Son of Clowns (2016) ☆☆(2/4): Coming back to his circus family

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Dear Mr. Evan Kidd

Thank you very much for giving me an opportunity for watching your first feature film “Son of Clowns” in advance. As a matter of fact, you are the very first guy who has ever sent me a screener to be reviewed, and I really appreciated that you approached directly to me even though there are probably thousands of online reviewers out there who can write and spread words better than me. After thinking about it for a while, I accepted your offer because 1) that would be the interesting first experience for me as a meager movie reviewer who still has a lot to learn and 2) I was intrigued by the main subject of your movie when I watched its trailer.

Sadly, your movie did not engage me as much as I and you hoped, and, as I wrote to you before, I cannot recommend your film even after the recent second viewing. However, I think you deserve a little bit of attention at least considering the efforts glimpsed from your movie which will be soon available for more audiences, so here is what I observed and felt from the film.

At the beginning, a brief scene introduces your hero, a young actor named Hudson Cash (Adam Lee Ferguson), and his clown father for a few minutes, and then the movie abruptly cuts to the next scene showing the hero returning to his hometown in North Carolina. I found this transition distracting even during the second viewing. I think the following driving montage accompanied with the main title could be placed between the first scene and the second scene, and this rearrangement could give us some little spare time to look at your hero and then become interested in who he is.

After this rather awkward opening part which informs us on how Hudson’s acting career comes to take a serious downturn due to the sudden cancellation of his modestly successful TV show, Hudson’s family members are introduced one by one, and we also meet Hudson’s old friend, a chubby guy who works as the host of a local radio show. It is apparent from his first scene that this guy is your average beer buddy to drink with, and that also means he will not be not much of help for a high-functioning alcoholic like Hudson.

The trailer of your movie gave me an impression that you tried to give a close, intimate look at backyard circus business via your character drama, and it seems to be on the right track when it is looking around Hudson’s likable family members. They live in a cozy house decorated with small and big colorful objects to be used for their circus work, and most of their domestic scenes feel warm and sweet although they are always aware of the struggling status of their family business.

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It is too bad that the movie shows their work only during one sequence. They may not be the best in their business field, but they try as much as they can for entertaining little kids during one sunny afternoon, and I was touched by that. For many of us, clowns are frequently associated with horror movies in these days (“Clown” (2014) is the latest example, by the way), and I must say that it is refreshing to see clown jobs presented in earnest attitude without any condescending irony.

I also observed other things which do not work well at least in my opinion. I guess an acting lesson scene is supposed to emphasize what Hudson has tried to reach for as a serious actor, but what Hudson tells his eager audiences is something they probably heard during their first hour of Acting 101. I understand this scene functions as the precursor to an audition scene later in the movie, but wouldn’t it be nicer if he has other insightful advices to tell besides that clichéd one?

In one bar scene, there is not enough space for establishing one certain supporting character who turns out to be more substantial than expected but then is completely forgotten after that point. The character in question merely looks like a minor background character during the first few minutes, and then the history between this character and Hudson is suddenly introduced through their private conversation – but your screenplay inexplicably does not develop this potentially interesting situation further.

And I do not like a number of contrivances around the burgeoning relationship between Hudson and Ellie (Anne-Marie Kennedy), who has a Meet Cute moment with him when he comes into her workplace for buying balloons for his family’s work. While there is nothing wrong with the acting of your two lead performers, your screenplay frequently shifts their characters’ relationship too easily from one point to another, and I must tell you that a few seconds of brief landscape shot is not enough to convey the passage of the time between their scenes. For instance, we see Hudson and Ellie having a long night conversation with each other in Hudson’s room, and then the movie immediately cuts to the next scene showing Hudson searching for his hidden whiskey flask in the bathroom which turns out to be in Ellie’s house. Utterly bewildered by this, I asked to myself, “Wait, when did he move into her house? Did I miss something crucial for a few seconds?”

In case of the scenes involved with Hudson’s worsening alcoholism, they were my deal-breaker which unfortunately induced me to channel Pauline Kael frequently during my first viewing (“Oh! Oh! Oh!”). The family dinner scene is actually handled well as showing the other characters quietly recognizing Hudson’s sullen drunken attitude, but the other scenes feel contrived because of their jarring emotional fluctuations. Alcoholism may be a convenient storytelling tool to move your character up and down according to the demands of your plot, but you need to establish the emotional ground solid enough for that first. Otherwise, you only end up leaving on us the impression of clumsy manipulation instead of organic storytelling.

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The last act of the movie is disappointing too because it is too hurried in its depiction of that painful healing process we can expect from any alcoholics who come to realize they have hit the bottom at last. If I had been around you during the post-production period, I would have advised you to cut that redundant dream scene at the hospital, which has no purpose except pointing out a fact we already know from Hudson’s alcoholic behaviors.

Your movie is not a total failure in spite of all these flaws I noticed. You shot the film with your cast and crew for no more than 10 days, but the overall result is a decent micro-budget work which does not look cheap or shabby despite several glaring moments of technical problems. For example, Hudson’s brother appears out of nowhere without proper entrance in the middle of one certain scene unfolded in Hudson’s room, and I came to wonder whether you did not shoot any shot of Hudson’s brother entering the room. The shaky montage scene which shows the aftermath of one disastrous circus performance is rather confusing; I guess you intended this scene as a punch line for what has been built up right before that, but it does not work as well as intended because we cannot instantly gather what happens on the screen.

They say the success of your movie mostly depends on your cast, and I commend you for casting engaging performers and then drawing good performances from most of them. While Adam Lee Ferguson and Anne-Marie Kennedy are well-cast in their lead roles, my attention was more drawn to Eric Hartley and April Vickery, and I believe the movie should have focused more on their characters, who always suggest the interesting life of their own compared to other relatively underdeveloped supporting characters in the film. In case of Hartley, he is genuinely jolly and amiable, and I think local casting agents should call him first whenever there is a demand for avuncular character, though he may be able to play someone as deranged as Sid Haig in “The Devil’s Rejects” (2005).

It is one thing to distill many hours of collective efforts into a feature film of around 2 hours – and it is another thing to make it into something worthwhile for your audiences to invest their precious time. Now you did the former, so please keep going for achieving the latter someday. Since you contacted me, I have seen you making small progresses while diligently promoting your film, and I am glad for you that “Son of Clowns” got some positive responses from others, which will probably help you take the next steps in your ongoing filmmaking career. Who knows? This small interaction between us may be an amusing episode I will gladly talk about later – especially if your new work surprises me.

Again, thanks for this unsatisfying but interesting experience.

Sincerely,
Seongyong Cho

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One Response to Son of Clowns (2016) ☆☆(2/4): Coming back to his circus family

  1. Denise says:

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    SC: Thanks.

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