|down and out with the dolls
Written and Directed by: Kurt
I guess it is precisely when you have low expectations that you
become open for something to really surprise you. That was the
feeling I had as the credits rolled on this film. On paper it
doesn't seem that promising, and indeed for the first ten minutes
or so you'll be asking yourself what the hell you've gotten yourself
In the end though, it delivers in ways you won't expect. This
film has "cult classic" written all over it.
Down and Out with the Dolls traces the very
brief rise and fall of all-girl rock band The Paper Dolls. Reggie,
Kali and Lavender are friends who have a three-piece chick band
and are going exactly nowhere. Fauna breaks up with her loser,
Eurotrash boyfriend and finds herself ejected from her goth band
(The Snoggs) and her house all at the same time. In desperation,
and seeing the potential in Kali's friendship with up and coming
punk rocker Levi, she decides to be lead singer for the band.
Thus, The Paper Dolls are born.
In order to save money to make a record and go on tour, the girls
decide to live together in a huge house with a basement they can
use as a rehearsal space. Pretty soon personal habits and creative
egos start clashing, which ironically makes the band sound even
better, even as the four girls are falling apart personally.
Kali has her heart set on the gorgeous Levi, lead singer of The
Suicide Bombers, who looks at her pretty much as a little sister.
She writes earnest, heartwrenching songs that are all feeling
and not commercial. She gets more and more depressed as Fauna
takes her melodies, changes the lyrics and turns the Dolls into
radio punk-pop. Sure, it'll sell, but is it still art?
All Fauna sees is that the Dolls could be her last crack at the
big time and she gives it all she's got, bonking any guy that
moves who can help the band with their careers, including Levi.
Meanwhile, Reggie the band's drummer (played by Canadian indie
artist Kinnie Starr) has experienced a kind of sexual awakening.
Bored with Mulder, the guy she's seeing but only intermittently
sleeping with, she's hit on one day at the skate park by another
girl and sees a whole new world opening up. Reggie, finally wanting
sex now she's discovered women, proceeds to sleep with half the
girls in Portland, which gets the goat of both her boyfriend and
Heather, the girl who first picked her up. The two jilted lovers
plan a kind of revenge on Reggie that backfires dramatically.
Valentine works in her boyfriend's second hand record shop. They're
a happy couple. He asks her to move in with him, plans that are
derailed by the Dolls' plan of living together. Eventually his
jealousy of her burgeoning career almost causes them to break
up. Val, the only cool head of the bunch, acts as a kind of narrator
for the film, charting their successes and failures, even her
own, with a sly, droll humour that works well in the context of
Each frame of this rocking, irreverent indie pops out at you
like a frame from a comic book. The characters, like in your average
comic, are fairly broadly drawn, hitting but not overabusing familiar
I was a bit disappointed with the return of the promiscuous lesbian
cliché (considering Reggie's disdain for having sex with
Mulder, I really can't call her bisexual), but this is mercifully
balanced out by Fauna playing the heterosexual equivalent. Somehow
amongst Fauna's blow jobs and fucking around she manages to make
Reggie's philandering seem almost innocent, like a kid playing
with new toys on Christmas morning. Reggie doesn't see how she
could possibly be hurting anyone, even though as Heather points
out, the second Reggie realised she was gay, she started acting
a bit like a guy.
My favourite character in the movie though has to be Kali. Besides
being incredibly cute, it was hard not to empathise with her fierce
unrequited love and her save-the-world songwriting. She's honest
because she doesn't know any other way to be, and it gets her
into all kinds of emotional trouble. We know she has to grow up
and become her own person, and the growing up process turns out
to be particularly ugly.
Eventually the Dolls land a record deal, make a record and are
on the verge of breaking through. They decide to hold a huge party
at their house (nicknamed The Doll House of course). Throughout
the drunken debauchery every character goes through the wringer,
except perhaps the blissfully unaware Reggie, and new levels of
gross-out comedy are reached (the leftover alcohol in the blender
the next morning still makes me queasy thinking about it). The
next morning all we're left with is broken friendships, violence,
hangovers and a dead body in the basement.
It's a pretty well-worn formula with few twists, but Down
and Out with the Dolls understands the basic concepts
of indie filmmaking. Give us decent acting, characters with depth
and a story we can get into and stuff like shaky cameras and bad
lighting stops mattering after about two minutes. It's not exactly
poetry, and the music the girls play isn't great (not half as
good as the music in Prey for
Rock and Roll for example), but it's the kind of
film that will have you shaking your head afterwards and saying
"you know, I expected awful, but that really didn't suck."
It's a backhanded compliment I know, but it seems appropriate.
Got a comment? Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org