J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Sundance ’16: Trash Fire

Owen is so screwed up, it must be his family’s fault. As part of her tough love regimen, his exasperated girlfriend insists he reconcile with his grandmother Violet and sister Pearl, his only surviving blood relations. Then she meets them. They are in for some decidedly awkward family meals in Richard Bates, Jr.’s Trash Fire, which screens during the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.

Owen hates himself, hates his shrink, and most of all he hates his family. He loves Isabel, but he has a hard time showing it. In fact, he has a habit of saying crass, hurtful things. His boorish, boozy rudeness has alienated Isabel from her friends and family, but Owen vows to turn over a new leaf when she announces her pregnancy. Part of his mission is a family reunion, but the flashes of demonic imagery that accompany his epileptic seizures suggest that might not be such a good idea.

If you think Owen is obnoxious, wait till you get a load of Grandma. However, you will have to wait to meet the reclusive Pearl. Due to her extensive burn injuries, she avoids most human contact. Grandmama fooled Owen into believing it was his fault, but it was really her doing. Yes, she is your basic delusional, psychotic judgmental Fundamentalists. You know, one of those.

There is actually very little genre business in the first half, but it features the crudest, snippiest, most caustic dialogue you will ever hear in a months of Sundays. Obviously, that is a good thing. It certainly makes Trash Fire distinctive. In fact, it sort of a letdown when Violet starts following her divine homicidal inclinations. The super-Christian stereotype is also more than a little tiresome. Really, we needed another one of those?

Still, Adrian Grenier’s Owen is just spectacularly messed up. The bile he dredges up is quite impressive. To her credit, Angela Trimbur hangs with Grenier quite well, developing some emasculating chemistry. Watching them tear into each is just good cinema.

Despite a conventional V.C. Andrews-on-crack third act, Trash Fire delivers a lot of blackly comic fun. Bates has a seriously twisted ear for dialogue and he also now holds the distinction of being the only filmmaker to propose during a post-screening Q&A (she said yes). Recommended for fans of macabre, take-no-prisoners comedy, Trash Fire screens this Friday (1/29) in Park City and Saturday (1/30) in Salt Lake, as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

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