What begins as a baffling yet amusing string of non sequitur vignettes, shot rough and strenuous in a camera-verite fashion, eventually and astonishingly is made coherent in Zach Weintraub’s audacious arthouse alternative, Slackjaw.
Something of an anomaly on the American indie scene, Weintraub (Bummer Summer, You Make Me Feel So Young) delights in awkward social arrangements, eccentric slice-of-life naturalism, and adolescent bravado as evidenced in every ungainly frame of this film.
Slackjaw presents its hangdog hero, Malone (Robert Malone), a young adult fashion victim — he has the mismatched nail polish mingled with poorly dyed locks to prove it — and wannabe musician living in a small, decaying town where a conglomerate recognized by the initials E.V. is slowly infiltrating all of the townies to its way of thinking.
The Monsanto-like company is out to employ the entire populace of Malone’s little apple, or at the very least subject them to paid research experimentation. It’s not exactly a paranoiac polemic picture so much as an off-kilter comedy of the “funny strange” variety that edges ever so unsteadily towards a kind of mating between John Cassavetes and Napoleon Dynamite.
Malone, who harbors some truly heinous dance moves, rekindles a sort of bromance with his E.V.-approving, non-recycling pal from middle school, Jesse (Jesse Rudoy) and, amongst other misadventures, manages to dislocate his jaw during a hot dog eating contest on the Fourth of July. There’s also reappearing phantoms — actually just oddballs underneath blankets — that further Weintraub’s desire to draw a difficult to discern line between kitsch and sincere societal malaise.
Slackjaw is a deliberate and irregular outlaw indie that’s both strange and self-indulgent and destined for a deserved cult status.
Taste of Cinema Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)