Some good friends of mine and I have a joke about the word ‘easy’ on skis. If they are reading this, they are already laughing at the silly situation and ridiculous conversation that led to that in-joke. If you are scratching your head in confusion, it is okay, as the jesting is only meant to be understood by the five people at that diner booth at 2 in the morning. In writer-director Pope’s latest short film, Swamp Women Kissing Booth it certainly seems that everyone had a good time shooting the project. There’s a daffy tone, the acting is appropriately cartoony, and the special effects are cheesy and low budget, in a knowingly, winsome way. But, it comes across as one giant in-joke that the viewer is not privy to.
“…cheesy and low budget, in a knowingly, winsome way.”
Sissy (Kansas Bowling), Kitty (Parker Love Bowling), Beula (Natasha Halevi), and Annie (Sierra Renfro) are doing absolutely nothing in the swamplands when hunky alligator Tommy (Kalvin Madsen) roves into view. All four girls instantly fall for him. To ensure that Tommy falls in love with her, Sissy goes to Miss Mathilda (Kathleen Hughes), who has a shiny crown and magic powers. She makes Sissy prettier than her friends, but the three other girls all do the same as well. Since they can’t compete for Tommy based on their looks, they set up a kissing booth in the middle of the woods. Random hikers and hunters come across the booth, each kissed by one of the girls. Moss then replaces all their hair! Do the girls ever get to kiss Tommy? Does he fancy any of them? Does he too get moss covered?
I refer to the four main characters as girls, as Mathilda calls them such in their conversations. But, how old they are meant to be is hard to pinpoint. Their naivete and simplicity lend credence to young teen, but they all appear to be roughly their real ages. Plus, aside from their names, the four have no distinct personalities, so it is impossible to get a hold of who these characters are, so it is impossible to give a damn. The screenplay is littered with a nagging lack of details in a similar vein. If Mathilda is casting a spell for the girls, why don’t they wish for Tommy to fall in love with them? Mathilda insists that the girls close their eyes and chant Tommy’s name while she casts her spell, so the spell is Tommy-centric; why then does the moss issue affect everyone?
Kansas Bowling is a fiercely funny and intelligent young woman, who at only 21, has already directed 17 completed feature-length and short films, including the awesomely fun B.C. Butcher, written five of them, and starred in 25 projects, including a handful still in various states of pre or post-production. She’s talented and pretty awesome, is what I am getting at, but here, she is 100% wasted. Her co-stars are as limited by the script as she is. They get to act pouty and flirty in a massively exaggerated way and nothing else. They are so removed from reality that the actors aren’t afforded a chance to inhabit these characters, so everyone is a cartoon.
That means it must be a directorial decision to come off this way. I get that this is intended to be a goofy lark, just to sit back and enjoy, but without setting up the world Swamp Women Kissing Booth takes place in, the audience is left cold, on the outside looking in. They are looking at a cast that is so clearly having fun basking in the silliness of the premise as if they know more than the audience about everything going on. For example, Pope’s choice, as director of cinematography, to use a glittery filter to make the bayou look more whimsical is amusing, casting everything in odd ethereal light, but to what end? It feels like the silly idea one bounces off their friends at the end of a long night of pre-production, reinforcing the in-jokiness of it all.
“…feels like the silly idea one bounces off their friends at the end of a long night.”
During the end credits there is a song and dance number which is fun in all the right ways. It is the most enjoyable part of the movie, as it fully embraces the goofiness of the project, but the lyrics reveal much more about the plot than the rest of the film, while being sly and witty. The dance is a free-for-all but seeing the cast just let loose to enjoyable.
In-jokes can be quite fun for the friends that understand the references, and it provides some excellent bonding and reminiscing potential. However, when a casual observer hears the joke, they don’t laugh. Watching Pope’s 12-minute comedy Swamp Women Kissing Booth is to observe a joke everybody on the crew gets, but they failed to let the audience in on it.
Swamp Women Kissing Booth (2018) Directed by Pope. Written by Pope. Starring Kansas Bowling, Parker Love Bowling, Kathleen Hughes, Kalvin Madsen, Natasha Halevi, Sierra Renfro.