You know you’ve hit rock bottom when the only way to support your family is to put on a clown suit. OK, I’ve just offended the massively global clown faction, and yes, rock bottom goes much deeper than putting on a clown suit. But, before I dig a deeper hole, please know that I am talking about P.M. Lipscomb’s thriller, Clowning.
Dante (Jonathan D. Gaietto) loves his girlfriend, Crystal (Avery Norris), and their soon-to-be-born child. The problem is he’s not meant to work in an office and therefore struggles to support his family financially. As luck (or misfortune) would have it, an opportunity arises to make some quick cash. All Dante has to do is get a clown suit for a birthday party. He manages to get a budget outfit and joins fellow clown Pele (Nana Ghana) for Pele’s Pity Party, where the young birthday boy releases his aggression against clowns with physical abuse.
Seeing that Dante is a good sport, Pele offers him even more money to “clown” at a private nightclub event. As the straight-laced square entertains the drunk and doped club-goers, he is provided an opportunity to make some serious cash. All Dante has to do is head across the desert to pick up and deliver a package in his girlfriend’s van. Easy peasy, right? Fast jobs for fast money always mean danger, and soon Dante finds himself chased by Detective Welles (Mike Starr) and framed for murder.
Clowning is a low-budget campy thriller. The first half is all about the good-hearted Dante willing to do anything and everything to provide for his family. But, unfortunately, his motivations are out of love, and as a result, he looks past the fact that everyone will take advantage of his willing spirit. In the second half, we witness Dante scratching and clawing out of the hole he dug for himself.
“…soon Dante finds himself chased by Detective Welles and framed for murder.”
As thrillers go, writer/director P.M. Lipscomb is only limited by his budget. If Tarantino is your baseline standard, then you’ll be disappointed. The filmmaker weaves an elaborate tale of criminal conspiracy, but the intrigue comes solely through its narrative because of its limitations. The lack of cool car chases, drawn-out fistfights, and over-the-top gunplay work against the production. What kind of movie would this be if the cast and crew had a few extra million lying around?
Clowning also has a few other flaws that keep it from reaching its full potential. The biggest problem is the story. The flow is disjointed, which usually means better editing could smooth the narrative out. I was also wrestling over the opening interrogation scene with Dante and Welles. I’m not sure it set the right tone because it was about criminal clowns, and we don’t get into Dante’s clown persona for another twenty or so minutes, too much of a time gap to maintain a proper connection.
Fans of indie films will find much to like, though. Gaietto is the heart of the film, and the actor maintains Dante’s naïve innocence from start to finish. You’ll cringe at the fact that you know before Dante does what trouble is coming and then feel the anxiety as he tries to escape the torture and anguish. However, no good deed goes unpunished for our sympathetic protagonists, and Lipscomb gets the emotional performance he needs. I love that Dante’s costume is the worst-looking clown ever, and it’s perfect as Gaiette must wear it for 70 percent of the film.
In the end, Clowning is an intriguing thriller by P.M. Lipscomb. Though far from perfect, it’s a fun ride nonetheless.
"…a fun ride..."