Dennis Curlett Jr’s Paradox Lost is a sci-fi thriller from the sketch comedy team Are You Choking? While the film may not be great or reach Star Trek levels of insight into human nature, for an improv-sketch troupe, Curlett and crew make a lot of right decisions in their final cut.
Our hero is Barnaby Bates (Danny Cymbal), a struggling comedy writer and member of the struggling comedy group Fart Squad Five. Barnaby’s problem is he’s afraid to take risks. He’s firmly attached to the back wall during his long-form improv show, and he can’t seem to confess any feelings he has for his now-pregnant girlfriend, Rose (Clarissa Thibeaux).
After his last improv showcase, Barnaby is followed/stalked by a mysterious figure in a hooded raincoat named Copper (Dennis Curlett). Copper confesses that he is Barnaby’s son… and that he’s a low-level time traveler, who’s job is to be a “cleaner” for high-profile time-traveling assassins. He’s also in Barnaby’s timeline to meet the father he never knew.
“Copper confesses that he is Barnaby’s son…and that he’s a low-level time traveler…”
I have a great appreciation for Paradox Lost because it’s not the kind of film you think it is. As much as I mention improv and sketch comedy in the description, it’s a serious story, and you see very little sketch or improv comedy. The film is a straightforward, low-budget, time-traveling indie thriller set at an improv theater. There are subtle elements of silliness, but it’s 97% dramatic.
When stripped down to its basics, Paradox Lost is the story of a father and son finding each other by first finding themselves. Barnaby is a guy who resigned himself to the background in every aspect of life. His mind is flooded with ideas, but he doesn’t have the social skills to put feet to those ideas, nor can he inspire or endear himself to friends, colleagues, and a pregnant girlfriend. Copper, on the other hand, is lost. He was given up for adoption by his birth parents and has no sense of direction in life… or time and has never created any meaningful relationships.
I admire the fact that the Are You Choking team (Cymbal, Curlett, and producer/DP Steven Strobel) chose to take what feels like a long-form improv sci-fi-based suggestion and play it straight. If you’ve ever been to a long-form improv show, you know what I mean. No attempt is made to insert one stupid joke after the other or create wacky characters for our amusement. Instead, they took story elements that appear to clash against one another and use them to tell a heartbreaking story spotlighting human relationships.
It may not uncover any profound insights about human nature that you’d find in the great sci-fi classics. Still, Paradox Lost is solid, interesting, and engaging, which plays on the meeting oneself time paradox. It is also a heartfelt and fun story, and I can not commend the Are You Choking team of filmmakers enough for all the right storytelling decisions they made. It takes great discipline for any comedy troupe to focus on telling a solid story while putting aside one’s comedic ego.
"…takes great discipline for any comedy troupe to focus on telling a solid story..."