Don Verdean – 2 out of 5
Three things struck me when I first read about Don Verdean on the internet: 1) This film was co-written and directed by Jared Hess—the man who gave us the cult classic Napoleon Dynamite and one of my personal favorites and a very unique comedy called Gentlemen Broncos (if you like comedies a little on the strange side, I highly recommend that movie), 2) There is a fantastic cast of actors and actresses in this feature that I really enjoy and 3) The story sounded ripe for comedy that Hess has already proven to be very qualified for executing. Sadly, despite all the things that had me excited for the film, the final product was a tad disappointing.
|But, man, does the film start fantastically with a great mockery of bad film production.|
|Don's name sounds like a nice expensive cheese.|
A biblical archeologist named Don Verdean (Sam Rockwell) is having a hard time. Despite his claims of finding artifacts from the bible, he’s not taken very seriously and is struggling to make a living. After a leader of a nearby congregation (Danny McBride) offers to fund his digs in order to win back some of his flock from another pastor with a questionable past (Will Forte), Don, with the help of his partner Boaz (Jemaine Clement), decides that the admiration and reigniting of faith trumps truth and sets down a path of falsifying finds.
|Don claims that this is Lot's wife...one thing seems very wrong with that hypothesis...|
|Without a doubt, the funniest points of the film came|
Jared Hess has a very original voice when it comes to comedy. There’s a dryness to the situations he creates and mixture that feels very strange but, at the same time, grounded in the oddities that can be found in everyday life. It’s why Napoleon Dynamite can feel so other-worldly but still make one say, “Hey, that character and/or situation reminds me of someone or something that happened to me.” Even though I have greatly enjoyed some of Hess’ past films and found a few moments in this film to be genuinely funny (especially from Jemaine Clement), the entire story just felt very light on the humorous situations. Even worse, when there was a moment that would have provided some electric laughter, these times just felt like they were falling flat and not nailing what was meant to be humorous in the scene. It made for a whole lot of let down as scenes that, on paper should have been hysterical, play out very mundanely and without any hint of Hess’ usual unique hilarity. Finally, the entire fun element and hilarious hijinks that arrives with the con that Verdean is pulling should have been prevalent from the moment he started down this path but, unfortunately, this entertaining and goofy element came in very late and ended up making the entire thing feel like laughs were being withheld intentionally.
|Whatcha looking at?|
One other thing that really kept me from getting into Don Verdean the way that I was hoping I would have gotten into it was how the story never really felt like it had any sense of urgency or conflict with the con job that Don was doing. Even when Don successfully pulls the wool over the faithfuls' eyes, I never felt like I was watching someone accomplish something or being able to laugh at the absurdity of it all. This and the resulting problems that eventually come from the whole job (with just moments before the credits hit, it felt like) just sorta felt like the whole story was just going through the motions without any real interest in doing anything substantial in the conflict or comedy department.
|Sure he was faking biblical archeological finds but it's not like he was predicting|
the rapture or anything. Too many other people are doing that.
Aside from the occasional funny moment, one thing I really dug about this film is the cast. Guys like Rockwell, Clement, McBride, Forte, Amy Ryan and Leslie Bibb are all doing a fantastic job in this film. Honestly, their performances are top-notch and the best part of the entire film but even the funny players in this film couldn’t really save the weak script and lethargic gags.
|I just wanna hear him say "frickin' Todd" when I look at this still.|
There was potential to Don Verdean because of the cast, the concept and the director/co-writer. I honestly thought this film could have been one of those sleeper hit comedies that you don’t really hear about but accidentally stumble upon and laugh your face off because the idea of a biblical archeologist at the end of his rope and he resorts to faking finds really seems like a home run for hilarity but the end result just wasn’t that and I found myself very disappointed. The look and the feel of the film has Hess’ brand all over it but it just didn’t have the humor that usually comes with his work.