Dysfunctional families, rocky relationships and internal emptiness deck the halls of this Christmastime tale with boughs of friendship and folly in a wise-cracking manner that works on many levels.
Director/writer James C. Ferguson (along with co-writer Tom Misuraca) has taken a series of sketches—deftly captured in glorious black-and-white by Josh Blakeslee—that probe, prod and pillory religion, sexuality and faith/faithfulness using rapid-fire zingers to tickle the funny bone and stir the mind. After the tempo is found (the Pet Pamperer “overture” quickly provides a lot of back-story but doesn’t hit comedy pay dirt until the Secret Santa Persian cat gag), the smartass banter amongst the trio of reunited high school chums (two decades after graduation) has moments of fresh and funny (the hearing-impaired Mrs. Whitman—Ramona Rhoades—is a clever catalyst in the café scene, growing “the biggest zucchini three years running”) amidst the emotional tides of memories old and new (“Sometimes the past is best left in the past”).
At the centre of it all is very-out-and-queer Patrick (Paul Hungerford keeps the pace moving gaily along even when he forgets himself and blurts out private matters in a yarn store—“… Kevin and I blow each other every day”—much to the secret delight of a least one of the customers) who doesn’t appear to be at all upset sending his partner (Bill Daly) home for Christmas alone. For just on the eve of their departure, long-lost friend Alden J. Winslow III (John B. Crye) invites himself for an urgent therapy session (his girlfriend has proposed marriage). Patrick immediately acquiesces (“No one should be alone during the holidays.”) and sends his partner packing.
Before you can say “Why didn’t you tell me?” Alden reveals life-shattering incidents (physical trauma leading to a religious conversion) which both surprise and upset small-town Connecticut’s most outspoken Friend of Dorothy’s. Kirby (Thomas Rhoads), the third wheel, rolls into town to attend his six-time married father’s funeral. Turns out the longtime-married Republican wants to ease his filial sorrow with a roll in the hay (“[wife] Lynn and I have an unspoken understanding,” he unconvincingly rationalizes when confronted about his philandering by his buds) and copious shots of vodka.
Soon the boys are tramping through the woods to excavate a senior-year time capsule, balling themselves (er, but not in that “special” way) after breaking into their old high school’s gym before staggering off to bid an unfond farewell to the multi-wived dad. All of these set-ups allow the twin elements of stand-up patter and sit-down personal revelation to engagingly create a web of hilarity and despair.
Gluing all of this together is the most excellent original music from Zachary Hexum whose reed man (the bass clarinet was especially welcome) lifts the jazzy charts into the ear with style and zest. More, please. (The closing credits’ “Generic Winter Holiday” has a vocal aura of Diana Krall that is likewise most welcome.)
As the double bar approaches, Ferguson tries to relieve the feeling that everyone’s life is a mess by bringing in Patrick’s parents—notably his “hasn’t-accepted-Kevin” father (Michael Emanuel). Initially, the reunion works well, but falters when the not-as-uncaring-as-I-thought-you-were dad becomes fodder for the cheap laugh (“Where’s the library?” asks the football fanatic in his own house), robbing an important moment of its power.
Laugh lovers will revel in the antics and attitudes of these three amigos; those wanting a little more poignancy with their yuks will still enjoy the outing but also look forward to a future installment to savour the complete human-experience meal of which Ferguson is most certainly capable of delivering. JWR