“Christians have Sunday mornings, we have Friday nights.” – Rachmaninov N. Ruhl, Dancist
A Day in the Life of a Dancist American delivers exactly what it promises to. It’s a mock documentary that follows an adherent of the Dancist religion, a man called Rach N. Ruhl appropriately enough, for an entire day.
Watching this, I couldn’t help but think of the old Monty Python sketch The Ministry of Silly Walks. Both derive their humor from an absurd, completely impossible, premise. Both keep their tongue firmly in cheek while pretending they are being completely serious. Both make you feel as if people really would be mad enough to do this if they could get away with it. So while I felt myself resist this film’s charms at first – it starts off a bit dry – little by little I began to give in because how could I not have at least some appreciation for what these guys are doing?
I especially like how the filmmakers sneak in little truths about religion when nobody’s looking. When he’s sat down for an interview and asked questions about Dancism, Ruhl can’t really answer anything except with vague guesses. Yes, he’s a self-described devout adherent, but he doesn’t seem to particularly care much about the specifics. He just seems to really like dancing. Yet, isn’t that how religion goes for a huge number of people? They follow a belief system and do the things they already wanted to do anyway, and then ignore the things they don’t want to do because they didn’t bother to read or remember those parts? You don’t have to look very hard within the genuine religions of the world to find this sort of thing in action every day. Take Christianity for example, and then ask yourself this: What’s more the common behavior? Getting angry and acting like a dick towards other people for having broken a biblical rule, or waking up early to go work at a homeless shelter?
The writing is really, really good here, which is as it should be, because this would be so hard to pull off otherwise. The main character, for example, is never quite likeable nor is he quite unlikeable. Instead, he feels like an actual person. Someone you might actually meet in the real world. There’s also an interview segment with a professor that, likewise, feels real. The man comes off as almost but not quite pompous, the way most real professors do. Realistic characters should be written as slightly boring people who you wouldn’t necessarily want to spend much time with. Most filmmakers forget this and too often write their characters as Ferris Bueller wannabes, but not here.
The only lapse I can see is that Dancism as a religion isn’t explained in great detail. Well, it is, but it isn’t… the movie remains cryptic about the specifics of the whole thing. So, I can’t help but think that there’s an untapped comedic goldmine here and that the gags would have worked better with a more intricate backstory. What’s a Dancist Holiday like? Do they have to dance all the time, even when they’re eating? Do they have different dances depending on holidays? Do Dancists offer penance by walking? Is sitting still a sin? What do they drink and eat during Dancist communion? What’s Baptism like? I’m picturing an intricate synchronized swimming routine. Are musicals considered religious films? Was Studio 54 a Dancist church? Was Disco the Great Tribulation for Dancists? Is Michael Flatley a Saint in Dancism? Are there different Dancist denominations depending on what sort of dances you do? Is there one for Tap Dancing, one for the Charleston, one for the Batman, one for doing The Pogo? Is there a Lambada church or a Breakdancing church or a Squaredancing church? Are Dancists allowed to take Ecstasy for religious purposes? What is the church’s stance on The Time Warp? Are you judged for being a terrible dancer? Is there a mating dance? Do they have sex while dancing???
I’m giggling to myself just making this shit up as I’m writing the review, so I doubt they couldn’t have garnered a few extra laughs with a more in-depth look at Dancism. Then again, maybe the filmmakers are fiendishly clever, and the whole point of keeping coy about the Dancist religion is so that viewers like me can make up their own jokes to accompany the ones in the film. If so, Bravo! Either way, this is lots of fun and worth a look.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go practice my silly walk.
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