Searching for Mr. Larson Review

By | Tuesday, June 30, 2020 Leave a Comment
Searching for Mr. Larson
Yesterday, I mentioned the Documentary Now episode in which they created a spoof documentary called "In Search of Mr. Larson" in which Brad, a 50-something fan of The Far Side, tries to make a documentary about his quest to meet and make a connection with cartoonist Gary Larson. I caught a short interview with the producers who said that they basically wanted to parody that style of filmmaking (although the comparisons to Dear Mr. Watterson specifically are obvious) where film that are ostensibly about the titular subject are really an ego-centric focus on the filmmaker themselves. As such, Larson himself does not appear in this movie, apart from a few shots of 35-year-old photographs.

The movie starts with Brad talking about his love of The Far Side and how he's decided to go on a road trip with his largely disinterested father to find Gary Larson. He leaves his wife with their newborn baby, and starts driving, knowing nothing more than he think Larson lives in Washington state. He does manage to connect with a guy who used to run a Far Side fan site that Larson's lawyers had shut down and a childhood friend of Larson's who's now an attorney. Brad's IndieGoGo campaign, though, is wildly successfully and he's eventually able to hire a private investigator to find Larson for him. But once Brad pulls up to Larson's house, he finds the street and driveway filled with vehicles, which he soon learns is Ken Burns' film crew who is just wrapping up a huge documentary about Larson. They kick him out, and Brad takes solace in the fact that it was such a bizarre trip that it was like actually being in a Far Side cartoon.

The movie is short -- barely over twenty minutes -- which I think is a strong point. It's long enough to get the point across, but if it were any longer, I think it would start to drag. Unlike a mockumentary like Spinal Tap, there's not really any humor inherent in the characters or the situations. The joke is really in the concept itself. It hits most of the tropes of that type of film, mostly by way of having this amateur filmmaker clearly trying to copy the things he's seen in other similar movies without having any deep understanding. So when Brad's feeling dejected, for example, he knows that he needs footage of himself looking dejected, and the resulting shot is pretty obviously a self-conscious one because he doesn't have an actual film crew; it's just his dad, following his directions to shoot him looking dejected. So the scene isn't funny in and of itself, but seeing all the checkboxes ticked off in pretty rote order provide the parody. Much longer than what it is, and you'd start thinking, "Yeah, ok, we get it!"

That said, I did find one of the sub-plots kind of distractingly bad. Part of the story is that Brad is going all out for his passion project here... going so far as to be willing to sacrifice his family. He kind of darts out of the house, leaving his wife Lisa alone to take care of their newborn, despite some pretty desperate pleas that she needed help. And when Brad checks in with her periodically by phone, the situation keeps getting worse. She's throwing up in the bathtub with some kind of postpartum sickness that doesn't seem to be going away, and Brad dismisses it out of hand. He continually calls on her for validation and moral support, and he provides less than zero in return. I get that they're trying to highlight that Brad is essentially a self-absorbed man-child, but his wife regularly and repeatedly just accepts it. Not just within the context of Brad trying to make this movie, but the family photos they show clearly indicate that Lisa is not at all happy with their relationship in general, but just continues to put up with what is effectively emotional abuse.

Further, the relationship angle to the overall film is never resolved. The last conversation they have is her giving him a pep talk after he pleads for her to do so. And then... that's it. We get Brad's resolution to 'connecting' with Larson, and there's a Larson-style animation of him driving off into the sunset and all is happy and good. Except Lisa is still back at home with this baby. Presumably just continuing to accept whatever childish, self-absorbed notion he has next. The conflict is still there, even if Brad doesn't recognize it.

I felt this approach to having Lisa letting herself get emotionally trampled on, without any of her own agency, was a pretty sexist approach. I think they still could've kept Brad's obliviousness to Lisa's needs, but not just portray her as metaphorically barefoot and pregnant. It came across as "Well, of course she's just going to let him do whatever he wants! She's the wife and that's her role!" She doesn't factor heavily into the overall film, but that they choose to make her a distinct sub-plot and treated her in this manner felt pretty ugly to me. As if it never occurred to anyone working on this that she would do anything other than roll over at every instance. A bit clueless on the part of the producers, and it left a bit of a taint on the overall movie for me.

To borrow a quote from another mockumentary, "It's such a fine line between stupid and clever."
Newer Post Older Post Home