Jerzy Rose is a DIY filmmaker out of Chicago who makes shorts and features with a regularly occurring cabal of actor-filmmakers. Sometimes called experimental, other times surrealist, Rose’s almost narratives are all built around comical themes: men are bumblers and women evoke the sexy self-possession of pre-Code starlets. Rose likes cakes, hands, ghosts, the 1900s and airborne vehicles. The feeling is often arcane but the imagery is put together with such rudimentary parts you often feel like you’re interpreting the movie into life. It’s different and it’s a good time.
In his first short, Farewell to Tarwathie, Rose played a hapless local hero who gained fame for killing a whale (through internal monologue it’s revealed he’s actually in love with the beast—which explains why he won’t eat his whale meat). In All Ghost Women Play the Theremin, a meditation on the relationship between the ethereal instrument and the player’s hands gives way to a hopeless date in a bird-eating hot-air balloon (see another view of the bird eating hot air balloon later). In Rose country, relationships are made to be thwarted and why not? Men are at sea and grasping at whatever island of structure they can find—maybe that’s why academia is so comforting. Also, there’s something about masturbation going on here.
His first feature, Some Girls Never Learn, is entirely built on the kinds of exchanges that happen in college: peers pressure you to spend time with them, girlfriends don’t contribute, administrators are afraid of what they don’t know and boys play guitars and drink beer while they talk “wisdom” out their asses. For some, sophomore year never ends. Here, the men are vaguely threatened by the subtext that women have interior lives. The women reveal these lives, but men are too distracted by criticizing to notice. Crimes Against Humanity, Rose’s second feature, picks that up and runs it into the ground.
The only functional woman in Crimes is Brownie (Lyra Hill) and her live-in boyfriend Lewis (Mike Lopez) seems determined to whittle away at her self-esteem until she turns to dust. Mike thinks himself a big man on campus because, as the assistant to the dean, he’s in charge of hiring for an investigation into the ethnomusicology department (the sexy bastards may be guilty of seducing students AND Satanism). Meanwhile, his unemployed and isolated girlfriend loses her pet bunny and falls entirely apart. While Lewis chases fake Satanists and faulty detectives, Brownie gets hit by cars and lightning, implying a causal chain that makes women pay for the sins of their men…if we can call them men.
The way Rose is insightful always feels blithe because his insights are bound up in jokes about behavior—it takes a viewer a long time to realize these are comedies of manners, mostly because they’re filled with such sincerely bad etiquette. Ironies abound, but the films never feature ironic distance in any evident way. Laughs come from the quality of Mike Lopez’s slimy pauses or Jared Larson’s confusing prowess.
Jared Larson is like Jerzy Rose’s Denis Lavant. It says a lot about Rose that his near-muse so resembles Napoleon Dynamite. Awkward and ungainly, Larson plays characters who are self-possessed alongside other men but broadly useless with women. In Some Girls he has a special ability to categorize organic materials—which he expresses by ranting things like “the moon is a uterus in the sky.” Meanwhile he fixates on his childhood babysitter. In Crimes, he’s Lewis’ older brother who (sort of) saves the day by talking Lewis into visiting his girlfriend in the hospital. Larson’s self-assurance is always a surprise. It’s elicits the feeling you have in junior high when you see others and try to give a name to the behavioral quality we’d now call confidence. Why he has it is impossible to say and something anthropologists might study. It’s a mystery in line with how any of these men gained girlfriends and it’s no wonder Rose loves him. How many actors have that much contradiction going on while they just stand there? But Larson’s persona, along with many other cues, recalls a real interest in each man’s solipsism. Indeed, for Rose, solipsism is the nucleus of most humor and all ass-holes.
In Some Girls Never Learn Larson confronts his childhood babysitter in a hot-air balloon because he thinks she likes balloon rides. Larson thinks it’s romantic—thinks it’s just what she needs to realize the desire for him she’s obviously stifled since he watched her bring boys to his house while she cared for him. He imagines her turning into balloons when she neglects him with phone calls. He thinks of her coquettish giggle. He asks her to see him as a grown up and she says, “This is all your idea, Denny.”