minutes and before you know it we’re at the opening night of the play, and get to witness ten minutes of the musical. To be fair this seems the film return to form and is extremely funny as this slightly misjudged song packed exploration of O.J. Simpson’s crime is a delight, though it’s so much fun that it made me wish we’d been given much, much more of it and a lot less of the annoying nonsense with Eugene.

As a fan of musicals I really wanted to like this, and for the first thirty minutes thought I’d be writing a glowing review of the film lamenting that not many had seen it. But the middle act is actively annoying, the film becomes a drudge to watch and you know a movie is in trouble when its lead is considering suicide and you’re disappointed he doesn’t go through with it. The way it briefly explores racism but then ignores the subject feels a bit off too, as if it thought it ought to touch upon the subject but then lost interest in doing so. Yes, the final act is a great one, but it gives Eugene a win that he really doesn’t deserve, and while it made me laugh a fair few times this is ultimately a very flawed affair, one that comes close to greatness but then trips over and falls flat on its face.

★★3/4

Alex Finch.
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