Oconomowoc (2013) review

One might look at the title of Oconomowoc and think it’s some made up word for another art house film with ambiguous themes and metaphors against flashy direction and weird music. But in reality, it’s the name of an actual town in Wisconsin, USA. Shot on location in said town by newcomer filmmaker Andy Gillies, Oconomowoc follows the same irreverent and subversive mood and setting as previous indie successes Napoleon Dynamite, Juno and much of the work by director and writer David Lynch. Like Lynch’s Twin Peaks, Gillies’ film features many odd characters and dialogue that might raise an eyebrow from a few, or intrigue the viewer with more avant-garde taste.

The movie begins with the protagonist Lonnie Washington (Brendan Marshall-Rashid) returning to his parents’ house and greeted by his rather youn, stepfather Todd (Andrew Rozanski) who wears only underwear and a polka dot robe. His mother, Sheila (Deborah Clifton) keeps to herself and comes across unpleasant, while his biological father (Timothy Bryant) lies in bed (in the same house) all the time. Lonnie appears to have moved back in to aid Shelia, who is ill, by picking up valium for her. Lonnie’s friend Travis (Gillies) wears a Christmas sweater out of season and owns a T-shirt company, and the local pharmacist Mallory (Cindy Pinzon) seems to be the nicest person around.

Gillies’ cast consists of unknowns, whose delivery is reminiscent of student film acting or fake documentary style acting (ala Kids or This is Spinal Tap) that compliments the film’s budget and cinematography that is also reminiscent of a student film or documentary. Just from looking at the poster and trailer, the actors look like they belong on Workaholics. Oconomowoc appears to be made between friends with love and care for the film and the town itself (as is stated in the end credits). Marshall-Rashid is rather deadpan and androgynous with his performance, though that works in his favor as Lonnie seems to be lost and confused personally with what direction to take with his life in the middle of his new life episode.

Though more profiled as a production assistant than an actress, Pinzon is cute and charming in her performance as Mallory who seems to be the closest person to reality in Lonnie’s life. Gillies chose the task of triple threat director, writer and actor responsibilities here. Maybe for budget reasons, but also possibly because of how much he enjoys making films. With only one credit to his resume—a short film titled Cookies and Lemonade also starring Gillies and Marshall-Rashid as Travis and Lonnie with a plot similar to Oconomowoc—Gillies is clearly ambitious and passionate about his projects. As Lonnie’s friend Travis, he is definitely odd, but not intimidating so. He really believes that everything going on is absolutely normal and is cool about it. But the most memorable performance in the film is by Rozanski, who has a natural ear for comic relief and whose unconventional looks and mannerisms make Todd come across as something between a man-child and creepy stepfather who tries to be friends with Lonnie. Though there are a couple of scenes with some out-of-date gay jokes and an awkward moment where Travis plans to attack a 12-year-old boy who stole his T-shirt idea, the characters are still amusing throughout the 78 minute feature.

Some have already wondered if an independent film with a word that’s not very common to most people and is difficult to pronounce will affect the film’s promotion and success. While unusual titles didn’t stop Napoleon Dynamite and Juno from gaining fans, viewers didn’t have to go to Google to look up how to pronounce the films. Fortunately in Oconomowoc’s favor, this is already the type of film that would gain a small cult following no matter what the title of the film was. Gillies makes the best out of the little he has with the acoustic musical score, unknown cast and local setting. If there can be fans of a lady carrying a log and detective obsessed with coffee from watching Twin Peaks, than there can most likely be fans of characters putting up Christmas decorations in the middle of the year and an out-of-shape, aspiring underwear model from watching Oconomowoc.