Milwaukee, Minnesota Review
There would appear to be two types of quirky indie comedy: those which work, and those which don’t. The former, such as the better films of the Coen brothers or Greg Araki, are the rarer of the two and quite hard to pull off. Yet owing to the abundance of the latter they must also appear deceptively easy as time and again filmmakers, especially those making their feature debuts, fall into the trap of attempting them and failing spectacularly.
Milwaukee, Minnesota is just the latest in the long line of failures and, unsurprisingly, a directorial debut. Allan Mindel, the man at the helm, has previously worked in the fashion industry as well as serving as producer on a number of indie flicks, My Own Private Idaho and Bodies, Rest and Motion amongst them, yet little seems to have rubbed off. The plotting is typical of this sub-genre, set in a small town and revolving around a bunch of disagreeable types. A teenage brother and sister pair of con artists and Randy Quaid head into town and chance upon Troy Garity’s lead, a recently orphaned sufferer of Asperger’s Syndrome who happens to be in possession of a huge wealth courtesy of his prodigious talent at ice fishing. Of course, the money doesn’t stay secret for long and soon Garity is being taken advantage of from all sides.
The plotting, though hardly unfamiliar, isn’t the source of Milwaukee, Minnesota’s problems, but rather the characters who populate it. R.D. Murphy’s screenplay would appear to be striving so hard for a cult following that he never makes each of the characters an oddball and piles on the quirks without actually making much consideration towards depth. Thus before her death Garity’s mother is utterly domineering and quite cruel yet without any perceivable reason. Likewise we are also treated to a transvestite, Garity talking to fish and testicular cancer, but as to why is never made particularly clear, other than, presumably, to shock and therefore grab some of the notoriety that attends, say, most of Todd Solondz’s pictures. The result is that we never actually care for any of the characters and therefore even less so about their activities. Moreover, Mindel and Murphy bring them together in endless scenes of interminable dialogue which once again never bring us any closer to an understanding. Indeed, to look for motivations we must instead look towards contrivances. In this respect, Garity’s mental health issues make sense as they allow for a sentimental ending as well as making the plot developments less troublesome as he’s easier to manipulate.
Equally troublesome is Mindel’s inability to forge Milwaukee, Minnesota into a cohesive whole. In the attendant interview and commentary he repeatedly notes how he also went by his gut instincts when making a decision, but this has prompted a wildly veering tone. There’s the aforementioned sentimentality, which fails to blend with the attempts at the darkly comic, and numerous jarring stylistic traits: one scene will be shot handheld, another with completely unnaturalistic lighting.
Furthering the frustration is the fact that Milwaukee, Minnesota contains the occasional glimmer of promise. Some of the plot twists are nicely unexpected plus there are performances from Quaid and Bruce Dern which easily transcend the limitations of the script. But alas it is to little avail and ultimately the film is just another addition to ever expanding pile of indie disappointments.
An anamorphic print at a ratio of 1.78:1 is one of the few plus points of Milwaukee, Minnesota’s DVD presentation. As is usual for Tartan a seemingly fine print has been used but is ultimately blighted by another NTSC to PAL transfer. This is one of their more notable efforts, with scene after scene emanating a hideous orange glow which is less than easy on the eye. They make for things in part with the soundtrack offerings, however, with a choice of DD2.0, DD5.1 and DTS. In truth there is little noticeable difference between the three as the rear channels are rarely but into use, but then none of the options pose any problems and sound as good as could be expected.
Tartan have also been kind with the extras, which include an exclusive interview with director Mindel. At 42 minutes in length this is in-depth piece which covers not only the making of the film but also Mindel’s past careers in both the fashion and film industries. Admittedly, some of his thoughts are a little wide of the mark (he describes Milwaukee, Minnesota as an “American fable) and he does shoot himself in the foot with his constant references to many far superior films, but in itself the piece is hard to fault. It provides an understanding of his ideas and motivations and, however much we may disagree with him, we shouldn’t really ask for more.
However, this piece does cover a lot of the same ground as Mindel’s commentary track. He shares talking duties with his leading man Garity which does offer a slight difference in perspective, but it is abundantly clear that Mindel is in charge hear and so the piece offers mostly repetition.
The remaining extras are less important. There’s the theatrical trailer, a number of trailers for other Tartan releases and a fishing game for those with DVD-ROM capabilities.
As with the main feature, none of the extras come with subtitles, English or otherwise.