Stuck (Short Film)

13 May

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Stuck” is a short film with a quite original hook: an offbeat comedy about a door-to-door salesman who sells…glue. That’s right—lots and lots of glue; so much glue that the man’s entire home kitchen leaves very little room for the dining table because of so many boxes of unsold products. “Stuck” is the University of Central Arkansas Digital Filmmaking undergraduate thesis film by John Hockaday, and it’s a delightful, funny short that does more with that premise.

The glue salesman is named Spence (played by Scott McEntire). He’s a bored, repressed, working-class family man with hardly any time for his wife (Julie Atkins) and his young son (Peter Grant) or especially for fun. And he hasn’t seen either his parents or immature man-child of a brother, Bob (P. Jay Clark), in years. It comes as a shock when he receives a phone call from Bob, saying, “Mom and Dad are dead.” How did they die? This is a riot—skydiving! That is hilariously tragic. Anyway, the situation becomes more tragic to Spence because Bob, who has stayed with his parents all his life (“They’ve been asking me to leave for 20 years,” he says at one point), now needs a place to live. (“It’s just I never slept without them!” Bob says.) Spence shudders at the very idea of letting this childish fool into his house, but Bob does move in, befriends his nephew who lets him sleep in his bedroom, and makes himself at home. Spence’s wife and son love the guy, but Spence is of course nearly driven crazy by his antics. Will he ultimately learn the true meaning of family and brotherly love?

Well…the answer to that question is “yes,” of course. It’s the old story of a buffoonish clod that enters the life of an uptight straight man who at first hates him and then slowly but surely comes to love him. But that the story is predictable is not the point here. What’s important with any story, old or new, is how it’s presented. And the way Hockaday, who wrote, directed, and edited the film, presents this story is fresh and very funny, and with a certain love for his characters. Nowhere is that clearer than in a scene near the end where Spence and Bob, in a playground where Bob goes to play, talk about the good and bad qualities about Bob and how Spence may actually learn how to loosen up while also learn the importance of family. Yes, it’s essential, but it’s still touching because at no point do you want these two to hate each other or to take the wrong path in their relationship, especially since (hilariously) tragic circumstances brought them together.

The character of Bob takes a little getting used to, but I guess that’s the point. Bob can be aggressively obnoxious, but his energy and spirit grew on me and I came to like him. Also, I thought P. Jay Clark was flat-out hilarious in the role.

At the same time, you can understand the frustration that Spence goes through when he has to put up with his antics, such as gluing the TV remote to the coffee table, talking his son into skipping school, and so on. One of the pleasures about the film is that it isn’t necessarily one-sided. Even with the ending I could see some people having trouble with (and by the way, I’ll save that for a spoiler-review when the film is online), Hockaday doesn’t mean for one character to be right and the other be wrong.

It’s not just that Hockaday loves his characters; he also loves film and filmmaking. Watch this film on a technical level, and it’s hard not to enjoy the way it’s shot, the way it’s edited, the overall spirit of it all, etc. I like to think Hockaday had everything pictured in his head the whole time and this came pretty close to his vision. Jarrod Beck, the film’s DP, deserves credit for the film’s look as well.

Now I want to review the first scene of “Stuck,” because it is quite honestly the film’s best part. It’s so wonderfully done that you could argue that maybe the rest of the film doesn’t top it because it’s so great. It’s an introduction that establishes Spence’s job as a door-to-door glue salesman…in musical form. That’s right—it’s a musical sequence that begins the film, as Spence sings the catchy theme song (think the “Super Mario World” theme crossed with Danny Elfman’s “Simpsons” score) about the glue (called Grant’s Glue: The Miracle Glue) to one of his customers (Amber Erdley, who deserves credit for capturing the same kind of reactions that anyone would have to craziness such as this). It’s a fast, funny sequence that had me laughing out loud as Spence frantically goes over what this glue can do for the common household, as outlandish as it all seems, and then slows down to sing about his plight; how he hates his job and his glue; how he must provide for his family; and then speeds back up again to finish the song with an “all sales are final” closer. This scene is hilarious, perfectly-crafted, and even worthy of being watched and studied by film students who would like to craft the same kind of musical-theatre type of scene. Also, the song is pretty good too; credit goes to Hockaday, who wrote it, and Michael Xiques, who created the music for it.

I can think of one other filmmaker who would like to attempt to create this film (albeit a feature film), and that would be Wes Anderson, a filmmaker who delights in, for lack of a better phrase, making the unusual usual. I think he would be proud of this short.

The film can be seen here: http://www.johnhockaday.com/stuck.html

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