So what is funny? One of the running gags in Todd Langen’s singular version of House Party is his conversation with a sarcastic answering machine that revels in replaying recorded messages of flatulence once the first blast is fired in “How to Make Anything Funny.” Sadly, the ongoing successions of cheeky air stand in stark contrast to other toilet humour that’s inspired rather than quick and cheap (notably “When Toilet Paper Rolls Find Out”—hilarious is Langen being forced to sniff a partially consumed renegade stool).
Machines also provide more much-needed characters and voices in “How Small Appliances Are Conceived” (great concept, sluggish delivery), “When Printers Knock” (anyone who’s ever wondered who’s the boss in our computer age will chuckle as the mouthy paper processor increases its font size and delves into a personal image file to talk back to the harried owner), and “An Adult Breakfast” (a music-playing toy discovered in a box of “Banana Doughnut Delight” takes the inhibition out of Langen, inspiring a terrycloth striptease that falls just, er, short of the money shot even as his alter ego comes in bare, clutching only a wonder-what’s-inside-it case—another recurring element whose drama-lite payoff negates the build up—and decrying his perennial “Now?”).
“Survival of the Needless” is an attempt to mock reality shows but is overly long and lacks punch. Sushi-on-a-stick looks funny on paper but only serves up another bowel movement for our amusement. Prophetically, the line “Knowing when to call it quits” should have been acted upon sooner. Equally lame was the “Thunderous Silence” sequence, employing black-and-white, mute frames before the colorful conclusion bangs its way onto the screen. To be clear, this could have been a show-stopper if only the vital comedic mantra “less is more” had been followed.
Of course, that is the danger of a one-man show: chopping anything out seems like a loss of self, reducing the too-obvious “stealing” from masters past (Monty Python fans will know just when and where) and a second opinion is seldom “wanted on the voyage.”
Yet the future looks tantalizingly bright. In “While You Were Snacking” (the home-entertainment centre breaks into song and dance while the master-of-the-house slips out to the kitchen) is a gem of creativity, fun and joy. It is tinged with the brilliance of Norman McLaren (cross-reference below). Even as the music/movement (please shoot the midi) lacks perfect synchronization with the moving parts, the potential is there for greatness; if only the dollars would fall from the trees and permit Langen and Co. to unbridle their muse.
As a film for the marketplace, 42 Story House comes up a bit shy of must-see entertainment, but as a résumé builder and sampler we can only hope that others will see the promise lurking beneath the frequently bawdy surface (the celestial male chorus belting out “All Creatures Great and Small” to the single lyric “bum” in “When God Drinks” is a touch too in-your-face) and find the ways and means of harnessing his considerable talent. JWR