Michael M. Bilandic’s slyly hilarious hipster piss take Hellaware comes as the latest film in an interesting year full of films about fucked up visions of the “American Dream.” Thematically standing assuredly alongside Spring Breakers, The Bling Ring, and Pain and Gain, Bilandic’s rougher, almost mumblecore aesthetic allows for a clever flipping of the script. In his film, the backwoods living, crappy rhyme spitting dream chasers are actually the unwitting marks for a self-obsessed acclaim chasing douchebag.
Recently dumped by his girlfriend who sees more in a pigtailed former skater who makes crappy religious themed “art” than his directionless ass, Nate (Keith Poulson) unwittingly stumbles upon a potentially interesting subject for a gallery exhibit he seems to be mounting only out of spite and desire for acclaim. After watching a music video from a trio of Insane Clown Posse influenced teens from rural Delaware known as the Young Torture Killaz – for their first ever song “I’ll Cut Yo Dick Off” – Nate heads down to the sticks from NYC Vice Magazine style to bond with the boys and snap some photos he hopes to parlay into something bigger. When Nate’s dreams are realized, the tensions arise from his own selfishness, never once thinking about the repercussions of watching what are essentially naive kids getting exploited for the sake of profit.
Bilandic opens up an interesting conversation about the nature of art, and what could actually be conceived as genuine. The YTK crew unabashedly sucks at what they do, but after spending a few moments with them, it’s apparent they the art they make is honest and in step with what they find personally inspiring and gives them pleasure. It’s not that they actually run around chopping dicks off, but they like chilling in their parent’s basement with some blunts and some purple drank while goofing off. They aren’t trying to make a profit or even really give too many shits about their band ever taking off. It’s the furthest thing from their minds. On the other hand, Nate’s a slickster who’s more than happy to ply the kids with drugs and booze so he can get what he wants out of them. The very pictures he’s selling are as fake as can be, disguised with a thin veneer of scuzzy realness, the type of which sells far too much these days.
It’s a hard film to make where the boors are sympathetically displaced and subjugated by a pseudo-intellectual asshole, but Bilandic and his cast walk the fine line quite nicely, leading to an almost sublimely simple, but oddly cathartic conclusion that brings the film’s core thesis home without pulling any punches for either side of the culture clash.
Poulson gives a great and subtle comedic effort as a lazy slacker slowly deluding himself into thinking he can be the next Diane Arbus with every glowing compliment paid his way. Also definitely worth noting is the work of newcomer Brent Butler as the de facto leader of the boys, Rusty, a young man worried about how Nate’s work will affect his parole and who doesn’t seem to have a disingenuous bone in his body. Also, I have to give special notice to Duane C. Wallace as one of Nate’s buddies who looks and acts exactly like what would happen if someone who emulated Kadeem Hardison got stuck in 1992 and couldn’t return to the present. He’s a walking sight gag, but a great one.
There’s a great point to be made for anyone who can get on Hellaware’s wavelength. As long as you’re true to yourself in any creative endeavour, it doesn’t matter how others perceive you or even if you’re successful. And within its narrative that involves diamond encrusted severed penises and gallery owners who make meetings wait outside their office so they can essentially be hand fed coke, it’s a wonderful message to latch onto.
Hellaware screens for free as part of the Refocus series on Wednesday, October 16th at 9:00pm at the Revue Cinema (400 Roncesvalle Ave, Toronto).