By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com
Digital Nation: Barry Munday
As red herrings go, it’s tough to beat castration.
The title character of Chris D’Arienzo’s truly offbeat comedy, Barry Munday, undergoes just such an operation. It’s required after the father of a promiscuous teenager slams a trumpet into crotch of the two-bit, happy-hour lothario in a movie theater. Poor Barry didn’t even have time to plead not guilty.
Blessedly, the filmmaker elected not to show the surgical procedure. Otherwise, Barry Munday might have been as difficult for men to watch as, say, Teeth, a gyno-horror classic about a pretty blond virgin with vagina dentata.
Now, that was a tough one to sit through.
“I used the loss of Barry’s testicles as an entry point to romance,” D’Arienzo explained. “Actually, he becomes more concerned when he can’t remember having sex with another woman, who accuses him of getting her pregnant. I love stories that are outside the parameters of Hollywood romances … The Heartbreak Kid, Harold & Maude, Annie Hall.”
As the unlikely lovers, neither Patrick Wilson nor Judy Greer would qualify as a glamour puss. These attractive actors have been cast so far against type, they’re almost unrecognizable.
Barry, who dresses as if the 1980s never ended, is the kind of guy whose knowledge of women is based on monthly memorizations of the Playboy Advisor. Greer’s Ginger Farley is a determinately homely young woman, who favors ensembles designed to keep anyone, especially men, from getting close to her. That these two would hook up, even for a quickie, begs credulity.
“The ’80s were Barry’s best decade, so he kept the look,” D’Arienzo adds. “For Ginger, it’s more a case of conscious resistance. Her clothes, glasses and hair are her body armor.”
Barry Munday was adapted from Frank Turner Hollon’s 2003 novel, Life Is a Strange Place. Hollon and D’Arienzo share an agent, who felt both men could benefit by collaborating on the project. Even so, the testicle angle proved a difficult sell to potential financiers, and the movie was put on hold for years.
Actually, Barry Munday carries a very sweet message.
Instead of disputing Ginger’s paternity suit in court, as expected, Barry recognizes that having a baby together might be the only way he’ll ever become a father and husband. Indeed, the successful businessman doesn’t even demand she submit to a DNA test. Nonplussed by his genuine willingness to accept responsibility, Ginger seems to go out of her way to make him regret his decision.
“Ironically, Barry had to lose his testicles to gain his manhood,” says D’Arienzo, whose book for the musical Rock of Ages garnered a Tony nomination last year. “Taking responsibility forces the character out of his shallow behavior. Even when he’s given a reason to believe the baby might not be his, it’s really just another red herring.
“Barry didn’t want to know it might not be his kid.”
If Barry Munday had managed to secure financing from a Hollywood studio or a mini-major, it probably would have ended up looking dramatically different from the actual finished product. If nothing else, Barry and Ginger would have been given a fashion make-over before the final credits rolled. Homeliness simply isn’t an option, in real life or movies.
“Audiences aren’t shallow,” D’Arienzo argues. “They want to see movies about people who look like them. Unless it’s a fairy tale, people have a hard time relating to ugly-duckling stories.”
Not surprisingly, perhaps, Barry Munday debuted at the 2010 edition of the South by Southwest Film Festival, where bloggers and tweeters far outnumber critics who take more than a few seconds to formulate an opinion. On the festival circuit, it takes more than a good central conceit to create buzz. Surrounding the protagonists with wacky supporting characters and dysfunctional families is one good way to keep viewers from dozing off between purposefully awkward love scenes.
For a rookie director, D’Arienzo got real lucky in this regard. Barry’s blowsy mom is played by Jean Smart, one of the medium’s most underappreciated character actors. Ginger’s deeply suspicious parents are portrayed by Cybill Shepherd and Malcolm McDowell, while Chloe Sevigny plays her subversively flirtatious and not at all frumpy sister. Billy Dee Williams, Mae Whitman, Christopher McDonald, Emily Procter, Colin Hanks and Missi Pyle also do nice jobs in small parts.
Men with penis issues other than castration might – repeat, might – find the film’s high point to be Barry’s reluctant visit to a group-therapy session. Like all depictions of meetings populated by 12-steppers, this one begins with a warm greeting for the self-conscious newcomer. It’s followed by the increasingly lurid testimony of members with various penile problems.
By this time, though, Barry’s accepted his fate. His initial horror at their stories soon gives way to muffled laughter and apologies. Unable to contain himself, he escapes the meeting a few steps ahead of the posse.
If this makes the movie sound too penis-centric, women should know there are plenty of moments in which Barry’s humanity shines through the craziness and other male characters prove themselves to be the bozos they’re generally thought to be. One hilarious example involves a raucous attempt at a water birth in an inflatable pool in Ginger’s living room.
After a month-long debut on PPV outlets, Barry Munday opens in select markets on Friday.