Though he knows you'll find it hard to believe, Judge Bill Gibron assures you that Troma has offered up one of the best movies of the year. That's right, TROMA!
Saving the world, one sucker at a time
Jenna Fischer (The Office) and James Gunn (Scooby-Doo, Dawn of the Dead) are one of Tinseltown's newest "power" couples. He writes blockbuster films; she sees herself as a kind of charitable cheerleader, born to be benevolent and help out the hapless. Like others with their prestige and position, they want to lend their name to a charity. After running through a series of causes to champion, they decide to dedicate their efforts to the homeless. Their plan, though, is kind of peculiar. They will go out to where these indigent individuals reside—the park or the street—and give them lollipops. That's right. Their cure for this social concern is hard candy, but not just any sweet on a stick, mind you. Besides scribing hit films, James is also an artist and he will design special wrappers with inspirational drawings and messages on them. The couple believes that all these hobos and bums need is a literary leg up, with a substantial sugar chaser on the side. What they don't expect is the initial difficulty in getting their aid organization off the ground. All they want is concerned volunteers, a slightly higher public profile—and $250,000. Without a corporate sponsor, however, it seems like their own special brand of LolliLove will never see the inside of a toothless tramp's mouth.
Welcome to one of the best movies of the year. Yes, LolliLove is just that good. Though it should have been a problematic project from the start—the mockumentary and/or ad-libbed comedy are two of the trickiest cinematic styles to get right, let along perfect—what co-writer/director Jenna Fischer and her Hollywood screenwriter husband James Gunn have managed here is nothing short of pure comedic bliss. Brave, brazen, and filled with the kind of well-observed satire that's practically impossible to capture on film (The Simpsons and South Park do, but they're pen-and-ink entities), this ode to questionable intentions and even more perplexing protocols takes Tinseltown by the throat and really rings its silly, self-important neck. More about the people than the place, Fischer and Gunn deconstruct the quality of charity when it comes from folks without a generous bone in their bodies or an altruistic idea in their blasé bubbleheads. The result is something so fresh and yet so familiar that all we can do is laugh at the truth and wonder how far this filmmaker will push the concept.
The answer is obvious—as far as she can. Fischer, who sketched the storyline with pal Peter Ashton, has been working on this project for years, honing and retooling the basic ideas of the story into an accurate picture of assistance as self-serving sentiment. Inspired by an event she attended where the money paid by the "per-plate" guest list went to serving the shindig (corporate sponsorship had to be drummed up to give the cause an oversized check), Fischer found that when you mix celebrity (or even pseudo-celebrity) with social causes, the concoction can be tacky and occasionally tasteless. Individuals in and around the limelight are totally out of touch with the way people suffer in the day-to-day parameters of the planet and their often-misguided optimism regarding a solution can be sad—or riotously ridiculous. Thankfully, Fischer finds a way to highlight both and amplify the laughs in the process. This is more of less a talking-head "report," a local TV documentary that intends to show how Fischer and Gunn created LolliLove, and the vast majority of the comedy comes from the interaction between the couple, as well as several scenes where they try to make their donating dream a reality.
There are numerous sensational set pieces here. One features Gunn trying to "be creative," forcing ideas out of his body via some kind of meaningless mental yoga. Another amazing bit finds Fischer running around town looking for the right kind of sucker (the one with gum inside, she insists), while Gunn sits around, plays video games, and orders pizza. Speaking of the lollipop prototypes, the "inspirational" covers created for the candy are priceless, including one very politically-incorrect offering featuring a Hispanic hero, and the party where the pair gets their friends to pitch in and prepare pops is a non-stop side splitter. By far the best moment in a movie filled with many is the presentation that Fischer and Gunn "perform" for a potential sponsor. Loaded with the kind of lunatic logic and statistical sappiness that seems to characterize these plight pitches, the interaction between the two is priceless, as is the moment they realize that an important piece of the showcase is missing. As comedic performers, Fischer and Gunn are fabulous, drawing on limitless smarm and shallowness to really sell the emptiness inside this couple's crazy charitable gesture. Even when we get to the finale, where the actors interact with actual homeless people, they never once let their goofy guard down (not even when one man insists they listen to his story about a spaceship and a visit from "the real God…one made of meat").
With creative cameos from friends Linda Cardellini and Jason Segel, as well as clever bits with Troma titan Lloyd Kaufman (bigwig Gunn got his start with the New York indie icon), LolliLove is not just an attack on mindless liberalism. There are pointed pokes at love, the frivolity of relationships, the truth about organized assistance, and insight into what drives the creative mind. Certainly, there are moments here where the comedy is underdeveloped (Gunn is given a germ phobia that sort of slowly disappears over the course of the narrative) or obvious (Fischer frets that, if she fails, she won't get to hobnob with her famous "friends"), but for the most part, this movie is a masterpiece, a fake fact film as richly observed as This is Spinal Tap and as infectious and inventive as the recent works of Christopher Guest. That Troma, a company more or less known for lowbrow sex farces and gore-laced monster movies would be associated with a mainstream comedy is a mind-blowing concept—yet here it is in loving digital dimensions. Don't be surprised if when year-end lists come around, LolliLove is sitting there alongside the standard Hollywood hoopla. It really is that special.
In the past, Troma has treated their DVD releases with a kind of creative disregard for the value of the product inside. Great films could be bare-bones bonanzas, while horrible hackwork could have more bells and whistles than a mass-marketed special edition. Here, the company gets the balance right, delivering a bevy of brilliant bonus features while fleshing out LolliLove's tech specs in perfectly professional ways. The 1.33:1 full-screen image is flawless, rich with detail and corrected colors. There is a real sense of cinema here, of carefully-crafted compositions and artistically-minded framing. The balance between outdoors and indoors is professionally maintained and the film never once gives away its camcorder creation. On the aural side, Troma has been less than reliable when it comes to sound transfers. Gladly, there is no such issue here. The superb Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 is clean and crisp. The dialogue is delivered in a wonderfully modulated and easily decipherable mix and the minor music cues never overwhelm the conversations.
As for extras, there are a ton of them here. First up is a full-length audio commentary featuring Fischer, Gunn, Alton, and producer Stephen Blackehart. It is a fast-paced, funny overview of the entire LolliLove project, and fills in details that had to be left on the cutting-room floor (some can be found in the 35 minutes of deleted scenes and 11 minutes of outtakes also included on the DVD). Next up is a 40-minute "Making-Of" documentary that gives us a glimpse of the original production, interviews with cast and crew, and lots of anecdotal detail about the project's development. Toss in trailers, featurettes of the film's "premiere" at Tromadance and AFM, a collection of clips from Gunn's work on various company projects (most famously, Tromeo and Juliet), and other corporate commercials and you've got a digital package overflowing with added content and context.
While a wise old owl once stated that it took three licks to get to the center of a tasty Tootsie Pop, LolliLove delivers divine delirium and deliciousness from your initial sampling—and it lasts longer than an all-day sucker, for that matter. Jenna Fischer has hit upon the perfect combination of farce and fact. Here's hoping this amazing movie finds the non-genre audience it so richly deserves.
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Scales of Justice
• Full-length Audio Commentary with Jenna Fischer, James Gunn, Brian Alton, and Stephen Blackehart
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