One of my favorite things about attending Sundance is the opportunity to meet and see filmmakers who are genuinely excited to have the opportunity to bring their film to such a prestigious event. In so many cases, Sundance has been the launching point for so many of today’s great filmmakers. In this regard, I am always reminded of Broken Lizard’s Sundance explosion with Super Troopers in 2001. And every year Sundance awaits, as this year’s film intro video states, to find out What’s Next. Up next is the Derrick Comedy group, who’ve made a name for themselves online via YouTube and have made their way to Sundance with their first feature film, Mystery Team.
Having already placed this film near the top of my ‘must see’ list for this year’s fest, I was honored to have opportunity to attend last night’s world premiere. There we found the Derrick crew, dressed to impress, glowing as they introduced their film. And even though I had seen the trailer that we posted a while back, I was still filled with mixed expectations as the lights went down and the screening began. 105 minutes later I was left with a throat even more sore than before, tightness in my side and big stupid grin on my face. And it was all worth it, for I had spent the last hour and 45 minutes laughing my ass off at the often absurd, completely irreverent and undeniably smart comedy that played out on screen.
What they’ve accomplished in their feature debut — which is was written by the entire group, directed by group member Dan Eckman and produced by the group’s lone female member, the cute-as-a-button Meggie McFadden — is the pitch-perfect execution of a dark comedy with a completely ludicrous premise. It tells the story of three friends, all high school seniors, who despite being on the cusp of adulthood continue to solve mysteries the same way they did when they were 8-years old. The Encyclopedia Brown-esque team includes Jason (Donald Glover), the clueless and cowardly master of disguise. Duncan (D.C. Pierson), the boy genius whose genius is mostly derived from a decades old “1001 Wacky Facts” book. And Charlie (Dominic Dierkes), the dumb-as-rocks muscle with no real muscle at all. We meet the three characters as they are solving the mystery of which foul mouthed playgrounder stuck their finger in an old lady’s pie, but they are quickly thrust into a real murder investigation when a local girl’s parents are murdered in the night. In swoops our Mystery Team, one step behind their audience in figuring out who dunnit and without a clue.
The story is then just a series of ridiculous situations in which the team make fools of themselves in their desperate attempt to prove their legitimacy as detectives. Along the way they encounter a number of fun characters, including the super cute Aubrey Plaza, who plays the older sister of the girl who hires the team to solve the murder. There is also a fantastic cameo, and subsequent cancer joke from Matt Walsh, who you will recognize from, well, just about everything.
We find the team to be fully committed to being mal-adjusted nosy kid detectives, magnifying glasses in hand, while the rest of the world around them gives a shake of the head. And therein lies this film’s real comedic brilliance. From the 8-year old loud mouth whose profound use of ‘fuck’ is a work of art to a strip club scene that literally milks every possible laugh from the audience, Mystery Team starts with an innocent, almost Nickelodeon-esque premise and taking it way, way too far. And if it weren’t executed in such a unique and clever way, it would end up being just plain dumb. It isn’t dumb — all right, there is some of it that is a little dumb — but is hilarious nonetheless. The film’s comic beats work so magnificently because of the exquisite chemistry among the film’s three leads.
In the end, Mystery Team would be a tough sell for mainstream audiences, as its innocent premise is flanked with some gratuitous language, nudity and, er, other things. But I would contend that it is perfect comedy for the internet generation. Irreverent, dark and beautifully self aware, the first film from the Derrick Comedy group is a certified winner with the potential to earn a cult following among the kids of the YouTube generation. In fact, I can’t think of any reason why the readers of this site shouldn’t make every effort to see Mystery Team at the earliest possible moment — it was just that much fun. Kudos to the Derrick kids. They may not know it yet, but they could be on the cusp of having a major breakout similar to what those wacky dudes from Broken Lizard did in this very town some 8 years ago.