I don’t know who this Edward Barbanell is, but I’d all but argue for an Oscar nomination for his work as Billy, a retard befriended by Johnny Knoxville’s Steve Barker. As expected (because he’s retarded), he is self-righteous, arrogant, and appallingly defiant, but I’ll be damned if he didn’t make me laugh like a hyena. To what extent Barbanell is reciting dialogue or simply being himself I may never know, but as he has the comic timing of a vaudeville veteran, I was stunned to learn that this was his cinematic debut. As his lines also require the voice and facial expressions in order to be funny, it would be impossible to convey the humor on the page, but rest assured, his performance is the best thing about the movie. Actually, the entire cast of retards steal the show, and I would have been more than comfortable with a drooling dog-and-pony show instead of the attempted story that was offered. And Johnny Knoxville, all-too-convincing as a half-wit, barely registers, and I imagine what he thought would be a can’t-miss project will in fact be his cinematic Waterloo; the film that proved for all time that his “talents” were no match for those with I.Q.’s hovering around room temperature. And believe me, when Billy stands on stage as Romeo in the “special Shakespeare” performance directed by Steve, I knew my conclusion was correct. There’s no fucking way
Knoxville could have pulled that off.
The premise would appear to be a gold mine:
Knoxville plays Steve (whose retard name is “Jeffy Dahmor”), a desperate man who suddenly needs $35,000 to pay for a friend’s surgery to replace three fingers lost in a lawnmower accident. Brian Cox (!!!!!!!) is Uncle Gary, a pathetic loser who owes his bookie a ton of money, and his scheme is to combine forces with Steve, set him up as a “ringer” in the Special Olympics, bet that the six-time champion Jimmy “Special J” Washington will lose, and pay off not only his debts, but the hospital bill as well. Since Steve is a wannabe actor, it’s his chance to shine (he prepares by watching Forrest Gump and Rain Man), and before long, he is in
Texas for the Games. His roommate is Billy, and their first scene together had me giddy with delight (“My CD is scratched! SCRATCHED!” – you had to be there). There are a few non-retards in the cast, but they are so seamlessly placed as to make it impossible to identify them. Of course, the retards sniff Steve out as a fake, and as a condition for their silence, they ask to train him so that he can defeat the hated Jimmy. Special J is, at least among the velvet set, a superstar, and he arrives at the stadium in a limo surrounded by Nation of Islam bodyguards. He’s such a prima donna, in fact, that he won’t sign autographs (that he couldn’t actually sign his name anyway is never explored).
Needless to say, there’s a love interest, as Steve (as Jeffy) falls for Lynn, only it can’t be a real romance because he’s retarded and she’s the sort of woman who hangs around retards because of her late brother’s affliction. Still, it is interesting to note that she seems quite attracted to Jeffy, and although nothing daring is done with it, I would have enjoyed taking this to its logical conclusion and finding the two in bed together even though she thinks he’s a dimwit. Now there’s a story worth exploring. In this case, I always go back to Jefftowne, one of cinema’s truly disturbing portraits of the retarded (it’s also funny as hell), and that Kristi chick who spent a little too much time with Jeff. There are people like this – those who take on “causes” out of self-righteousness, or guilt, or some perverted complex that won’t allow them to carry on normal relationships – and I’ve never really seen much done with them on screen. Are they in fact “attracted” to the freaks in their charge? Why would any human being voluntarily spend his or her free time with people who, when not screaming and tearing at their skin, engage in obsessive hugging marathons? But that might be the rub. They can control the level of the affection, have a handy excuse for not pursuing deeper commitments, and always be able to push away when needed. Unless of course one befriends one of the violent types; those retards who simply cannot deal with rejection and believe that the only way to experience true love is to take a cord of wood to the nice blond lady’s purty face.
But no such luck here. Steve doesn’t win the gold, but he ensures Jimmy’s loss, so the money is won and all is well. To make matters even more heartwarming, Steve confesses his scheme before the Olympic crowd, gets slapped by
Lynn, but wins her in the end because she apparently has the lowest standards on the entire planet. In all, there’s a late night “sneak out” where Steve takes the tards to a showing of Dirty Dancing (when Steve says, “I can’t believe you bought this,” Billy responds, “You have no soul”), a musical montage where the group dances in a sauna and later have a water fight, and a few hours of obligatory bonding. It’s never as hilarious as it should be, not quite as offensive as it could be, and though harmless, far too sentimental when it should be a bit more daring. And yet, I laughed – not at them (though not with them either), but in the spirit of what people like this are supposed to bring to humanity. And I owe it all to Billy. He can live.
Also, my movie experience was “enhanced” by three of the most annoying twits I’ve ever encountered in a theater. Of course they sat right by me, and during the first half hour, repeated nearly every line, made jokes, kicked seats, and screamed like infants. As they were often more entertaining than the movie (and I didn’t give a shit), I didn’t complain, although if I’m being honest, I didn’t want to endure “Fuck off, nerd boy” from some youngster wearing a “Princess” t-shirt. Fortunately, a gentleman in front of me brought in the manager, and the tarts were escorted out of the theater. This is the first time I’ve ever witnessed such ruthless efficiency from the theater staff, and it gave me hope for the future. Retards no longer provoking homicidal rage, now this? Perhaps the tide is turning, and a new day dawns.