A shambolic attempt at making yet another film about filmmaking, director Natalie Rodriguez’s Howard Original explores just how depraved and pretentious the creative process can be. The protagonist, or so we think, is a remarkably talentless screenwriter named Howard Original (Kevin Sean Michaels) who can only think of unoriginal, misogynistic, and perverted stories. On the surface level, the movie is about his problematic attitude towards relationships and alcoholism. We witness his slow descent into complete chaos, but in reality, Howard Original is the viewer’s journey towards complete apathy for these characters.
Rodriguez, who also has a story by credit with Kevin Sean Michaels, employs a non-linear structure to tell Howard’s tale. She uses black and white flashbacks, freeze frames, voice-overs, and subversive animations to try and make the narrative visually interesting, but it all falls flat. Right from the start, the character’s self-indulgent wallowing is on full display, and it is tough to tolerate his incessant bumbling. To make matters worse, the film personifies the voice in his head as Kendra (Iliyana Apostolova). Like in Bernard Queysanne’s The Man Who Sleeps, Kendra looks on in disgust and provides commentary as Howard keeps making a fool of himself. However, this never really manages to become an organic part of the disjointed plotline and becomes yet another ostentatious exercise in futility.
The subject matter has many glorious predecessors, most notably Adaptation, which was about Charlie Kaufman’s self-doubts and insecurities as a screenwriter. The problem with Howard is that he does not have self-doubts. He is confident that his project, Space Kittens, is top-notch. Somewhere along the way, he seems to forget that the premise of a subservient female officer and a sexist captain aboard a spaceship is fit for a DIY sci-fi porno at best.
“…[a] screenwriter named Howard…can only think of unoriginal, misogynistic, and perverted stories.”
Howard keeps harassing the women who come to audition, making them feel uncomfortable while pretending he is a literary genius. As if the rampant misogyny isn’t enough, he even launches a racist attack against a studio executive who is unimpressed by his script. If not anything else, Howard Original is a social experiment that tries to pass off the cloacal as art.
In an effort to explain why Howard is miserable, the movie keeps retreating to his black and white past where he was married to a wonderful woman (Natasha Galano). When she tells him that she is pregnant, we can sense that Howard is hesitant about taking on such a responsibility because all he is capable of is thinking about himself. She leaves him when she has a miscarriage, eventually seeing him for what he is: an empty shell of a man. Howard Original tries to depict a Kafkaesque trajectory, but it ends up becoming comical in a bad way.
The ending is the biggest failure of Howard Original, a perfect example of a forced resolution in the most bizarre way possible. Without spoiling much, Rodriguez tries to multilayer the meta-angle, but it makes little sense. From the wretched screenplay to the awkward directing and from the odd performances to the poor comedic timing present throughout, the film offers nothing to anyone tricked into watching it.
"…employs a non-linear structure..."