Most people accused Spinal Tap of being soldiers of Satan when they were touring and demanding we give them some money. Anyone who’s seen “The Office” might get the impression that Michael Scott’s in league with the fork-tailed one. It’s no secret how much of The Proper Care and Feeding of an American Messiah‘s humor is derived from those that came before it, but they’re dealing with an altogether different kind of subject matter: The Divine.
From the elongated name to its Sahara-dry wit, An American Messiah is indie all around the edges. It borrows from the awkward-stare classroom of comedy that Christopher Guest perfected and Michael Scott made new again, but director Christopher Hansen and company have chosen to focus on The Almighty. Sort of.
Brian (Dustin Olson) believes he’s a messiah. Not The Messiah. A messiah. And he’ll be the first to correct you. His true character is revealed mockumentary style alongside his sweet sister Miriam (Ellen Dolan) and his slightly slow brother Aaron (Joseph Frost) as Brian desperately searches for his special purpose – the reason God has put him on earth. Offering baptisms for $1.18 and attempting The Miracle of the Fruit seem to strike out, so Brian sets to organizing a community meeting to reveal himself to them. As their local, regional savior.
Gliding easily between religious satire and senseless comedy, An American Messiah does a strong job of creating a ridiculous central character and putting him in positions to say outlandish things. It also becomes the character study of a middle-aged man who might just be off his rocker. Or might be the true messenger of God. Either way. That is, if you believe the true messenger would get in roller skate fights with his brother, have wicked acid reflux, and have a collection of Jesus action figures.
While there is a strong sense of religious humor, the majority of the focus is on what makes a middle-aged man tick – someone who has been a loser all his life and continues to defy normalcy with his behavior. Whether or not it’s a compliment, Dustin Olson does a great job of playing the fatalistic fall guy whether he’s delivering excuses for why he’s not impressive as a deity or just sitting around looking doofy.
The film tends to drag a bit without much in the way of action. It gets about as awkward as possible which means there are a lot of blank stares and cringe-worthy comments, but not much to break up the endless stream of sit-down interviews. Plus, there isn’t a character to play off Brian very well – his sister is quiet and polite, his brother stands with the wheels of his head idling most of the time. Oddly enough, one of the great moments comes when Brian goes door to door and meets a neighbor played by Arrested Development’s Tony Hale who claims to have evil spirits. Barring that and a few other segments, I found a decent portion tedious – although, if you love awkward comedy, it might be right up your alley.
An American Messiah has its share of laugh-out-loud moments, and even though most of the people involved are amateurs, there’s little that’s amateurish about it. All in all, it’s a good movie that you and your grandmother could both enjoy. And isn’t it about time you spent more time with her? She mails you that check for five dollars every birthday – the least you could do is visit once in a while. And bring a DVD when you go.
The movie has played a ton of festivals including AFI Dallas and Silver Lake, garnering multiple “Best Feature” awards. Since The Proper Care and Feeding of an American Messiah won’t be at a humongo-plex near you anytime soon (mostly because the name won’t fit on a marquee), a quick search at Amazon can net you a copy. For our Canadian Rejects, it’s playing at ReelHeArt International in Toronto come June, and the producers are looking to make the movie available on Netflix.