SFIFF 57 – Live, from San Francisco, it’s Saturday Night! (“Supermensch…”, “The Skeleton Twins”, “Ping Pong Summer”)

Actually, it was on Friday night.  My evening’s experience at the San Francisco International Film Festival included not one but two different features where former SNL cast members successfully make a transition to something significantly different from what we generally know them as. This is of course further proof that comedy is an art form that by all fairness should be taken just as seriously as drama.

Mike Myers has all but escaped the public eye since his dreadful 2008 effort The Love Guru. He had a small role in Inglourious Basterds and reprised his famous Shrek voice a handful of times since then, but that’s it. And his return to the big screen, and his first outing as director, is thankfully not a brand new franchise where he plays multiple characters with funny accents, but a documentary about his long-time manager entitled in Supermensch: The Legend Of Shep Gordon.

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Much is made about how legendarily well beloved Shep Gordon is around the Hollywood community, and we’re treated to interviews with celebrities as different as Alice Cooper, Emeril Lagasse and Michael Douglas about their experiences with him. He loves women, he loves drugs, he has a ton of money at his disposal, but he takes care of his clients and his friends as well as or better than anyone can expect him to. The film is a wildly fascinating, and consistently funny, look into the celebrity culture that we lowly filmgoers don’t often get to see. At a brisk 84 minutes, it never overstays its welcome and is consistently entertaining. As long as you can buy all of the love these people clearly have for their manager, you should have no trouble enjoying it.

Then came The Skeleton Twins, starring Stefon and Gilly (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig), easily two of SNL’s best cast members of the last ten years or so. Now, The Skeleton Twins may be a tad familiar to anyone who has consumed their share of indie family dramas over the last ten years. A pair of estranged and potentially suicidal siblings reunite and work out their familial issues over the course of 90 minutes.

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It’s not a particularly revolutionary concept, so the goal is to make sure the performers sell the material well. And boy do they ever. Hader and Wiig have a perfect chemistry with each other, likely due to their SNL days together, and you can feel their shared history in every scene of theirs. Their comedy roots serve the material extremely well too. While having the most depressing of conversations, one of them will make an entirely deadpan joke that the audience may not at first get, but it makes it that much funnier when we see the siblings’ response. The Skeleton Twins is a terrifically entertaining film that is a must see for any fan of the actors.

Less successful is Ping Pong Summer, a nostalgic look back at the year 1985 where a young teen, named Rad, is taken on a family vacation and discovers his love of ping pong. A formulaic plot involving a bully who challenges him to a ping pong game drives most of the action, but there is also a love interest, and an eccentric Mr. Miyagi-like Ping Pong teacher played by Susan Sarandon. Rad’s mother is played by Lea Thompson, the mother from Back to the Future, and while any excuse to put Lea Thompson on the big screen again is good enough for me, I can’t recommend the film much far beyond that. While there are a few laughs here and there, the movie is so dull and so reliant on the throwback nature, that I found it nearly impossible to feel all that invested in it. You can feel director Michael Tully’s love of the era in virtually every shot, and while that may be enough for me to at least respect the intentions behind the film, it wasn’t enough for me to enjoy it all that much.

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Festival Photo by Pat Mazzera, Courtesy SFFS

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