There are far too many people in this world like Tuck (Novak) the main character in “Shag Carpet Sunset”. I went to school with him, I think. Here is a fellow in his late twenties, rapidly approaching thirty and still perching precariously in adolescence. It’s a little scary to know that these man/children are allowed to vote, drive cars, and purchase unlimited quantities of alcohol. These are societies loaded guns.
Tuck is a man/child/alcoholic/jack of all trades who spends his days commandeering a cable access puppet show and his nights cleaning the roofs of nearby apartment buildings with a heavy metal burnout who insists that they wear knight armor…because they work
”knights.” His best friend and fellow puppeteer is Doug (Greenfield), who is getting tired of Tuck not following the scripts he has written; Tuck prefers to improv political statements that have nothing to do with the content of the show.
Both of them get a kick out of making fun of Rick (Plusquellec), a fellow cable access host who is the Martha Stewart of dog care and grooming. Tuck also has two women in his life; his ex-girlfriend Suz (Hesed) who wants to be his friend even though he keeps passing out drunk on the roof of her apartment, and the enigmatic Rosie (Del Toro) who uses the pay phone outside the local grocery for business and can’t seem to decide if she wants Tuck or not.
We see Tuck as a young boy (Rubicz, very funny) getting philosophical advice from his beer drinking, pot-bellied Dad (Sammann). “You’ll always be a jack of all trades, son. You’d best get used to that now,” he tells his understandably depressed offspring. When the boy needs serious advice, he sends him outside to talk to the wood carved statues of Elvis and a Lawn Nome that decorate the yard; when the boy complains that there’s nothing to drink in the house, meaning no chocolate milk, his father gives him a beer, starting him on his current collision with alcoholism. “Don’t tell your mother”, he says.
Tuck seems to be in a holding pattern in his life; he wants more but can’t possibly imagine how to get it. He works, he drinks, he passes out…this is a man in dire need of career counseling. He wants to be a musician but lacks the drive. Suz wants him to move in with her (read: take care of him) but he can’t give up his patterns of self destruction.
“Shag” is a strange little flick, well choreographed by writer/director McAllister but a bit of a head scratcher; why, exactly, does it exist? Is he working out some personal issues with a camera and unlimited film? Director of cinematography Megan Griffiths deserves special mention for her beautiful black and white photography, interspersed with some clever color sequences when Tuck is fantasizing (and it’s funny how the color shots look almost perfectly like Saturday morning commercials from the 1970’s; intentional?)
The movie wouldn’t work if the lead was played by a stiff, and thank God we have such a talented actor as Novak to keep us interested. He has unconventional looks, handsome but slightly off-kilter, a welcome break from the fashion models masquerading as actors nowadays. When he tells a woman to get off a pay phone because he is waiting for God to call, you get the feeling that he really means it. He is ably supported by a naturalistic cast; Greenfield as his friend Doug is so charming, so relaxed in front of the camera, it transcends acting. He’s just a guy hanging with his best friend. Hesed as Suz, the girl who doesn’t want to let Tuck go, is beautiful in a way we rarely see in the movies nowadays. She is not anorexic, but pleasantly plump in all the right places. Young Rubicz as the young Tuck has one scene worth the price of admission. Lying on the floor, staring at the ceiling, the phone starts to ring. “F**k.” he mutters, and gets up to answer it. The voice on the phone is deep, resounding. “This is God. Don’t swear, Tuck.”Rubicz plays it beautifully and gets a good laugh.
So, what do we learn from our friend Tuck? Perhaps that alcohol is not the answer. Perhaps that statues, do not know the meaning of life. Or perhaps that if his friends really love him, they should hold an intervention…before it’s too late.