'The Living Wake': high-minded, with lowbrow pleasures
"The Living Wake" is a peculiar piece of absurdist entertainment starring Mike O'Connell as an eccentric blowhard who seeks to secure his own legend by hosting his own funeral party.
Special to The Seattle Times
'The Living Wake,' with Mike O'Connell, Jesse Eisenberg, Jim Gaffigan, Clay Allen. Directed by Sol Tryon, from a screenplay by O'Connell and Peter Kline. 92 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. Grand Illusion.
"The Living Wake" is an oddly alluring, micro-budget fable about the quest for a literary legacy and the romanticized notion of death as an antidote for a misconstrued life. That's a pretty high-minded summation of a movie whose best ingredients are strings of gags, non sequiturs and clever wisecracks that offer much simpler lowbrow pleasures.
It's primarily a showcase for comedian Mike O'Connell, who plays K. Roth Binew, the kind of insufferably egotistic idiot who speaks with flowery erudition but really has very little to say. In his misguided pursuit of meaning, Binew is sort of a cross between Don Quixote and Ignatius J. Reilly, the blowhard intellectual hero of John Kennedy Toole's novel "A Confederacy of Dunces."
Binew has decided that he's going to die at precisely 9:30 p.m., and he couldn't be more eager to mark the significance of the occasion. The story unfolds over the course of his last day in an ageless fantasyland where, in his mind, he is the misunderstood core. The title describes the climax, a weird vaudeville show presented on a rickety outdoor stage for an audience of everyone Binew has encountered over the previous 12 hours.
Binew's young protégé and personal assistant is Mills Joaquin (Jesse Eisenberg), who carts his idol around rural New England in a bicycle rickshaw documenting every nugget of wisdom, however inane. Their touching relationship is defined by a string of nonsensical encounters with other eccentrics in Binew's imaginary universe as they roam about tying up loose ends and searching for the "brief but powerful monologue" promised by Binew's long-dead father.
Again, all this description makes "The Living Wake" sound more abstruse than it needs to be. Though decidedly one-note, O'Connell's character is well-drawn, and the jokes often strike a chord of bizarre hilarity. Eisenberg also shows the comedic promise that he has since been fulfilling in lots of other movies since "Wake" was made in 2007.
In all, it's a peculiar piece of absurdist entertainment that occupies a singular niche in American indie cinema.
Ted Fry: firstname.lastname@example.org
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