mark little & kayla lorette
According to this bittersweet interview with Andrew Bush and Mark Little from Toronto Standard, Roller Town, the multi award winning first feature length film from Halifax’s own Picnicface, may be the sketch troupe’s last project as a unified collective. I definitely recommend heading to your local movie theatres across the country and checking it out.
Roller Town, written by Bush, Little and Scott Vrooman and directed by Bush, is a pastiche of the roller disco films popularized in the late 1970s, including Roller Boogie and Skatetown U.S.A, which have since achieved cult status with audiences in the nostalgia and uber-cheese department. The film centers on a young orphan named Leo, played by Little, The King of the Roller Disco, who falls in love with a classically trained skater named Julia (Kayla Lorette) and together they fight to save Disco from being murdered by a gang of powerfully connected thugs seeking to brainwash the young with video games.
Andrew Bush has captured much of the campiness and the trademark antics of the roller disco film in Roller Town, while shooting it in vivid, bright colors, which accentuate the characters’ amazing wardrobes of short shorts and tube socks, while the special effects and cutting together of most of the more stylized aspects of the film are intentionally rough, abrupt and often animated in classic 1970s two dimensions. This is also a familiar trademark of most of Picnicface’s Internet and television sketches. It is interesting that, within the pastiche context, many of the conventions the troupe has been using since 2006 fit here quite naturally and actually make more sense as a stylistic choice.
I don’t think that Roller Town is supposed to be a serious satirical commentary on the state of humanity and it certainly isn’t, but I do think that it revels in its own silliness in a very endearing and playful way, often reaching for the absurd but sometimes touching, albeit gently, on more solemn issues. The love story, for example, between Leo and Julia is allowed some genuinely touching moments so that the audience is led to root for their eventual triumph over her repressive parents and the gangsters poised to kill them both. Delving a little deeper, while Roller Town does poke fun at the heightened naivety and innocence of the Disco Age, it also plays on the same nostalgia that draws so many to films like Roller Boogie and Skatetown U.S.A. At the very core of Roller Town there is a certain wistfulness for a simpler time. After all, the war in the film is ultimately waged between a social physical activity from the past and an isolating computer-generated sedentary experience that has become so much of the fiber of our present. Of course, whenever solemnity persists beyond a moment, as in The Muppets, someone quickly rectifies the situation with a swift kick of ridiculous. Keeping faithful to its Disco ForeDogFather’s, the balance between the solemn and the insane is always in check.
There are some great performances in Roller Town. Mark Little is delightful as Leo; he is just good hearted enough to win sympathy while still being a complete doofus. Kayla Lorette is adorable awkwardness at its very best as Julia, who largely reacts (or doesn’t react fast enough) to Leo being a doofus, while still managing to develop some chemistry and real affection for him. Brian MacQuarrie has some great bits as Julia’s belt-crazed Grampa. Scott Vooman’s straight superciliousness as classically trained King of the Preppies, Davis, while at the same time always managing to look seconds away from crying, is beautifully ridiculous. Andrew Bush has a wonderful cameo as a Forest Hobo who becomes the Yoda to Leo’s Luke. Pat Thornton is essentially Bobo the Bear from the Muppets humanized as the moronic villain sidekick Beef, but Thornton’s comic timing is excellent and, like Bobo, by the end you almost feel sorry for the guy. He just wants to read his book on How to Eat Jam in peace and he IS having a pretty crappy day.
While I thought the film was well cast, both using the strengths of the troupe and bringing in guest artists from both the Halifax and Toronto theatre and comedy scenes, I thought that the talents particularly of Bill Wood, Evany Rosen and Brian MacQuarrie were not used to their full comic potential. I think that the film could have benefited from either developing these three characters further or having Wood, Rosen and MacQuarrie play multiple secondary and cameo characters. I was sad to see that Wood’s brick throwing nymph was almost completely cut from this more streamlined version compared to the one screened at the Atlantic Film Festival a year ago and the cuts left the film with some strange loose ends and spurts of stark randomness.
The entirety of Roller Town exists in the same realm as the very last moment in Grease when Danny and Sandy’s car suddenly lifts off and they fly on into their future together, the realm where the crazier the premise, the more likely it is to materialize. It also remains quite faithful to the dynamic and the brand of comedy that Picnicface has developed on YouTube since its inception eight years ago. If this is truly the troupe’s last project together (and I hope that it will not be), it is a worthy place to end this adventure and, as for Roller Town, I think it is well on its way to becoming a cult classic in its own right. But, don’t wait for the videotape release, head to your local movie theatre and check it out today!