It’s been a while since I did a Friday Movie centering around a cinematic exercise in absurdity. This seemed like as good of a week as any. I’ve got a soft spot for this wild movie which, despite seeing it at least fifteen times since the early days of IFC, I still don’t completely understand. I present to you SCHIZOPOLIS (1996)!
SCHIZOPOLIS is the brainchild of director Stephen Soderberg. He garnered fame and fortune as the director of such hits as OCEANS 11 (2001), THE GOOD GERMAN (2006) and MAGIC MIKE (2012). Earlier in his career he was the darling of the arthouse with SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE (1989) and KAFKA (1991). With it’s timing SCHIZOPOLIS could have been Soderberg’s transition from art house to box office hits. That is not what happened. What happened was one giant explosion of insanity that viewers either love or hate, but very few are apathetic about.
There’s a vague plot to SCHIZOPOLIS. Fletcher Munson is a speech writer for a Dianetics/Scientology style operation. He’s bored at work, bored at home with his wife who’s equally bored and having an affair with a dentist. That same dentist falls in love with a patient the day Munson’s wife leaves him for said dentist. Meanwhile an exterminator is having affairs with the town’s women…until a competing film crew lures him away to their project.
And then there’s the random pantsless man evading capture literally running through the scenes.
Therein lies the charm of SCHIZOPOLIS. Not the nakedness per se, but in the random absurdity. The director himself plays both Munson and the dentist his wife is having an affair with. His wife (as well as the dentist’s crush) is played by his real-life ex-wife. One could read all sorts of layers into that casting and they’d probably be right. The disconnect of having a real former couple play a couple with marital issues is highlighted in the dialogue between the two (“Generic greeting!” “Generic greeting returned!”) during the first act. The same couple have the same exchange in the third act, this time speaking in different languages (she English, he French). The exterminator’s scenes have a language all their own (“Arsenal. Nose army.” “Nose army. Beef diaper?”). The dentist doesn’t speak any odd languages. However his use of language is so awkward it skates the edges (“I know that if for an instant I could have you lie next to me, or on top of me, or sit on me, or stand over me and shake, then I would be the happiest man in my pants.”)
The secondary characters have as much charm, even if they have…unusual names. Muson’s best friend at work is Nameless Numberhead Man. The dentist’s crush? Attractive Woman Number Two. My favorite gags come from the various news stories sprinkled through the film. They have nothing to do with moving the story from point A to point B but they have the best gags (I’ll save those for those of you who watch the movie).
This movie isn’t for everyone, but it’s worth a look for an hour and a half of pure silly escapism:
Question of the night: what language would you most like to learn?