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Overall Rating

Awesome: 18.75%
Worth A Look: 0%
Pretty Bad37.5%
Total Crap: 6.25%

2 reviews, 4 user ratings

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Asylum Seekers
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by Jay Seaver

"Nuts to this."
2 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2010 BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL: It's a hoary old chestnut, but one that has stuck in the English language every since Shakespeare first used it in "Hamlet" because here's a truth contained in it: "Method to madness." It's not enough to just say that a character is insane and that's a free pass to do anything with him; even for a comedy, it's got to make more sense than what goes on in "Asylum Seekers".

Six people are being committed to a local mental hospital, more or less voluntarily: Antoine (Daniel Irizarry), a nymphomaniac virgin; trophy "mousewife" Maud (Pepper Binkley); evangelical nihilist Paul (Lee Wilkof); introverted exhibitionist Miranda (Camille O'Sullivan); cybernetic lolita Alice (Stella Maeve); and gender-bending refugee Alan (Bill Dawes). There is, however, only one bed available, so Nurse Milly (Judith Hawking), on behalf of the mysterious doctor running the facility, will have to test them to see which is most in need of their care.

The easy, politically correct knock on Asylum Seekers is that mental illness is no laughing matter, but while the sentiment isn't wrong, juxtaposing the mad with the supposedly sane can make for great satire. And if you can come up with the right tone and stick to it, broad comedy can work. Writer/director Rania Ajami, however, really doesn't seem to know what tone she wants to take. Several of the characters are just one-note jokes, but others at times have a sense of tragedy and realism to them that doesn't much fit with the others.

Pepper Binkley, for instance, is legitimately impressive as Maud; she's got an actual character arc to work with, and can make Maud's various eccentricities comical or sad as the situation requires. Irizarry comes close to that, but winds up playing Antoine very broad in the comic sections. There's potential in Lee Wilkof's Paul, but he too seldom carries the well-rounded parts of his character into the comedy, where he often just comes off as loud. Dawes and O'Sullivan give fairly one-note performances, and Ajami can't quite seem to figure out how to utilize that one note. Stella Maeve actually does pretty well by underplaying the scenes that aren't about Alice's insanity, making those both funny and disturbing.

Ajami and company do all right by making Asylum Seekers memorable visually. Lots of independent films build strange worlds out of trash and spare parts, but few of them make it work. The film's got a zippy pace, and keeps us moving between different strange environments often enough that we never start taking this particular brand of lunacy for granted or get particularly confused by how we got from C to D.

Until, maybe, the end. Throughout the movie, it occasionally feels as though there's method to the madness, but just when it feels like the film should be pulling together and saying something, it seems to explode with the shrapnel going in three different directions. It also becomes all too clear that half the characters were not much more than filler. Even before that, only about half the jokes actually worked, which isn't a bad ratio for a movie that is throwing as much weirdness out as this one, but they wind up ringing especially hollow.

Maybe "Asylum Seekers" would actually play better if Binkley, and to a lesser extent Irizarry, hadn't been so good (or Ajami hadn't burdened them by giving them characters rather than cartoons). As it is, it's either weighed down by a couple of fully-formed characters or let down by what's around them, rather than being committed... to being good farce.

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originally posted: 04/03/10 06:59:31
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 CineVegas Film Festival For more in the 2009 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Boston Underground Film Festival For more in the 2010 Boston Underground Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/19/10 Ronald Holst I felt i needed to be put in one for wasting my time and money to see this ! 1 stars
6/21/09 Marcus L. The film was amazing—hilarious, + also quite touching in the 2nd half. Fun & uncompromising 5 stars
6/21/09 Dave Moon Outstanding, Intelligent, Visually Stunning 5 stars
6/03/09 Laura This movie is beautiful, funny and awkward. It's great! 5 stars
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  DVD: 30-Aug-2011



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