"It's like a roller coaster ride: it's all fun and exciting at first, but then…blech."—Judy (Anne Quackenbush)
You can tell very early on what sort of movie Laughing Boy is going to be from one small detail. Cody (Brazil J. Grisaffi) is living the "upper end of the lower middle" class dream, still trying to be a boy in adult clothing. When his wife (Anne Quackenbush) insists they go to an engagement party hosted by Cody's wealthy boss (Therese Kotara), this would-be Peter Pan in a Peanuts tie just cringes. And here is the telling detail: when he reaches under the bed to fish out something to wear, the camera shows a Light Brite with the words "Save Ferris" on it.
Laughing Boy aspires to be a wacky comedy for Baby Boomers who remember the '80s as the pinnacle of western culture. Cody is the class clown gone white collar, talking to the audience (a conscious nod to Ferris Bueller's Day Off), while he tries to sabotage the stuffy party (and flirt with his boss) with a constant deluge of tacky behavior. He drops his pants during a toast, insults a televangelist (too easy a target), and everyone stands around and takes it.
But Laughing Boy is not so much like John Hughes as you might think. Turd jokes, goofy animated segments to conjure Cody's imagination—this movie resembles nothing less than a Savage Steve Holland film all grow'd up. And without the benefit of John Cusack.
While writer/director/star Brazil J. Grisaffi (call him "Joe") has an easy charm, he also has a bad habit of cutting to himself constantly in order to mug at the camera and throw punch lines that fall flat more often than not. Try this exchange, between Cody and wife Judy:
Judy: "If I waited for you to fix things around here, I'd be geriatric."
Cody: "I thought you were agnostic."
This kind of stuff is more appropriate to a tired single-panel comic strip ("The Lockhorns" maybe) than a contemporary comedy. Consider a long, very long, scene in which a televangelist (Robin Craig) tells her maudlin life story. The story is funny enough just left alone, but Grisaffi keeps cutting back to himself (as Cody) making unfunny comments to the horror of the other party guests. Is this supposed to be hilarious? Or are we supposed to find man-child Cody annoying? If so, then his sudden shift to serious friend in the final act of the film comes out of nowhere.
Grisaffi himself is an appealing screen presence, and might do well with the sort of B-movie comedy material that clearly inspired Laughing Boy, maybe in the sort of part Andrew McCarthy would have played back in the 1980s. But the community theater production values of Laughing Boy seem to weigh down his natural charm. The DVD itself is a pretty low-budget affair: full frame (and it looks like it was transferred from video, although Grisaffi insists on the commentary that it was shot on actual film stock) and with a PCM soundtrack rather than the traditional Dolby.
Grisaffi leads a serviceable commentary track featuring performers Tiffany Grant, Robin Craig, and George Lee, art director Sheila Sawyer, and DP Hassan Nadji. We are also treated to audition tapes for most of the principal actors, a few storyboards, pencil tests for the animation sequences, and a photo gallery. You can safely skip the painfully extended versions of the already overlong televangelist and "medieval fantasy" scenes. Grisaffi also throws in a jukebox (no videos) of songs by Toe Head, The Strangeways, and The Dead Monkeys.
Grisaffi usually makes his living playing bit parts and as a casting coordinator for larger productions. Laughing Boy is apparently his attempt to showcase his talent and break into the big time. With better material, he might make it. Maybe now that the Disney Channel has freed up Savage Steve Holland by canceling Lizzie McGuire, these two guys can team up and make some comedy magic.
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