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

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

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
) 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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