Brewster McGee Review
Like many film fans, I have a love/hate relationship with modern independent cinema. On the one hand, I very much want to support it and the fledgling filmmakers who create it; on the other, the films are often so portentous or derivative or amateurish that I can hardly bear to sit through them. With this in mind, it gives me immense pleasure to announce how much fun Ross Munro’s micro-budget first feature Brewster McGee actually is. So obscure it doesn’t even have an IMDB reference page (the DVD was created by Munro himself), this exceptionally funny, remarkably savage rumination on obsessive friendship is one of the comic gems of the late 90s.
Brewster McGee (Brent Neale) is a sharp, foul-mouthed loser with large-but-hopeless plans and possesses friends like most kidnappers keep hostages. His current “best pal” is Malcolm, a recumbent hippie with a painfully gentle constitution, and the two of them sit in a decrepit car in the parking lot of fast-food outlet Chicken Hut while Brewster does most of the talking. Spotting lonely, heartbroken employee Oliver, still pining for his ex-fiancee, Brewster endeavours to take him under his wing and put him back on track. However, when Oliver neglects to keep exclusive company with Brewster (“If a man doesn’t have friends, he doesn’t have shit”), the trouble begins.
Shot for, without exaggeration, the average catering budget for a Hollywood production ($50,000 Canadian in total), I am forced to admit this isn’t a film that will dazzle on account of its technical virtuosity. That’s not to say the movie suffers especially – the stripped-down look suits the simplicity of the two-character setup of most scenes, and I’m doubtful as to what extent colour 35mm in scope would enhance what is, for all intents and purposes, a filmed stage-play. However, I daresay that a higher shooting ratio would have helped in terms of both retakes and a little more coverage at times, but these are minor gripes – Munro’s direction is firmly placed on the story being told and the action never even comes close to being ineptly staged.
Where the film really shines, however, is in its script and performance of its lead star Brent Neale as the protagonist (antagonist?) Brewster McGee. A marvellous concoction of overbearing egotism and cock-sure intensity, both character and actor are fully deserving of a sequel, if not a spin-off sitcom (the idea of episodes such as “Brewster and the Samaritans”, “Brewster on the Jury” and “Brewster the Children’s Television Presenter” fill me with a quiet glee). Delivering vast monologues with a deadly swiftness and razor comic timing, he’s almost hypnotic to listen to, were it not for the hilarity of much of what he says. If you hadn’t already guessed, Brewster McGee is a really, really funny film, and remains vividly funny on repeat viewings. There’s also a sharp perceptiveness to the writing on the subject of fiercely territorial friendship and may strike an unsettling chord for anyone who’s been in such a situation; when Munro and Neale discuss what the movie is “about” on the commentary track, it’s not simply a self-serving attempt to inject some profundity into the comedy.
It’s perhaps inevitable that the supporting actors get left behind to a degree when set against the blazing energy of Brewster himself, but if there’s one thing a larger budget could have gone towards, it would be hiring some professional actors more suited to the roles. It’s not that those who appear in the film are rotten performers, it’s just that Munro’s dialogue demands a free-wheeling tongue, and it occasionally comes off as slightly clunky and stilted in their deliveries. However, the film has been wisely kept down to an hour’s running time, unfolding the storyline at a leisurely but intriguing pace, dispensing with any needless subplots or the like to pad it out to a more-marketable 90 minutes. It’s a short and sweet and deliciously enjoyable black comedy that truly deserves a sizeable cult following.
Well, you can’t get much more independent than this – Ross Munro has actually produced and released the DVD himself (available only from his website) and has done an admirable job with its presentation. Owing to the limitations of the source material (black & white 16mm stock shot mostly in natural light), this is a very grainy, slightly soft image, with a fair amount of dirt and debris. It’s perfectly watchable and there’s practically nothing in the way of compression errors or digital nasties. I've seen how bad such source material can look, so it's a relief the DVD transfer has done nothing to exasperate the existing flaws. The sound was also shot live and in less-than-optimal conditions, but has been included in an uncompressed PCM mono soundtrack to get the very most out of it. Some lines are slightly muffled and there’s a faintly boxed-in quality to the sound at times, but again the DVD cannot be faulted. There are no English subtitles or closed captions present on the disc.
There are a few very pleasing extras. There’s a standard theatrical trailer, and a howlingly funny alternate version with Spanish narration. Best of all, though, is an outstanding commentary with Ross Munro and Brent Neale discussing the aims, the realities and the aftermath of their production. It’s a very funny, very informative track about the challenges faced in no-budget filmmaking and is every bit as fun as the movie itself.
This is the sort of DVD that truly deserves your money. A sharply hilarious film presented with the sort of careful attention and quality of supplements that one wishes all worthy films could have. Go get it, tiger.