Jordan Hoffman April 1, 2013
“Ughhhhhhh, why did we drink so much?” “Because it was free!”
So moans the adorable Gen Y couple living in a tiny (no, cozy!) rented house in a lovely Indiana town, where butterflies escort you on your bike ride to work. That is, if you are lucky enough to have work. “The Brass Teapot” introduces us to Alice (Juno Temple) can’t land a gig despite her springy interview outfits, and is saddled with university debt. John (Michael Angarano) is about to lose his telemarketing gig because he can’t force himself to smile while on the phone with a potential mark. To make matters worse, Alice’s old high school chum (“Gilmore Girl” Alexis Bledel) is rolling in the dough – not that Alice and John are the jealous type, but it’s just all so frustrating.
Alice and John are clearly good people in life and good people in love. They laugh, playfully conspire against square relatives, don’t hassle one another and are sex-positive. It would all be perfect if there was, you know, money to buy the food required to remain people, at all.
Due to circumstances that remain a bit murky throughout the remainder of the film (I smell scenes removed from the final cut) Alice comes in contact with an ancient brass teapot. With an indelible surface and a star of David, the wee objet d’art will “imprint” upon you and then spout $100 bills when you injure yourself. Let the masochistic comedy begin.
An energetically filmed series of truly entertaining sequences commences, and Ramaa Mosley’s debut feature quickly becomes a montage of cringe-comedy bits in which John and Alice singe and scrape one another to make the Benjamins. One involves a leather belt in the bedroom and I can safely say it is the cheeriest-yet-still-erotic lovemaking scene to hit screens in quite some time. Despite John and Alice truly “deserving” this good fortune, I don’t have to tell you that stories, particularly those rooted in fable and myth, have a way reminding us to be careful what we wish for.
As our heroes’ wealth increases, so does their greed and so does the danger. Two rather belligerent Hasidic Jews are on the trail of the teapot (creepily evoking the semiotics of a Jewish conspiracy of unearned wealth, but whatever) as well as a wise and heavily accented Chinese man foretelling doom for those that think they can outsmart the treacherous gewgaw.
As for the teapot itself, it starts to build a tolerance. Its payments decrease, and soon demand that John and Alice feast off the pain of others (bad, once they start clipping hobos with the car) as well as one another’s mental anguish (so here come the small penis size remarks.)
These scenes remain funny solely based on Temple and Angarano’s warm performances, which exude a refreshing unwillingness to be prude. Temple is sunny and lovable without falling into Deschanel traps, and her arc toward avarice is comical without being cartoonish. She’s a petite figure with a bold voice; her defiant shouts rooted in goldlust kill. I’m sure I won’t be the only one to compare Angarano to Sam Rockwell (indeed, didn’t Rockwell play the fictionalized version of Angarano in the ill-advised “Gentlemen Broncos?”) but this can only be meant as a compliment.
What doesn’t work is how the screenplay’s would-be traditional story beats leap frog one another. When you think you’ve reached the “dark moment,” things start to hum along again until our pair are reminded of their hubris. I don’t think this is a clever way of shaking up narrative forms, I think it is a case of lots of ideas from a script’s first draft evading excision during the rewrite stage. Also, why why why would John take the teapot onto “Antiques Roadshow?” There had to have been a less absurd way to get the word out.
Despite the numerous patchy moments “The Brass Teapot” by and large squeaks by as an enjoyable entertainment. Between the numerous scenes of Juno Temple in sleepwear, off-screen sound effects of someone “earning” their wages, a discussion if “Lord of the Rings” is literature and the presence of Alia Shawkat in a small role, there emerges a film too agreeable to fully dismiss.
SCORE: 6.0 / 10
Categories: ReviewsTags: Alexis bledel, Alia Shawkat, Juno temple, Michael angarano, Review, The Brass Teapot