The sign on the way into town reads: ‘Weedsville, pop: 490,000’. It’s a run-down, post-industrial city on a wrong turn somewhere off the interstate where disenfranchised youth get high in derelict factories and Satanists sacrifice virgins in the drive-in theatre on the outskirts of town. There are still nice parts of the city where the effluent discharge hasn’t fully polluted the river and where you can find nineteenth-century mansions lovingly restored, home to self-help gurus and their followers…
Director Allan Moyle has a love/hate relationship with cinema. After his first film in 1980, he was so disaffected that he didn’t make another movie for a decade. He returned with the blistering Pump Up the Volume, a showcase for rising star Christian Slater, which provided a voice for the fears of Generation X. He again articulated the concerns of the zeitgeist – in this case corporations absorbing small town life – with Empire Records, an endearing ‘dramedy’ that helped kick-start the careers of Liv Tyler and Renée Zellweger.
So, what went wrong (again)? Certainly for the last twelve years, Moyle has made films that ended up in discount racks or were just plain embarrassing to watch. Whatever the cause, the director has finally made a terrific new film that follows up on the promise of his early work. Weirdsville takes a scattershot approach to its themes and subject matter – again looking at dissatisfied youth (his favorite and most successful theme) – mixing heroin abuse, murder, brain-washing and suburban ennui to delirious effect. His experiences in the movie industry may have led the director to absolve all credit for the success of this film, but the ease with which he keeps so many disparate plates juggling in Weirdsville shows a filmmaker at the top of his game.
Funny, moving, beautifully shot and above all bonkers, this is a film that is desperate for an audience, but no less likeable for that. Occupying the middle ground between turgid stoner comedies like Dude, where’s my car? and romanticized, stylish dramas such as Trainspotting, Weirdsville deftly moves from traumatic overdose scenes to the generic horror of Satanist rituals, from drama to outrageous comedy. This is a film made by people who love movies, acting as prospectors sifting through the detritus of modern filmmaking. Dream-like scenes of lead actor Scott Speedman skating a foot above the ground across the urban sprawl recall Renton’s journey to hospitalization in Trainspotting as much as Terry Gilliam’s magical realism.
Elsewhere, the preposterous idea of a medieval battle re-enactment society made up entirely of dwarves who travel around in a limousine, or Matt Frewer as a brain-damaged self-help leader strapped to a gurney and recovering from a giant icicle blow to the head recall John Landis at his most self-indulgent. Amazingly, in spite of all these outrageous conceits, the film somehow works thanks to excellent casting and performances, good pacing and the constant belief that all these incidents have a point and will make sense by the end of the movie.
The director hopes this likeable mélange about stoners and Satanists will garner a cult following and I for one am happy to sign up.
Read Alex Fitch’s interview with Allan Moyle.