Filmmaker Steve Collins has issues with humanity. He invites you to hear him out in the surreal tragicomedy, I’ve Got Issues, an anthology of thirty-second-to-ten-minute non-sequitur shorts that scrutinize the human condition, compiled into a feature-length movie. Collins toys with narrative, his interchangeable characters, and our predispositions. Like any anthology, it’s hit-and-miss, though Collins’ clarity of vision remains intact throughout, rendering his cinematic rant consistently surprising.
“Humans… they struggle…” Jim Gaffigan narrates in his trademark monotone, voicing the filmmaker’s bewilderment over shots of folks struggling to get drinks at vending machines, stumbling on high heels, pushing carts in parking lots, etc. “Every day they struggle… Why? What is the point?”
I’ve Got Issues then ventures into its segments, interspersed with cosmic images of the Earth and the sun. Jonathan Chum, Ph.D., via a job interview, satirizes one’s intellectual insecurity and pokes fun at cerebral existential/metaphysical rumination. (“What is she talking about?” the freaked-out interviewer exclaims.) The Slippery Slope focuses on another interview, wherein a succession of confusing metaphors leads to an internship offer to write the newsletter for the “white male supremacy booster club.” It’s your “typical gilded cage scenario”.
“…an anthology of thirty-second-to-ten-minute non-sequitur shorts that scrutinize the human condition…”
And so it goes: a man’s dog dies tragically, so he bonds with his neighbor who just buried her fish; a dressed-up poet recites a nine-hour poem in what seems like a retirement home to a rapidly-dissipating crowd; a man and a woman panic when asked to move in with their better halves, envisioning atomic explosions (a mushroom cloud is another one of the film’s reoccurring images, symbolizing humanity’s demise); two men, hopelessly lost amongst cornstalks, stab themselves right before the exit sign; there’s even a black-and-white sketch in French.
Mr. Pizza (and its “sequel”) may be the most outrageous segment, grotesque and gross but hilarious. You’ll never look at pizza the same way again. I also enjoyed the extra-strenuous yoga session that makes its two participants confess their worst sins. Certain images stick out: a man in a KKK outfit taking out the trash; a prophetic voice from a glowing sewer. Quotes like, “I’ll introduce you to a handshake that only black people know,” are also quite memorable.
Bolstered by a strong cast – including indie mainstay Macon Blair – inhabiting various roles and scenarios, I’ve Got Issues is about people attempting to escape the prosaic nature of their existence. It brings up issues like racism, faith, and our inability to relate to each other, but in sketches rather than full-fledged statements. Collins tries so hard to balance on the fine line between indicting and incentivizing humanity that his pontifications end up being just that – mere pontifications, a scream into the abyss that dissipates in a vacuum before it leaves the vocal cords. The movie is never uproarious, nor does it hit you in the jugular.
I’ve Got Issues brings to mind the zaniness of Quentin Dupieux, with a dash of Todd Solondz’s existentialism and the off-kilter freestyle nature of David Cross and Bob Odenkirk’s stuff. If you find one of the bits redundant, its brevity ensures another one is coming right up. The sentiment it all amounts to is: “Life is sh*t, and we’re all gonna die. Empathy may make it somewhat worth it.” Or, to quote one of the characters: “It is not all darkness, and you are not alone. Reach towards the light.” The end.
"…a scream into the abyss that dissipates in a vacuum before it leaves the vocal cords."