When Tomatoes Attack

Back in December I was looking through movie trailers on YouTube, checking out both new movies and recent ones. Trailers have always been fun for me, and when I go see a movie I arrive at the theater early enough for the coming attractions. But with around 1000 movies released each year, some fall through the cracks. Many deserve it, like horror movies where the horror is that the crappy movie was actually made. But there are also good movies that never find their audience during their initial release. Checking the automatic suggestions generated by YouTube at the end of one clip, I came across a trailer for The Brass Teapot. The movie was made in 2012 and went into limited release in 2013. The trailer looked interesting, so I decided to find the movie sometime and watch it.

It may be kismet or serendipity, but a couple of weeks later I saw an article about the movie on Yahoo. Though it received a good review from Variety when it was released, only a few other reviewers wrote about it, and most of them gave the movie bad reviews. I’m an aficionado of Rotten Tomatoes, and regularly check it when deciding if a movie would be worth watching. Because the site averages the positive and negative reviews of professional reviewers, The Brass Teapot had received a score of 26, which was deadly. So I found the movie on Showtime and checked it out for myself. I’m glad I did.

Alice (Juno Temple) and John (Michael Angarano) are deeply in love with each other, but their lives have not turned out like they expected. Despite both having college degrees, John’s stuck in a telemarketer job while Alice can’t find work. Their bank account is on life support, they have a macho jerk for a landlord (who had bullied John in high school), and they’re driving a 30-year-old Pinto. They attend their high school reunion mostly because there’s free food and booze, though it does allow them to reconnect with their best friends Louise (Alia Shawkat) and Chuck (Bobby Moynihan). On the dance floor they see the queen bee of their school days, Payton (Alexis Biedel), who’s had a charmed life since then and now lives in a McMansion on the good side of town.

After another setback in their lives, Alice spots a brass teapot in an antique store. The item seems to reach out to her, and she steals the teapot. She soon discovers that if she hurts herself in its presence, money appears in the teapot – hundreds of dollars at a time. John returns home after being fired and thinks someone broke into the house and assaulted Alice, but then she shows him the money she’s “made.” Alice thinks they’ve found the answer to their dreams, but John worries that the teapot will lead them to a bad end.

Freshman Writer/Director Ramaa Mosley has created a comedy fantasy that keeps on twisting in surprising though logical ways as the teapot exerts its will on Alice and John. I particularly liked one short scene where John takes the teapot on “Antiques Roadshow” to get some answers about it. It was natural and funny at the same time. Mosley’s inventive script blends in vegan relatives, Hassidic brothers, and an inscrutable professor, while causing comedic mayhem throughout Alice and John’s town.

Juno Temple has had supporting roles in many major movies – she was the pixie Thistlewit in Maleficent, and has appeared in The Dark Knight Rises, Atonement, and Notes on a Scandal. Here she gets to shine, displaying a fine comedic form that matches her beauty. Michael Angarano was in Almost Famous, Seabiscuit, “24” and recently appeared in the Cinemax series “The Knick” with Clive Owen. His character John provides the voice of reason and caution, but that doesn’t prevent him from getting caught up in the fantasy. While Alexis Biedel is probably the best known of the supporting actors from her time on “The Gilmore Girls” you may recognize the others. Bobby Moynihan has been on “Saturday Night Live” and Alia Shawkat was on “Arrested Development.”

It is not easy to do fantasy set in the real world and have it work. Birdman qualifies, but before that you’d have to go back to Pan’s Labrynth to find a good example of the genre. Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit have it easier because they exist in a made-up world. In the end, Mosley’s movie becomes a modern-day parable, though it does so with the lightest of touches so it entertains rather than preaches at you.

From the Yahoo story, the Rotten Tomatoes rating has made it hard for Mosley to make her next film. That’s a travesty, since The Brass Teapot shows she has a sure hand and a strong voice. This review doesn’t count on Rotten Tomatoes, but I recommend you check out this film. If you don’t have Showtime, it’s also available on Netflix and Amazon for streaming.

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