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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

SXSW Review: Splinterheads

Splinterheads — which will, inevitably, be compared to Greg Mottola’s Adventureland, which also screened here at SXSW — is a generally entertaining film about Justin (Thomas Middleditch) a 20-something, directionless guy whose humdrum life of practicing karate moves and mowing lawns with his friend, Wayne Chung (Jason Rogel) is shaken up by the arrival of a traveling carnival and a beautiful con artist named Galaxy (Rachael Taylor). Justin first encounters Galaxy when she cons sixty bucks out of him at a gas station, and they don’t at first seem to be a great match, particularly given Galaxy’s possessive, bullying boyfriend, who works with her at the carnival.

Justin has no direction, works at a dead-end job, and still lives at home, and there’s nothing particularly unique about the whole “opposites attract” romance angle, and yet, director Brant Sersen, whose earlier film Blackballed: The Bobby Dukes Story, won the 2004 audience award at SXSW, manages to pull it all together into an amusing film that works quite well and keeps you engaged.
The film is packed with colorful characters: there’s Justin’s mom, Susan (Lea Thompson), her ex-boyfriend, police officer Bruce (Christopher McDonald), who stalks Justin around town and harasses him in a flawed plan to get back in Susan’s good graces, Justin’s 116-year-old great-grandfather, who’s just officially become the world’s oldest living man thanks to the timely demise of the previous record-holder, and a slew of supporting characters at the carnival, most notably The Amazing Steve and Wyoming (Jason Mantzoukas and Lennon Parham).
The Amazing Steve is, as you might guess from his moniker, one of those guys who does “amazing” sideshow stunts at carnivals. In this case, The Amazing Steve does the usual slate of magician tricks with the assitance of the deadpan-serious Wyoming, while wearing ridiculous costumes and a cheap blond pageboy wig. Mantzoukas and Parham play off each other perfectly in these roles; The Amazing Steve is boldly flambuoyant, while straight “man” Wyoming obligely allows him to cut her in half for an allusion trick, and plays perfectly off Mantzouka’s exuberance.
While I can’t say the storyline is notably original as indie films about 20-somethings go, I liked this film quite a lot and thought it worked well overall. Sersen does a nice job of taking advantage of the many opportunities setting much of the story inside a carnival affords him, and while he does sometimes slip into cliches, he mostly makes up for it with the film’s humorous moments. Justin’s a likable enough sort of guy, for all that he’s pretty hopelessly directionless, and the relationship between Justin and Galaxy works most of the time. The best moments of the film, though, come from MacDonald as the lovesick, stalking cop and The Amazing Steve and Wyoming, who are so funny I could have watched a movie just about them.
Splinterhead’s a fun film, and certainly worth working into your fest schedule if you’re here at SXSW. There’s a screening Tuesday at 1:30PM at the Paramount, so go check it out.

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