AFF review 2: Freak Dance & Playing Doctor

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I love artistic competition movies. I mean, I absolutely love that shit.

If you don’t know what I mean by “artistic competition” movie it’s a simple concept. Any time you have a person facing off in a competition involving a strictly subjectively viewed artistic endeavor… well that, my friends, is an artistic competition movie. There is a simple beauty in their absurdity and the totally subjective nature of any perceived victory. It's basically a "we won... 'cause!" situation. I can think of nothing more American.

So if you’ve ever sat through the experience of someone getting served, or roll bouncing, or break dancing, or even, in one of the greatest films ever made, rapping (“Rappin’” was an 80’s film staring Mario Van Peebles as a man known as “Rappin’ Hood” who used his rapping powers to… I’m not sure what he did with them, but I think it involved a business developer. And that fool got owned. Oh!!! And he had a friend who punctuated his raps [rappings?] with a fucking bullwhip! You should have stopped reading by this point and gone to Neflix instant to watch this shit. I’ll wait… you see, totally worth the time, wasn’t it?) than you have enjoyed an artistic competition movie.

The thing is, they are by their very nature fucking absurd. Some kids break dancing to save the abandoned warehouse they hang out in (preventing the greedy land developer from providing jobs and commerce for their distressed area) makes perfect sense when you are a preteen/teen, but once you hit voting age they become a bit… silly.

Now, there have been attempts at this in the past. Things like “Dance Movie” unfortunately come to mind. And tragically these hunks of shit have added a preemptive stench to the very idea of this type of parody.

So, who better to effectively parody the genre than the masters of smart, absurd comedy The Upright Citizens Brigade?

I submit, nobody.

Matt Besser (Founding member of the UCB, Adar on the Comedy Central show they did, he was in Walk Hard, as well as showing up in damned near everything that is funny) directs this film version of the UCB stage show “Freak Dance.”

I was leery of this at first. Even though I am a huge UCB fan as well as a big fan of Besser (his album “Can I Help You, Dumbass?” is utter genius) what passes for parody film these days is so depressing and just insultingly unfunny that I am predisposed to avoidance. But I sucked it up and went.

Damn, am I glad I did.

“Freak Dance” is absurdist comedy at it’s best. It exists at the spot in the universe where every artistic competition movie ever made collided with “The Warriors.” This is a world where dancers are poor street people, dancing is frowned upon in polite society, and “the marijuana” is the scourge of the streets.

The story follows Cocolonia, a rich girl desperate to break away from the repression her mother (Amy Pohler doing what she does best) and dance. She runs into a scrappy dance crew run by Funky Bunch. From there the plot is fairly formula, but that’s the point.

The headquarters of the crew is at risk of being shut down for lack of a second means of egress, and they are forced into a dance competition in order to raise the money to help.

What sets “Freak Dance” apart from the trash pile of contemporary film parodies is the respect paid to the audience. Yes, there are references a plenty, but you don’t have to get that this bit is from “Flashdance” or that bit is from “Warriors” or this other bit is from “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo” in order to enjoy it. Catching the references helps, but even if you don’t you will still find something to laugh at.

How awful is it that we live in a world where getting to say, “This comedy is funny,” is a novelty? Honestly, it’s God damned awful. We have such a steady diet of over explained, dumbed down, lazy, obvious humor that something this fresh, original, and genuinely funny is… well it’s a relief.

Find this film. I don’t care how, just fucking find it. Watch it, laugh your ass off, and tell your friends. It’s about time we went out of our way to support good comedy.

In addition to “Freak Dance” this screening also included the short film “Playing Doctor,” a PSA parody directed by Willie Rockerfeller which boldly asks the question “are doctors really… doctors?” It’s about the dangers of people impersonating physicians.

This is one of the best short films I have seen in years. It is absolutely hysterical and contains one of my favorite lines ever (“Your vagina is all… bugaboo.”). You need to find this one quick. It is brilliant.



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