If there’s an odder, more unique, or downright hilarious flick in this year’s Hot Docs that can top the cracked brilliance of Penny Lane’s Nuts!, then I certainly haven’t seen it. Mixing together a variety of forms of animation with a light sprinkling of talking head footage, Lane spins a yarn about a legend about one of the great eccentrics of dustbowl Americana. It’s the type of oddball tale that would be impossible to believe if it weren’t true and frankly maybe it isn’t entirely. Yet, by committing fully to this oddball charlatan tale with gusto and good humor, Lane weaves together such an intoxicatingly bizarre, entertaining, and ultimately moving tale that demands to be seen by anyone whose taste runs offbeat.
Lane’s subject is doctor John Romulus Brinkley, a man who nearly a century ago decided to implant goat testicles into the sacks of thousands of lost souls to cure their impotence. Yep, that really happened. Brinkley barely qualified for a medical degree and had no proof that his wild surgery worked despite getting countless numbers of willing patients. He used the success of that practice to build the world’s largest radio station, which became a hit out of a mix of hillbilly hits and rants from the good “doctor” about public health. He became something of a twisted folk hero and that’s when various institutions teamed up to bring him down. For the most part, Nuts! is as surreally comedic a movie as it’s content suggests. There’s a mixture of sincerity and surrealism that’s nearly impossible to resist and then eventually things get a little more complicated and dark.
You see, as fun as this tale might be and as charming as Brinkley may have appeared, he was essentially a conman and a liar who gladly sucked up the finances of sad people who needed someone to believe in. Lane admirably doesn’t dodge this issue, but dives in headfirst transforming a quirky comedy into a far more sad film in the process. Ultimately, the filmmaker has a certain admiration of Brinkley’s distinct mixture of showmanship and insanity, even if she doesn’t condone his actions. Nuts! is a fascinating, hilarious, eccentric, and beautifully made movie for anyone who agrees that there’s nothing on earth more fascinating or troubled than humanity.
Monday, May 2, 9:45pm, Hart House Theatre
Wednesday, May 4, 1pm, Lightbox 3
Saturday, May 7, 6pm, Revue Cinema