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by Jay Seaver

"Weird comedy meets its match."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2016 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Though screened as part of the festival's "Documentaries from the Edge" program, "DRIB" probably only qualifies as a for how it includes some original material that led up to the events depicted and cutaway bits that talk directly to the audience; otherwise it's all "recreations" that have a certain amount if license admittedly taken. It could, perhaps, do with a bit more - the filmmakers' relationship to their story's absurdity often leads to jokes not landing quite as well as they could, although there's enough of them for the movie to work, especially for fans of the absurd.

Actual footage, we are told, cannot be used because of the non-disclosure agreement that Amir Asgharnejad signed when he agreed to work on an ad campaign, so he is forced to recreate his experiences. An Iranian-born comedian who grew up in southern Norway, Amir became a fan of Andy Kaufman when his father died, and a Kaufman-like bit where he picks fights on the street that he can't win goes viral on YouTube. An American advertising agency hits on the idea of sponsoring and product-placing energy drink "DRIB" into the series - creative director Brady Thompson (Brett Gelman) envisions a stealthy, unacknowledged campaign - and somehow, Amir never really gets the chance to tell anyone but sensible copywriter Cathy Rothman (Annie Hamilton) that all the original fights were faked.

For all that Asgharnejad and filmmaker Kristoffer Borgli are going for a story that is stranger than fiction, the absurdity of the situation is not as Kafka-esque as the initial introduction makes it sound: Hollywood is weird but there's never any conflict between its strangeness and Asgharnejad trying to interact with it - as much as he quite reasonably doesn't want to get punched in the face by a bunch of Los Angeles bodybuilders, he often seems more a detached observer rather than someone getting caught up in more than he can handle or comprehend. If the fact that an audience can watch this and not be shocked or befuddled is meant to be an indictment of modern consumer culture, it doesn't quite work out that way, and Asgharnejad at times seems like a guy planning this movie rather than stumbling into it.

Fortunately, it's still quite funny. The filmmakers have a good handle on when to go for weird and when play it as sane people in a crazy environment. In some ways, the L.A. advertising world can be too easy a target, but that doesn't make its specific sort of strange headspace and amorality less of a fine source of material, and the filmmakers are generally very good at milking all the jokes they can from something and then letting it go before it stops being funny, along with finding opportune moments to break the fourth wall and have Amir make an aside that punches a joke up but doesn't undermine the film.

The cast as a whole does a good job of being in on the joke without necessarily making it obvious in their performances. Asgharnejad kind of has to be - he's pretty much the same guy visually and in terms of delivery whether he's addressing the audience, playing out the events in California, or in the original videos, but he manages to find the tone where he's deep into the idea of confrontational comedy but still able to connect with the audience as an everyman, which is a rare and tricky skill. The filmmakers don't cast a lot of familiar faces, although Brett Gelman may be just recognizable enough to seem a little off as Amir's main point of contact. Annie Hamilton is nice as Cathy, who recognizes her absurd industry and generally finds a good spot between deadpan confusion and acceptance.

"DRIB" probably isn't nearly as strange and out there as it would present itself as being - the audience that will appreciate this sort of movie is past being surprised by it - but it's solidly funny, and maybe would work better if it presented itself as more mainstream - or at least more classically screwball - than it does.

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originally posted: 10/25/17 12:20:57
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Kristoffer Borgli

Written by
  Kristoffer Borgli

  Amir Asgharnejad
  Brett Gelman
  Annie Hamilton

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