Finding The A*****e is just that. Find it.
Finding the A*****e is a clever and amusing concept, in need of rendering – similarly to its crude (and crudely animated) opening credits that emerge out of an anus. Writer/director Melissa Stephens’ shorts – so far, there’s three of them, running five to ten minutes each – sure don’t lack ambition or style, but may be too self-aware and zany to appease even the more open-minded art-film connoisseurs.
The three pieces focus on the titular a******s of today’s society: a clothing boutique a*****e filled with resentment; a sidewalk encounter between a******s, extended into a surreal montage; and a party-set, a*****e-filled satire of 1990’s horror flicks. Riding on the backbone of a pretty nifty concept, Stephens should have reigned in on the quirky cuts, eccentric acting and jarringly dreamy, “you-either-get-it-or-you-don’t” vibe, all of which almost distract you from the (non)happenings.
“The three pieces focus on the titular a******s of today’s society…”
The unfinished Chapter One is impressive for its camerawork, a steady shot that gradually zooms in on an egotistic worker at a minimalist haute couture shop, then, just as gradually, glides back to where it started. This cinematic “installation” might have something to say about the hollowness and absurdity of the art world (gasp, how novel!), but feels as hollow and absurd as the world it purportedly mocks.
Chapter Two fares better featuring a colorful dance number about how folks bump into each other on the street, and a literal clash of cultures. The third chapter is a halfway-there pastiche of 1990’s horror flick clichés, a heightened satire of the slasher genre, containing a scene in which a dude in a gas mask receives anal sex from a crazed young woman – oh, and another involving a pseudo-improvisational dance routine amongst murdered bodies. Shot in one take, that latter sequence makes watching the entire three episodes worth it.
Finding the A*****e keeps the viewer on edge; there’s no way to predict what’s going to happen or be said next. What does occur may underwhelm, and the dialogue falters, but then Stephens pulls another preposterous stunt – that dress in the first chapter! the Michel Gondry-like choreography of the second one! the dildo in chapter three! – and things keep rollin’ along gleefully. The self-congratulatory, consciously artsy tone won’t be for everyone, but those on Stephens’ wavelength will get a kick out of the weird, non-sequitur proceedings, and maybe even see a sardonic Miranda July in the making.
Finding the A*****e (2018) Written and directed by Melissa Stephens. Starring Tom DeTrinis, Laila Ayad, Sheila Carrasco. Finding the A*****e screened at the 2019 Slamdance Film Festival.
6 out of 10