D.R. Farquharson, the gifted actor-filmmaker whose comedy feature “Gavin’s Way” was cited as being among Film Threat’s Top 10 Unseen Films for 2000, has returned after a four year absence. It was worth the wait, as his new feature “Billy Todd’s War” is a winning experience which solidifies Farquharson’s standing as being among the most talented artists in today’s indie film scene.
Farquharson casts himself in the title role. The war in question is both an internal matter (Billy Todd has just been released from a mental hospital where his confinement was pegged on the insistence that he impregnated an invisible girlfriend) and a real-life issue (he takes up shelter in a bomb shelter dug into disputed land controlled by a third-rate Trump-style real estate developer). Billy refuses to be evicted from the bomb shelter, which is on a slice of property destined for strip mall development.
Billy’s war is quickly exploited by a career-hungry TV journalist (Christy Scott Cashman), a fading model in search of instant publicity (Sara Ann Slattery) and a weirdo who uses Billy to promote his warped agenda of free guns and porn (Beno Chapman). Keeping Billy company throughout this mess is his invisible girlfriend (a flesh-and-blood Cat Rowe) while his mental hospital best friend named Carrot (Daiva Duepree) watches Billy’s struggle from a far distance while she is stalked by a six foot rabbit (a man in an Easter Bunny costume, a sight that is admittedly just as creepy as it is funny).
“Billy Todd’s War” may not break any new ground in regards to its plot pegs. After all, there have been enough films to handle the subjects of insanity, vacuous supermodels, ruthless TV reporters and even giant rabbits – think “Harvey” and “Donnie Darko” for the latter. But what the film has going for it is a surplus of charm and easy style. Farquharson, working in collaboration with Monte Young (who created the savvy TV news segments shot on DV), wisely avoids the risk of overplaying his hand. The film never gets out of control or sloppy in its satire, and all of the characters maintain a rich depth of complexity. Billy’s deadpan demeanor belies obvious stereotyping – he seems cogent and articulate, yet his recurring dalliances with his invisible girlfriend and his gullibility in following her advice about not taking his prescription medicine would suggest his insanity is not entirely cured. The abrasive TV reporter has no problems barking orders at her harried cameraman (Carl Smith, in a nicely underplayed straight man role), yet she is immediately put in her place when the real estate developer caustically reminds her that he knows her father. The supermodel is a bag of contradictions – genuine growing concern for Billy’s plight which is constantly short-circuited by her own selfish career goals and her adoration of the foolish emptiness of her celebrity status.
Farquharson is also generous enough to allow Beno Chapman, in what should be a supporting role, to act as the film’s comic fuel cell and propel much of the lunacy. The gravel-voice, disheveled actor is wonderfully oblivious to his bad taste (he tells the TV camera that not liking Billy is equivalent to “not liking apple pie or strippers”). Chapman shares a magical few minutes with the gorgeous Reaiah Morgan who plays a self-described “amateur porn star” who gains an audience to Billy’s bomb shelter with vain hopes of gaining her own 15 minutes of fame. Chapman and Morgan create the most hilarious duo on film and it is something of a shame that their union was not taken further.
As with Farquharson’s “Gavins Way,” “Billy Todd’s War” does not have any big boffo moments that convulse the viewer with vise-grip laughs. Instead, the film is a constant stream of good will and good humor as its deliciously wacky story unfolds in a casual, calm and stylish speed. The result is pure tonic for the mind, soul and funny bone. This is a truly great comedy