‘We Always Lie to Strangers’ examines life in theater town
May 8, 2014
By G. Michael Dobbs
Two independent films are featured in this week’s review column.
Until I watched this engaging documentary all I knew about Branson, Mo., was that it was the home of dozens of theaters featuring musical performances by people who you thought to be retired or passed on. It seemed to me to be like Las Vegas without the sin.
What this documentary does is to take you inside the lives of a number of the people who live and work in this town. Director AJ Schnack and David Boone Wilson were smart enough to avoid focusing on people such as Andy Williams and Yakov Smirnoff who have theaters in Branson and instead follow several family groups.
Branson, by the way, is a town of about 10,500 people whom host more than seven million visitors a year and bring in $3 billion annually.
We meet Chip Holderman, a gay actor and singer who is not only trying to stay busy professionally but be a part of the lives of his two sons. Tamra and Joe Tinoco are struggling to keep afloat a musical revue on which they have staked their life savings. The Presleys are the first family of Branson with patriarch Lloyd Presley being the first person to build a theater there. His daughter-in-law is the mayor of the town. She freely speaks about the community and how it has been affected by the economy since 2008.
The most famous people who are part of the narrative are the Lennon family, whose most well known members are the four singing Lennon Sisters, who were part of the long-running Lawrence Welk television show. Bill Lennon and his wife tell the family’s story.
The film shows the anxiety of life in a town where tourism is the sole business, an enterprise completely dependent upon the discretionary income of its visitors.
The film took five years to complete and the two directors approach the subject with a great deal of compassion. Although it might be tempting to poke fun of some place such as Branson, this movie isn’t snarky and it’s better for that.
You know something isn’t right about a comedy about police officers behaving badly when the quotes on the DVD box are all about how this film is an example of French absurdist comedy. No one is quoted as saying the film is funny.
And that’s because it really isn’t.
The “bad cop” genre is a pretty popular one. There is a dramatic side such as “Bad Lieutenant,” and there are comedies such as “Hot Fuzz” and “Super Troopers.” There are even “bad cop” movies such as the venerable Burt Reynolds film “Fuzz” from 1972 that combines both drama and comedy.
Any fiction writer knows that when you turn the conventions associated with a person or institution on its ear you can either create comedy or drama. We like stories about people who are supposed to behave in one fashion, but actually do something else.
“Wrong Cops” follows a time-honored genre in popular culture and while on paper it looks like it could be funny, it’s not. It lacks one essential ingredient: conflict.
For example, “Hot Fuzz” creates comedy thanks to the conflict between the by-the-book cop played by Simon Pegg and his small town colleagues led by Nick Frost.
In “Wrong Cops,” we have a whole cast of one-dimensional characters who are using their status as police officers to commit various crimes and to fulfill their own personal obsessions.
For instance, Mark Burnham plays Officer Duke, who sells people bags of marijuana in the carcass of a dead rat held together with duct tape. It’s a wacky idea that director and writer Quentin Dupieux presents in such a flat way that the humor is sucked out of the gag.
Eric Wareham is a cop who draws his gun on women and orders them to open their shirts. His latest victim unleashes a stream of pepper spray in his face and he writhes in agony. I’m not sure if this should be funny.
In one of the film’s lamer moments Eric Judor is a cop obsessed with composing bad techno music.
There is no context for this behavior. The few non-cop characters are fleeting props.
I will admit my ignorance about the nature of French Absurdist comedies. It’s a genre I’ve not explored, but based on this film, I’ll just leave it to the French.
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