Tristan Newcomb’s Hell Leaks Laughter opens with text overlays offering a brief history of Jerry Lewis’ infamous never-to-be-seen project, The Day The Clown Cried. The filmmaker uses this information to set up the movie we are about to see, which is positioned as an even more obscure and horrible film than whatever Lewis is hiding from the world.
We then meet the very not famous Alfred Snodoloberm, who happens to be a hand puppet, as he has an epiphany about creating his own cinematic masterpiece. Cut to six years later and a man at a flea market buys a used copy of Big Top Pee-Wee, only to find the DVD in the case is instead Snodoloberm’s film. The man sits down on his couch to watch, and we the audience watch him, and along with him, as this horrible excuse for a comedy plays out. Turns out Snodoloberm felt the need to combine a making-of within his film, in an effort to inspire and teach as well as entertain, so we get to see every poor decision, and joke, he makes, and hear why he makes them.
And the resulting experience is awful. I realized the unamused look on the man’s face, as he watched the film-within-a-film, was similar to what I was experiencing as I watched. If you smile, it’s probably because you can’t believe it’s still going. It’s monotonous, it’s painful, it’s full of palpable desperation.
Which, on a subversive level, I appreciate… in smaller doses. The fact that this film is as long as it is means it goes beyond intriguing straight into endurance challenge territory. Part of me wishes the filmmakers had just focused on Snodoloberm’s horrible creation and presented that to us without explanation, as a ten to fifteen minute short film. That would’ve been random, insane and probably pretty amusing. I’d go for nonsensical and memorable in the short term over boring in the long term.
Then again, isn’t annoying an audience the point of the film? It says it will present you with a horrible film, and then it does. It succeeds at its basest goal. In that way, it’s almost critic-proof; it told you it was bad, and then it was, so what are you really saying if you just agree with that assessment?
The film gets points for its audacity, for sticking to its guns and delivering an obnoxious experience. I actually have seen worse, and more offensive, films in my lifetime, however, so it’s not as bad as it wants itself to be, but it also isn’t as clever as it’d perhaps like either. Again, had we been presented with the disjointed pieces without explanation as a short, perhaps then we have something memorable. As a feature film, the joke wears off almost immediately, but then it keeps going and going and going…
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