SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! A must-see, Strawberry Mansion is a romantic, circuitous love letter to the absurd. Set in the not-too-distant future, we follow dream tax auditor James Preeble (Kentucker Audley) as he goes to investigate the strange yet colorful recluse, Arabella Isadora (Penny Fuller). You see, in the future, ads pop up in our dreams, and in a sort of sales tax, dreamers owe fractional amounts to the companies that pay to place the appearances.
However, Arabella hasn’t upgraded to the new, automated reporting system and has over 2,000 VHS-like tapes of her dreams that James must assess. Arabella insists that he stay in the home to go through the archives, and the fun begins. Writer-director duo Albert Birney and star Kentucker Audley take us on a whimsical journey that bends timelines and genres, resulting in a consistently absurd, hilarious adventure.
After James begins to assess IP infractions within the old lady’s dreams, he comes across her younger version, Bella (Grace Glowicki). There’s a bit of a spark between the two in the dream, and the all-business James shakes it off. Meanwhile, in real life, he is pummeled in his dreams with ad after ad for fast-food chicken and soda. Soon enough, the old lady shares a secret bit of technology with James that she and her husband invented in order to block the ads in dreams.
“…ads pop up in our dreams, and in a sort of sales tax, dreamers owe fractional amounts to the companies that pay to place the appearances.”
This is essentially like confessing to the IRS that you have a shady loophole and trusting that they will be cool. Well, after James tries the technology, Arabella’s smarmy son Peter (Reed Birney) arrives to take control of the situation and get James out of there. We are left with a dastardly son, a tech secret, a romantic entanglement, not to mention a piano playing pet turtle, against the surreal world of dreams. Tell me what there is to say no to?
Strawberry Mansion feels like an unholy lovechild between Tim Burton, Wes Anderson, and John Waters, with a dash of Charlie Kaufman. We are expected to note the absurdity and the truth within. We are requested to observe the meticulous sincerity of the characters and admire them for it. We are asked to accept the independent craftiness of the film based on sheer conviction. With all of it, we are demanded to rise to the level of imagination and concept that the filmmakers thrust upon us.
If we do, then rats are crew members, people can be blimps on an island, dolphins dance in the sea, and true love prevails. I know I am gushing a bit, but I can’t remember the last time I was charmed into such a state of childlike whimsy as I was with this imaginative piece of work. Hats off to Mr. Birney and Mr. Audley. I forgot about everything for 90 minutes and went on a campy, heady, hilarious adventure that gave me escape.
What is more, I was given a renewed hope in the creativity of independent filmmakers. Give me my ice cream cone, I want to go back to Strawberry Mansion again and again.
Strawberry Mansion screened at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.
"…accept the independent craftiness of the film based on sheer conviction."