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Tuesday, November 3, 2015

BANG BANG BABY -- Movie Review by Porfle

It's nice to see a low-budget project in which talent and ambition combine to create something impressive.  With BANG BANG BABY (2014), first-time writer and director Jeffrey St. Jules and company have done just that, and it couldn't have been easy to create a candy-coated 60s musical that takes place inside a surreal, sci-fi/horror nightmare.

Our heroine, Stepphy (Jane Levy, EVIL DEAD remake), wonders at one point if she is indeed living in a nightmare, but before that she's a bright, starry-eyed young girl who wants to win a talent contest and become a singing star--preferably, one who sings duets with her heartthrob, rock-and-roll dreamboat Bobby Shore (Justin Chatwin, Tom Cruise's son in WAR OF THE WORLDS).

Stepphy wins an audition in New York, but her widowed, alcoholic dad, George (Peter Stormare, FARGO, ARMAGEDDON) won't let her go because he's sick and lonely, and knows enough about the music business to be extremely pessimistic about her chances.  She's crushed until fate steps in--while out walking one night, Stepphy meets Bobby Shore and his manager, Helmut, whose car has broken down, and invites them back to her house. 

Stepphy and Bobby fall in love.  Bobby cooks up a plan to open up a casino and performance theater in town, so that he and Stepphy can sing together and she won't have to leave George on his own.  Everything seems to be heading toward a storybook perfect, happily-ever-after ending.  

That's the candy-coated part, and up till now BANG BANG BABY seems spun from the same cotton candy machine that John Waters' HAIRSPRAY swirled out of.  Sweet-voiced Jane Levy not only sings like a bird but is wonderfully chipper as Stepphy, while Justin Chatwin does a peppermint-smooth take on the dulcet-voiced, pompadored early-60s rock-and-roll idol.

The film's whimsical art design is like a series of colorful comic book panels, cartoony and artificial, although the perpetually subdued lighting seems to hint at something dark below the surface. 

Indeed, the sci-fi/horror elements have been lurking in the shadows all along, ever since Stepphy's creepy admirer Fabian (David Reale, CHLOE, ONE WEEK) took advantage of her drunken state one night while parked next to the toxic chemical plant that he runs, which, incidentally, is leaking clouds of mutation-inducing gas that will eventually infect the entire town in grotesque ways. (Stepphy herself, it turns out, has been "infected" in more ways than one.)
What transpires after that is a dazzling synthesis of clashing sensibilities in which the breezy smalltown musical finds itself veering straight through ERASERHEAD territory, complete with a bleak, joyless marriage and a horrifically strange baby. 

The script flits nimbly between surreal comedy and utter tragedy--there's even a mass suicide when the infected townspeople can't bear what they're turning into any longer--while always maintaining just the right balance to give the film a pleasing fantasy ambience to the very end. 

Even the relatively small budget works to give things more of an unreal feeling.  At night we sense the darkened soundstage, as when Stepphy and Bobby serenade each other in her astro-turfed backyard, and in daytime scenes we notice a fake background scrolling past like something out of "The Flintstones."  The inherent fantasy of the musical form allows the director to lure us into a feverish dream world which will continuously turn bizarre and nightmarish.

But what really makes BANG BANG BABY work, aside from the truly compelling story and quirky visual appeal, are the great songs and music, especially Jane Levy's exquisite opening number and the catchy title tune.  These "Hit Parade"-type songs alternate with rock opera to carry the plot through a world that is wonderfully weird, yet somehow down to earth enough for us to relate to it. 

Available Nationwide on Cable & Internet VOD November 10
Official Trailer


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