Ramma Mosley‘s “The Brass Teapot,” based on a screenplay by Tim Macy, who wrote the short story and
the 2007 short film that served as a jumping-off point for this feature,
tries hard to be a moral fable, a reflection of today’s
challenging economic tides and the college graduates weathering them
with limited success. With the help of a talented cast, “The Brass
Teapot” is able to coast on charm for the first hour, but then the
fairytale idea that powers the film runs out of juice, and the last
forty-five minutes hurtle toward a wrap-up that feels both awkward
and overwrought, needlessly portentous and arriving much too late. Leads Michael Angarano and especially firecracker Juno Temple are the reason to keep watching, but even they cannot breathe life into a compelling concept stretched too thin.
Opening with an enchanting look at the travels of the titular mythical object throughout history, Mosley gives time over to chronicle the daily travails of Alice (Temple) and John (Angarano), struggling newlyweds very much in love but slowly losing hope over job security, and dreaming of a life beyond their humble home and junk heap of a car. Temple and Angarano feel believable as an at-ease couple, and while their chemistry is not especially palpable, the actors occasionally communicate complexities that suggest a richer, lived-in relationship. Billy Magnussen in particular makes a memorable intro as an overwhelming jock bully with a lust for Alice and disdain for John. Magnussen will later prove to be a simplistic antagonist, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
When a car accident strands Alice and John in front of an antique shop, the former makes off with a charming-looking teapot adorned with a Star of David. This object has a unique power, producing cash when the owner hurts themselves, at first by accident but then with intent. For those who bristle at the idea of connecting this Judaica-looking relic with cash, wait until a duo of baton-carrying Hasidic Jews show up to rough up the couple and demand money and the teapot back. Yes, it would seem that there is a history behind this delicate kettle, a price paid for its wonders throughout history, with many a man and woman holding sway over the pot, almost inevitably corrupted by its wonders. At first the rewards allow Alice and John to live it up, but the duo soon begins to scheme pain on a larger scale, with Alice falling under its spell and weighing taking a life for the ultimate score.
Alexis Bledel, Alia Shawkat and Bobby Moynihan are sadly sidelined as a neighbor and a couple of married friends hanging on during hard times. While Mosley’s initial zeroing in on his two leads makes for an engaging first hour as we see their relationship change and spoil when it becomes more about appeasing the teapot than themselves, “The Brass Teapot” runs out of road soon after and chooses to up the stakes in a final push toward an overblown finale. The Coen Brothers‘ “Fargo” secret weapon Steve Park makes an appearance, here playing a mysterious and mysteriously underwritten man who wants to protect the world from the teapot and appears to be incorruptible and capable of disseminating philosophical musings on cue.
For those viewers undeterred, we’ll resist spoiling the final act. But suffice to say the twists and turns have been telegraphed from the get-go, and when they come, all you can do is sigh and wait to see how it turns out. The exploration of Alice and John’s relationship is the heart of the movie, and it’s disappointing that while we witness the utter emotional and physical depths the couple plumbs in order to keep up their unearned lavish lifestyle, it feels hollow because everything we know about the duo is skin-deep. Even when painful confessions begin tumbling out of their mouths for that one more dollar, it feels more like the film making a point than two people tearing into each other for all the wrong reasons. The mythology of the teapot takes over, and we do not fall under its spell.
Yet, it’s the mythology that’s bound to attract viewers to the film initially. “The Brass Teapot” has a website filled with tidbits that suggest a rich history, but that history need not be the centerpiece of the film. If we do not connect with our protagonists for the full running time, or if the morals begin to appear repetitive and hammered home, it hurts the film regardless of how interesting its concept may be. Judging by Tim Macy’s original short story, there was a much darker heart to the affair that has been glossed over for the sake of appealing to a wider audience. Understandable, but the resulting work is less than magical. [C]