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Review: 'Oconomowoc' Is More Coming-Of-College-Age Quirk You've Seen Before

The Playlist By Gabe Toro | The Playlist April 19, 2013 at 4:34PM

Bust out your bemused deadpan, it’s time for “Oconomowoc!” This excessively low-temperature film is yet another example of an indie film wanting to have its cake and eat it too: an arch, knowing approximation of indie aesthetics that both mocks and embraces its forebearers in a way that pretends there’s a difference between having a laugh at the post-Jared Hess school of no-budget cringe comedy and actually being a part of it. The mistake here is having cinematic inspirations that don’t travel too far: Hess’ work often feels like a bizarre conflagration of Godard, Herzog and John Waters. By contrast, “Oconomowoc” seems like a cartoon pilot that IFC doesn’t pick up, only to be turned into a film.
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Oconomowoc
Bust out your bemused deadpan, it’s time for “Oconomowoc!” This excessively low-temperature film is yet another example of an indie film wanting to have its cake and eat it too: an arch, knowing approximation of indie aesthetics that both mocks and embraces its forebearers in a way that pretends there’s a difference between having a laugh at the post-Jared Hess school of no-budget cringe comedy and actually being a part of it. The mistake here is having cinematic inspirations that don’t travel too far: Hess’ work often feels like a bizarre conflagration of Godard, Herzog and John Waters. By contrast, “Oconomowoc” seems like a cartoon pilot that IFC doesn’t pick up, only to be turned into a film.

“Oconomowoc,” named after its Wisconsin setting, finds twentysomething college grad Lonnie (Brendan Marshall-Rashid) returning home with zero prospects and no interest in exploring the workforce. His perma-grin set at half-mast establishes that he knows he’s returning to a madhouse of sorts, even as his countenance is less put-upon young adult and more young, sarcastic Andrew McCarthy. The truth about this generational shift is uncertain, but it strains credibility that the current audience of millennials will embrace a hero so ineffectual that his every sentence in the film is either a question (often rhetorical) or phrased as such.

Lonnie’s return home is greeted by his mother, who doesn’t go anywhere without her wine glass topped off (what a new and exciting characterization). But the person happiest to see him return is Todd (Andrew Rozanski), a bearded weirdo who traipses around in his underwear and claims to be Lonnie’s father, despite seeming maybe five or six years older. In a polka-dot bathrobe, Todd wanders off into awkward situations that involve lawn ornaments and public schools, and it’s a disaster of a performance for a couple of reasons. One being that the film embraces this as charming oddball behavior when it fact it seems like a deep, maladjusted type of retardation that should be diagnosed and treated. And two because Rozanski gives a performance of such practiced “weirdness” that seems like immediate b.s., the sort of nattering moron that represents a danger to himself and others until he suddenly has to be resourceful, functionally helpful, and elaborately mischievous. There’s a place for this sort of bipolar performance, and it is not dotting the margins of a cutesy college-boy-comes-home comedy.

“Oconomowoc” at least captures the feeling upon returning home and learning that friends and associates have almost desperately been waiting for you to come back. There’s a bit of accuracy in Lonnie being accosted by an acquaintance from high school pleading in desperation to be rid of an unwise time-share investment, a soft sell turning into a coded cry for help. Also believable is layabout friend Travis (writer-director Andy Gilles), who spends his time cooking up half-baked business opportunities to barely keep his head above water financially. What seems like an amusing detail unfortunately expands into a fully-fledged subplot, distracting from the low-key courtship of a pretty pharmacist that threatens to actually make this irony festival palatable. 

Instead, “Oconomowoc” leans on the tried-and-true formula of squeezed forced-perspective frames, flannel sweaters, bad mustaches and awful public access cable to provoke dismissive laughs. The final credit for the film assures us it was filmed on location, described as “a city we love very much.” The dead-end restaurants, empty parking lots and quiet urban hangouts suggest an appreciation, at best, but full-on love seems dubious, populating their location with a band of idiots meant to be dismissed with a sneering guffaw. If they wanted to pay tribute to this small town, maybe next time just donate some money. [D-]

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