Written by: Patrick Flynn, Special to CC2K
The life of a struggling comedic filmmaker in Hollywood is full of frustration. The creation and widespread usage of YouTube has been a simultaneous blessing and curse. The blessing: one can make videos and distribute them world wide without a studio. The curse: one competing with a cat acting like a slinky as it rolls down a set of stairs. This can make one quite frustrated. One wants to tear one’s hair out and . . . okay, it’s me, fine, let’s move on.
Every now and again, a YouTube channel makes the leap from the very small screen to the moderately small or big screen. This year, the comedy group Derrick did just that with their first feature, Mystery Team.
Made up of writer/performers Dominic Dierkes, Donald Glover, & D C Pierson, director Dan Eckman, and producer Meggie McFadden, Derrick’s YouTube page youtube.com/derrickcomedy has (at the time of writing) 119,354 subscribers and almost four million channel views (in case you do not YouTube, that’s a lot).
The eponymous Mystery Team is comprised of Jason: the master of disguise (Donald Glover), Duncan: the boy genius (D C Pierson), and Charlie: the strongest kid in town (Dominic Dierkes). The Team has been solving Encyclopedia Brown-sized crimes in their small New England town since they were seven year-olds. Now seniors in high school, they are finding the verge of adulthood harder to navigate than prepubescence. When the team is hired by a sweet little girl to investigate the grisly double murder of her parents, Jason decides it’s just the break the Team needs to be taken seriously and respected.
Mystery Team debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival to great reviews and audience appreciation. There was a time when a good Sundance debut by a new comedy would have meant distribution by Miramax and a life of fame and fortune. Unfortunately those days are over and Mystery Team did not find a distributor in Utah.
I was fortunate enough to see Mystery Team at a screening in Beverly Hills. I have been tracking the film for some time because I have been a fan of Derrick for a while now and (full disclosure) I know some of the cast members. The line for screening stretched down the block on Wilshire. There were so many people there, they held a second, impromptu screening immediately after the first one.
The transition from Internet to movie theatre is a violent one at best. And while the film’s pacing is a little off in the middle and director Eckman may use too many close-ups (a necessity in Internet videos), but it doesn’t matter because any of these flaws are covered by what is most important in a comedy: it’s funny. Hilariously funny.
After years of Internet videos Dierkes, Glover, & Pierson have a beautifully honed sense of timing. They are a thrill to watch and completely commit to their characters, awkward flaws and all. As characters, the Mystery Team are pretty out there but the group along with Eckman and McFadden are careful to never let the characters become charactures, which is crucial to the film’s success. They are odd but believable within the world of the film.
So as not to offset this comedic cohesion the gang surround themselves with performers whom they clearly feel comfortable. Rising star Aubrey Plaza (soon to be seen in NBC’s Parks and Recreation and Judd Apatow’s Funny People) blends seamlessly with the gang as Kelly, Jason’s love interest and older sister to the Team’s client. Saturday Night Live’s Bobby Moynihan delivers an outstanding performance as Jordy, manager of the local convenience store with his own case of arrested development. And supporting roles by Upright Citizens Brigade co-founder Matt Walsh along UCB performers/Channel102.net regulars Ellie Kemper & Neil Casey round out the wonderful (if not star-studded) cast.
Mystery Team’s style of humor is a mesh of the best bits of The Kids in the Hall, The Firesign Theatre, and early Woody Allen. I would most readily compare the film to Allen’s 1976 masterwork Love & Death but with a stronger storyline. The mystery of Mystery Team is very well laid out. In fact, the woman sitting next to me gasped when the truth was revealed. Sharp-eyed & eared viewers will be able to figure it out quickly but this in no way limits your enjoyment of the film.
Mystery Team’s failure to garner a distributor is quite disappointing for a number of reasons. In these trying economic times (drink) it is not wholly surprising that studios do not want to take a chance on a film without any name actors or gratuitous sex (though there is some strip club nudity, woohoo!). But there is a greater cultureal isssue here. Mystery Team is really, really good. It’s silly, well acted, quotable and everything a great comedy film should be. And if it can’t find a distributor, what chance do the rest of us have?
No matter what the economic clime, the creative have always bemoaned the unwillingness of those with the money to “take a chance.” The thing is I don’t think Mystery Team is much of a risk. Derrick’s own trailer shows the film is very marketable and the line down the block proves that there is an audience for this film.
I don’t wish to sound bitchy but how many National Lampoon’s (remember when that meant the movie was good?) Giant Titty Fuck movies can the World take? When one views the comedic detritus marketed towards college students (Derrick’s target audience on-line), one can’t help but wonder if it isn’t a better idea to quit comedy and take up competitive tetherball (I could’ve joined the tour, you know).
Now, I am the target audience for this film and as I stated before I have a personal love of Derrick but that is my point exactly. If this film was playing for pay in L.A. I would drag all I know to see it. And I’m sure the other hundred thousand plus YouTube subscribers Derrick has would do the same. That’s how films like this have always gained an audience. And once on DVD and/or streaming through Hulu.com or xBox or Netflix the film would be (in my amateur opinion) a big hit.
But since studios are looking only to please the god of the opening weekend, and indy distributors are specializing in searing indy dramas about drug addiction and illegal immigrants, little comedies like Mystery Team do not get a fair shake. And so comedians take to the Internet where the lack of an established revenue stream eventually forces them to quit for lack of funding.
For the love of God, somebody take a chance on this film. You will see your investment returned a hundred fold, if not financially then spiritually. And I know the spirit market has taken a hit recently but hang in there. In these trying economic times (drink), we need to laugh more than ever. Mystery Team is the funniest thing I’ve seen since The Reader . . . no, wait, wasn’t that a comedy?