by Jay Seaver
SCREENED AT THE 2005 INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL OF BOSTON: Just about anything can be funny when it happens to someone else. And if the timing of a comic disaster catches the audience off guard, well, that just bumps it from "funny" up to "hilarious", especially if, as in The Hole Story, it happens much earlier than expected. However, once you've defied audience expectations less than fifteen minutes into the movie, you'd better be ready to keep doing it, and if you can't come up with something as surprising as that first big moment, at least come up with something as funny. Given that the movie's a comedy, you might want to do that anyway.The movie opens with a little introductory text, pretty much telling the audience that things aren't going to go right, and the opening credits for a TV series, "Provincial Puzzlers". Well, the pilot for a TV series, which would involve writer/director/host Alex Karpovsky traveling throughout America, talking about unexplained phenomena peculiar to some small town. For the pilot, Alex has come to Brainerd, Minnesota, to investigate a hole that has appeared in the middle of an otherwise frozen over lake. He's lined up scientists to talk about what a climatological anomaly this is, and he's got some ideas about mentioning how the Paul Bunyan legend got its start in and around Brainerd.
"Half a good movie, with a hole in the second half."
There's just one thing. By the time Boston-native Karpovsky actually arrives to begin filming, the hole has closed up, after the "really cold weather" last week. He can hang around to see if maybe it'll open back up, but the locals seem to think it's done for the year.
This sends to movie off in a slightly different-than-expected direction. Sure, we still get the crazy guy from an East Coast city interviewing the eccentric locals, but there's an edge of desperation to it. The implication is that he and his unseen partner (a former or current girlfriend) are risking a lot on the production, and he really doesn't want to go back to editing karaoke videos, which means cutting his losses now is right out. So he keeps on filming, getting "background", trying to film a puddle at an angle that will make it look like a mile-long hole, eventually breaking out a sledgehammer and a chainsaw. And then...
Well, best not to spoil the second surprise. It changes the movie in a much more profound way than the first, but what comes after doesn't draw the laughter quite so easily. A guy getting dumped on by fate and his own obstinacy is funny; a guy who's just at loose ends and doesn't know why he's living his life a certain way is just kind of sad. Laughing at Alex in the first half is mean, but not really, because the situations are absurd and he's bringing a lot of it on himself. In the second half, though, laughing at Alex might really be mean, because mocking someone's mental health isn't cool.
Also, the structure of the movie brings up the issue of the camera. The movie is shot documentary-style on digital video, allegedly by the crew and cameraman shooting the pilot. When most of the crew bails, the cameraman stays on because, apparently, he's curious how big a disaster this can become. But after a while, the situation changes enough that the continued filming requires an on-screen explanation (which is, I guess, believable enough), and days become weeks, one has to wonder whether this guy is getting paid, or has a family, or whether he thinks there's an independent film to be made out of Alex's struggles.
It might have been pretty spiffy metahumor if the cameraman, rather than Karpovsky himself, was credited as the film's writer/director. The faux-documentary (although Karpovsky played it cute in the post-screening Q&A session about just how faux it was) already uses video diaries/confessionals as a crutch, along with some scenes where it seems unlikely the camera would be running. Though the film is, of course, about Alex-the-character from the start, but during the second half, it becomes more obviously about him, as opposed to the making of the pilot.
Don't get me wrong; The Hole Story is, at times, very funny. Karpovsky recognizes that the set-up is often funnier than the punchline, and tends to balance "walking into the frame with a sledgehammer" and "using the sledgehammer" very well. Plus, much of the movie is "actual" documentary footage of the locals, or at the very least improvised. Which is kind of playing with fire, especially considering who Alex works with in the second half. And as many problems as that second half has, it's got some quality absurdity.There's good things in Karpovsky's future; he stages comedy very well. The writing's maybe not there yet, but there's a future for him as a director.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=11942&reviewer=371
originally posted: 05/04/05 12:11:00