June 24th, 2017
Review by Mark Schwab
In the 1969 movie THE MAGIC CHRISTIAN, Peter Sellers starred as Sir Guy Grand - the richest man in the world who "adopts" Ringo Starr right off the street and takes him on a series of over-the-top money-spending adventures. With a script by Terry Southern (DR. STRANGELOVE) and help from a few Monty Pythons (who also have cameos), it was a hilariously non-sensical satire/day-in-the-life of how shallow people can be if you throw enough money at them.
I thought of that film as I watched Perfectly Reasonable Production's IT'S A WONDROUS LIFE - a bizarre feature film from the minds of co-writers and co-directors Joseph Aniska (Agent Sawicki from BOARDWALK EMPIRE) and Larry Traiger.
Like the previous film, ...LIFE could care less about traditional plot and character arcs. It's all about weirdness and surrealistic situations arising out of whole cloth. Supposedly it is about a man named Ronald Slayback (Aniska) who has gone completely off his anti-psychotic meds and runs to the home of his best friend Trevor Jones (Douglas Rizzo Johnson) hoping to get a better grip on reality. Although that description does sort of "fit", it is only in the very loosest sense. It's the type of film where one scene will be an overweight black lesbian sexually harassing another woman in a stairwell then the next scene a cat hand puppet meows incessantly then our main character hot glues his pills to the wall one......by........one......then we cut to Yellow Submarine-style animation of old-style policemen floating in a river. No context, no clue.
More puppets, more weird animations, miles of non-sequitur dialogue (two characters talking - "She doesn't have a prosthetic tooth." "I found it in the vomit.") stretching out over two and a half hours. Not a typo there - 150 psychotic and vulgar minutes to ponder.
The strange thing about this though is it is very well performed. All of the actors are energetic and even consistent in their head-scratching characterizations. This film isn't an out-of-control mess from an acting/production standpoint. I'm pretty sure Aniska and Traiger purposefully created IT'S A WONDROUS LIFE specifically in this way - kind of like Roger Ebert proudly talking about his whacked out script for BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, or Dennis Hopper's drug-induced fever dream THE LAST MOVIE. Those were made that way on purpose and it actually shows. This doesn't play like some cheapshit pretension just for cheapshit pretension's sake (like THE ROOM). I wouldn't even advise cutting it down because it wouldn't make the movie "better"...it would just make it shorter. Plus, the audience for this film (if there is one) won't mind the 2.5 hour runtime at all. If you're into this...it will be like manna from heaven.
Which now tells me that there probably is a cult-like audience out there for IT'S A WONDROUS LIFE. Yes, Aniska and Traiger's film is absolutely incoherent but it's vigorously so and for 1st-time filmmakers having only a crew of four and a cast of twenty(!), it's some kind of accomplishment and I can't say it was boring.