Directed by Andrew Bush
Runtime 75min. - Not Rated
4 Stars (out of 4)
You don't have to be a Picnicface fan to enjoy "Roller Town". I am a fan. I've been following them since they released their Halloween rap video on YouTube back in 2007. "Roller Town" wasn't just a funny movie to me. It was a small, albeit vicarious, victory.
For those who aren't familiar, Picnicface is a Canadian comedy troupe based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. There are a lot of sketch comedy channels online, but Picnicface is bizarrely unique. One of their sketches features a scruffy homeless man begging a tenant from a nearby apartment complex to blow on his dice. Yes, actual dice. Another twisted sketch features a fast food chain that serves you so fast that your doppelganger from an earlier point in time meets you on the way out. This, of course, creates a paradox and you have to kill yourself before you get to leave. That cycle continues on endlessly. No one gets to eat their food. Then there's the video called "Bulimia". It features a young girl with bulimia puking up a 4 inch-tall man who goes on to have a passionate affair with the girl's mother. At night he makes his way back into the girl's stomach.
"Roller Town" started off as a sketch. It was a trailer for a movie that hadn't yet been filmed. The plot was foggy at best, but the style was thick; roller skates, bell bottoms, disco, sneakers with high socks and shorts that showed a little too much leg. Headbands and boomboxes were common accessories. Then there were the Picnicface touches; a top gangster has a man cornered, he looks to his henchman and says "Johnny, show him what happens to people that mess with us." Johnny pulls out a gun and shoots himself.
I suppose the video was a success because it wasn't long before they were talking about adapting the sketch into a feature-length movie. They put out the call for donations and according to the credits they got a lot. They were actually offering perks to donors. If you made a pledge, they'd write a rap song for you and perform it on YouTube, usually accompanied by a tiny Casio keyboard.
I knew I'd love the film as soon as the dialogue started. A crime boss and his henchman enter a garage to intimidate a guy. The henchman grabs an old black and white photo off a shelf. He holds it up to be seen.
Henchman - "This your wife?"
Man - "That's Audrey Hepburn."
Henchman - "It'd be a shame if anything were to happen to her."
Man - "I agree."The henchman's name is Beef and he has many such encounters in the film.
That's actually one of the more subtle gags in "Roller Town". At one point our lead character wakes up in the woods while being peed on by a hobo. The hobo mentions on several occasions his desire to "find a field and fuck some corn". "You kids still fuck corn right?", he asks just after punting a squirrel from a tree branch. Interludes in the film are filled by a fictional disco band playing such songs as "It's Fuck O' Clock". Two girls in a car pull out the band's LP and insert it into a dashboard record player that works like a modern CD player. Does this comedy sound too realistic for you? Don't worry, by the end of the film the "god of disco" comes out of a necklace and summons two magical disco stars to heal people with rainbows that shoot from their hands. Yep, it's that kind of movie.
There's a story here, but the stakes are low. Roller Town is the cool hangout in town where kids can skate and dance and flirt with each other, all while listening to a groovy disco soundtrack provided by a DJ named "Disco Dogfather" who throws free hotdogs to them as they skate by. The business is family-owned and operated. A crime boss is trying to intimidate them into adding arcade games. Things get violent when the arcade games are refused. The owner feels that the games would rot the brains of the kids and that disco-skating is the better option.
The romance comes in the form of a subplot. A boy keeps getting rejected by a "roller skating conservatory" because he's not "classically trained". He gets a letter letting him know that his audition wasn't good enough. Then they call and leave a message confirming the rejection. Due to some phone error, they call him another 4 or 5 times to say he hadn't made it. The next day he wakes up to a call from an automated service letting him know he failed. It's apparently a key part of the plot. If you were to go take a piss and get concessions (in that order please), you still wouldn't miss the fact he was rejected. Unfortunately the film never got a theatrical release so that scenario will never come to pass.
A student from the conservatory is the daughter of the town mayor who is strict about roller skating. She's not to visit Roller Town because she and her friends will all get pregnant according to her parents. They don't want her to have what they call "a shame baby". Her grandfather threatens to beat her with a belt for going to Roller Town but he gets his weapon taken away by the mother. No worries, he's wearing 7 belts for just such an occasion. This is made even more ridiculous by the fact he has on sweat pants.
The rejected guy and the student eventually meet and fall in love against all odds. It's not so much the class separation that threatens their relationship, but his tendency to karate chop her in the throat when startled.
I knew the movie would be funny, but I was really surprised by how polished it was. They certainly made a smooth transition from YouTube sensation to movie stars. They always had the knack for writing and performing. Wisely, they hired great people to fill in the gaps. The music, effects, and cinematography were all done well. The sets and costumes were awesome. I'm not sure they were authentic, but they were perfect for a spoof of the 70's. In my most recent review I lamented the rise of realism in movies. That review was about a classic silent film, but the theory applies here too. Cinema is a way to embrace imagination, why limit that by striving to be real? When the hero of "Roller Town" gives a call-to-arms, shots of the crowd reveal he is simultaneously cheering on himself. "Roller Town" is a roller skating, disco groovin', butt-shakin' good time. If you don't like that then you can always go find some corn to fuck.