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Sunflower Hour
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by Jay Seaver

"Tired of mock-docs? Add puppets. Puppets make everything funnier."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2012 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Even as mock-documentary movies go, "Sunflower Hour" looks kind of bare-bones, but partly by design. Of course, even when cheapness is part of the aesthetic, that doesn't mean a filmmaker knows how to use it - despite the number of people who say limited resources make one more creative, that's definitely not always the case! Writer/director Aaron Houston has a good handle on it that even when it doesn't work for him, it doesn't take much away from the times when things are utterly hilarious.

Sunflower Hour is a children's puppet show in Vancouver produced on the cheap by Donald Dirk (Peter New), whose background is mostly in porn, though his wife Melissa (Johannah Newmarch) is handling the initial stages of the search. They've announced that they want to add a new character and will document the process. The documentary follows four hopefuls: Leslie Handover (Patrick Gilmore), who sees the show as a great platform to preach against the evils of homosexuality; Satan's Spawn (Kacey Rohl), a goth teenage girl; Shamus O'Reilly (Ben Cotton), who speaks with a thick Irish accent despite his family not having been near the Emerald Isle in generations; and David Spencer (Amatai Marmorstein), a fan of the show and puppetry in general who gets bullied by his older brothers.

Melissa may have chosen this group just to torment her husband.

There are two important things to remember about puppets: First, everything is funnier when done by a puppet. Everything. Second, they can provide an intriguing glimpse into their makers' and performers' psyches - the puppets tend to be half who the puppeteer is and who the puppeteer wants to be. That's not particularly deep, but a broad, raunchy comedy doesn't have to be - it just has to be enough to make the characters feel a little more well-rounded without having to get overly confessional in between the jokes.

Those two properties come together most perfectly, perhaps, with Shamus and his leprechaun puppet Gerry, who has been perched on Shamus's hand for years and acts out his id like a split personality. Houston supplies a steady stream of over-the-top crude words and activity for Shamus & Gerry, and Cotton plays the character(s) just perfectly, letting them come across as separate personalities or not as need be, diving in with gusto.

The rest of the cast is pretty great, too. Patrick Gilmore is playing a guy in deep and obvious denial, and he does so in a way that is actually kind of pitiable but also very funny. Amatai Marmorstein and Kacey Rohl come at the same sort of story - kids who need to find a way to communicate and have confidence in who they are - from opposite directions, with Marmorstein puffing David up just enough to make his humiliations funny and Rohl a blast as the teen so dedicated to being righteously angry over past slights that doesn't know how to react to anything else. And then there's Peter New and Johannah Newmarch, who get plenty of deadpan gold out of the flaming wreckage of the Dirks' marriage.

They do that so well, in fact, that Houston kind of has to nudge things back on track once or twice: Greg Ng's guy behind the camera, often funny for maliciously stirring things up, half breaks character to keep things from getting too mean at one point (a move that might make the audience think there's more improv going on than there actually is). There are other times when the story is a little clumsy, although more often in the direction of on-the-nose than ridiculous. It's hard to complain much about the jokes, though, which are often crude but just nasty enough to sting.

Because, let's face it, you don't want to be too blasť that you're not horrified when some of these people actually perform in front of children. After all, it's all very well to be raunchy and push boundaries, but it doesn't work nearly as well if the audience doesn't believe there's something sweet and good-natured underneath.

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originally posted: 09/22/12 12:51:24
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2012 series, click here.

User Comments

3/15/13 Raylene Steffenson I saw this at last years Cinequest film festival and loved it! I want the DVD! 5 stars
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