Kabluey / Dustin Rowles
Film Reviews | December 5, 2008 | Comments ()
I get quite a few review requests, though I rarely have time to follow up on most of them. A movie review, at minimum, is a 3 to 4 hour time commitment, so unfortunately, most of the request get shuffled to the bottom of the Netflix queue, where hopes and dreams go to die. But a reader sent an email describing Kabluey in such a way that I couldn’t resist immediately dialing it up. The movie is already on DVD, and we skipped reviewing its theatrical release, mostly because I saw a clip on Letterman with Lisa Kudrow and Teri Garr, and I got the impression — for some reason — that it was a cancer movie. Studio cancer movies are hard enough to watch, but indie cancer movies, particularly well-executed ones, are impossible. Gah! I couldn’t bear the thought of another Life Without Me.
But Jamie very aptly described Kabluey in a way that made it fairly irresistible to pass up, and sums up the movie in a way that an 800-word movie review can’t quite do justice: “It’s not astounding or groundbreaking, but it’s a neat semi-superhero movie (for the geeks), quirky (for the closeted and uncloseted Juno lovers), and (I think) underexposed (for the pretentious).”
Kabluey comes from writer/director Scott Prendergast, who — in addition to a role as creepy albino guy in Paris Hilton’s Hottie or Nottie (a guy’s gotta work, you know?) — has three film shorts to his resume. That’s fitting because Kabluey felt a lot like a film short stretched out into a feature-length running time. But Prendergast manages to stretch it out without any dead-space filler — or, rather, that dead-space filler is strangely, lyrically hypnotic. You learn a lot about the people in the film during the quiet scenes, where the characters stare off into space or watch cars pass by. There’s a certain experimental feel to Kabluey, too, but it doesn’t bore you like most experimental films would. It’s quirky, yet contemplative. Like Napoleon Dynamite, only it’s good, and not obnoxious or grating or annoying.
The strangely-named Salman (like Rushdie, not the fish) comes to live with his sister-in-law, Leslie, while his brother (her husband) is off fighting in Iraq. (This is not a war movie.) Leslie’s two rugrats are sadistic kids, uterus-shrinking hellions who need looking after while Leslie — a shrewish, unlikeable bitch — is at work, making up the difference between what a solider at war earns and what a small family’s budget demands. Unfortunately, Salman can’t keep the kids under control, and Leslie hates him for no real reason other than the fact that he’s kind of incompetent at life and she kind of hates everything.
Salman is a strange bird — at first, you assume he’s borderline retarded (he loses a job at a Kinko’s-type store because he becomes obsessed with the laminator), but as you get to know him, you realize he’s just quiet and aimless. A push-over. A well-intentioned doormat that’s stepped over more than it’s stepped on. Leslie, in an attempt to push Salman out of her house — she’s having an affair with an asshole (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) that she doesn’t want him to know about — hooks him up with a job where he’s forced to stand out on a rural highway all day dressed as a blue corporate mascot.
Somehow, wearing that uniform, Salman looks like an even bigger sad sack than he already is. But sweltering inside that costume eight hours a day, Salman somehow finds himself. In it, he’s not quite a superhero or anything, but kids think he is, and older people gain a newfound respect for him, which allows him, in turn, to find respect for himself. In addition to that, he achieves a sort of anonymity — he’s invisible, even though he’s standing right in front of you. And with that kind of power comes the ability to eavesdrop, all of which steers Kabluey through a terrain of gentle humor before finally propelling it into a heartfelt conclusion.
But what Kabluey really is, is a dark comedy about alienation. It’s a simple movie on one level — slacker finds purpose — but beneath that, it’s an absurdist nod to the world we live in, trapped in front of a computer or flung into suburbia, waiting for a bit of human interaction to save us from the thoughts inside our heads. It’s an offbeat, visually transfixing version of Alice in Chain’s “Man in a Box” put through the indie whimsical mill. And it’s the kind of amazing movie that deserves to be pushed to the top of your Netflix queue.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives withi his wife and son in Portland, Maine You can reach him via email, or leave a comment below.