“Buzzard” is an instant cult classic firmly rooted in its time and place
Buzzard: (R, 97 min.)
Director: Joel Potrykus
Writer: Joel Potrykus
Starring: Joshua Burge, Jason Roth, Joe Anderson, Joel Poetrykus
In Sunset Blvd., decomposing grande dame Norma Desmond laments the movie biz’s long-gone glory days by sneering, “We had faces then.” All due respect to Gloria Swanson, but they still have faces. Joshua Burge, the star of Joel Potrykus’ nasty, idiotically-genius black comedy Buzzard, has a face.
Like the unflappably stony Buster Keaton before him, Burge’s visage is most expressive when wiped completely blank. He projects everything from contempt to resentment to bitterness onto his vacant stare, and when firing on all cylinders, he can even tap into emotions not rooted in indiscriminate hostility. He looks like he belongs on a listicle of Hollywood’s 50 Most Punchable Faces!, and yet there’s something endearing in his slightly-off mishmash of features. His face is too long, or maybe too big for his head, or maybe it’s the rings around his eyes that hint at weeks of insomnia.
He has the face of an outsider — perfectly suited for Marty Jackitansky, the slacker antihero at the center of Buzzard.
Marty presents a fascinating paradox in the way he can be simultaneously magnetic and repellent. He’s a surly prick, engaging in casual acts of assholery and general antagonism at every opportunity, # and Buzzard achieves brilliance when it posits that Marty might be a product of his environment, an extreme response to the indignities of life as a wage slave. Marty sucks, Potrykus admits, but we made him like this. He’s a night stalker in the tradition of Travis Bickle, plotting his revenge on all who have slighted him, imagined or otherwise.
Buzzard begins with one of its many bravura long-take sequences, showing Marty as he closes out his bank account, only to re-open it so that he might take advantage of a special offer for a net gain of a whopping fifty dollars. Marty’s developed a talent for wriggling through tiny loopholes, exploiting little blind spots in the system for petty personal gain. He orders pricy equipment at his cubicle-jockey temp gig and then returns it for cash at the local office-supply store. When he attempts to sign over a wad of his company’s checks to his personal account and his boss begins asking questions, it appears he’s finally taken his short cons too far. In true paranoid coward fashion, Marty freaks out and lays low in work chum Derek’s (Potrykus) basement sardonically dubbed “The Party Zone.” Armed with a DIY-style Freddy Krueger glove, he turns tail for Detroit to wait until the heat cools off. A dude as short-sighted and volatile as Marty can’t stay out of trouble for long though, and his schemes begin to unravel at even the slightest tug.
Even as it pays silent homage to the petty-crime comedy of Office Space, Buzzard works perfectly well as an off-kilter character study, peeling back the layers of this Angry Young Man to reveal a disarmingly tender core. Burge reveals flashes of pure joy in Marty that verge on childlike; watching him shovel spaghetti down his piehole and struggle to keep from laughing is hypnotically beautiful once it stops being disgusting. Another breathtaking long-shot riffs on Leos Carax’s Mauvais Sang as it follows a gleeful Marty sprinting down the sidewalk to the strains of thrash-metal. These peeks at Marty’s inner simplicity suggest that his transgressive behavior doesn’t come from a place of pure punk notgiveafuckitude.
When Marty realizes that a brusque 7-11 clerk is attempting to fleece five bucks off of him, he appeals to him: “Don’t rip me off. I’m just a regular guy, alright?” Marty thinks of his dinky crimes as little slights against a cruel and unfair system. He’s a have-not, the proletariat, the 99%, the sort of frustrated fringe kook that soul-deadening office jobs create. He can’t understand why a fellow member of the underclass would prey on him. Marty recognizes that he’s on the same team as the clerk, and Potrykus makes the radical assertion that we’re on Marty’s team as well. He’s a dick, but he just might be our dick, and the dick that we deserve in the year 2015.
Potrykus’ winning sense of humor will be the magic ingredient to elevate this grungy indie marvel into a bona fide cult classic. The scenes between Marty and Derek are pure gold, intimately knowledgeable about the stoopid ways guys fend off boredom. (Fifteen-year-olds will recreate a scene in which Derek power-eats Bugles off a treadmill for years to come.) Between the film’s anti-authoritarian bent, unsentimental view of its protagonist, and generous oddball laughs, Buzzard is destined for eternal life as an obsessive object for the same folks who turned Repo Man into a part of American pop-cultural history.
But let’s not force it to languish in obscurity for a decade or so before being rediscovered by some enterprising suburban terror. Let the corporate oppressors quake. Our hero has arrived, and he’s gunning for the folks in charge. When it’s convenient for him, that is.
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