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On DVD: "The Living Wake"

by Christopher Campbell
August 4, 2010 3:59 AM
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If you're not anywhere near a theater currently playing Aaron Schneider's acclaimed "Get Low," you can somewhat make due for now by renting the very slightly similar, less-known indie "The Living Wake," which is also about a man holding a kind of eulogy service for himself while still alive. Directed by Sol Tryon and originally released to the fest circuit in '07, the strange and dark comedy finally hit DVD yesterday courtesy of Breaking Glass Pictures. Having long seen and heard people like Stu VanAirsdale, Aaron Hillis and Cinematical's Erik Davis all rave about it, I figured I'd give it a try for this week's DVD spotlight. Especially since I haven't been able to make time for "Get Low" yet and thought this would tide me over.

There is a clear difference between the two films, and "Wake" is probably the more limited in terms of appeal -- it lacks the star power of Bill Murray, Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek, for one thing -- but it's definitely worth a look. Jesse Eisenberg is the biggest name here, and he's not the film's star, though his fans will enjoy seeing him perform a song and attempt to juggle onions and act less paranoid and whiny than normal. At the film's center is co-writer Mike O'Connell, a comedian on his way to greater recognition through a movie based on the fake rap duo Million Dollar Strong (him and Ken Jeong) and maybe other Judd Apatow/Todd Phillips productions.

O'Connell histrionically plays the pompous and extravagant K. Roth Binew, an unsuccessful artist and self-proclaimed genius who is given til the end of the day to live. With assistance from his "man" -- friend, biographer and rickshaw chauffeur Mills (Eisenberg), Binew spends his final hours pondering the mysteries of life, attempting to donate his undesirably dark literary works to the local library, talking to the ghost of his father, visiting a prostitute and finally setting up and conducting his titular good-bye ceremony. There are a couple musical numbers, though less than I would have liked for such a fabulously theatrical film. With more songs it would especially make for a good pairing with the indie rock opera "Rainbow Around the Sun," which I enjoyed at SXSW back in '08.

Though I haven't seen "Get Low" yet, I keep thinking of the difference between that film and this one in a musical sense. "Low" seems more bluesy, while "Wake" could be its burlesque jazz cousin. The silly comparison came to me because I thought of the artificially old-timey "Wake" as being what a Squirrel Nut Zippers movie might look like. While "Low" seems more serious, like SNZ singer James Mathus' side album with the Knock-Down Society, "Play Songs for Rosetta." Is that too dated a reference? Well, I could also go for a more local reference and point out that anyone associated with the current retro-cool NYC folk music scene (Feral Foster, The Bill Murray Experience, East River String Band, etc.) should love this film. I also recommend it to fans of Thomas Jay Ryan's performance and character in Hal Hartley' "Henry Fool" and "Fay Grim" (more so the former).

Okay, now that I've slipped out a few obscure thoughts (one more: the film also made me think of Canadian swing revivalist Big Rude Jake -- which maybe only my brother will appreciate), please do watch the trailer below. And if you check out "The Living Wake" on DVD (or Amazon VOD, as I did), come back and spout about it.


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