By Don R. Lewis | March 13, 2007

2007 SXSW SPOTLIGHT PREMIERES FEATURE! Had the Alan C*****g directed film “Suffering Man’s Charity” been a stageplay, I would have loved it. The storyline is compelling, the performances are fun and way, way over the top and there’s some great zingers in the script. But, it’s not a stageplay, it’s a film and it’s just too stagy for that.

Bitter, narcissistic and pompous music teacher John Vanermark (C*****g) loves to help new talent find their way. Especially if the young talent is an attractive male who could use a place to stay. Young Sebastian (Boreanaz) fits that bill as he’s a wannabe writer who’s also fresh off the bus into Hollywood looking to fulfill his dreams. Yet Sebastian is also quite the cad and he’s never home when he says he will be and worst of all, he’s run the household bills up and off the charts. Vandermark has had enough, but damn Sebastian is so hot and talented, he just can’t bear to throw him out. As the plot thickens, Vandermark decides he’s going to get what he’s owed from Sebastian and also sneak a peek at this “novel” he’s been working on. Dark comedy ensues.

Again, had this been live onstage, it would be hysterical, but it’s not. Every actor in “Suffering Man’s Charity” (except Carrie Fisher who looks bored) seems like they’re trying to one up the other by being as insanely over the top as possible. I have to say C*****g was campy but a strange appearance by Karen Black as a drunken conquest of Sebastians is downright discomforting in her performance. When an actor goes big and it’s silly, it’s camp. When an actor flies past camp at 100 miles an hour, I don’t know what you call it, but Black does it and it’s creepy and funny for all the wrong reasons.

C*****g and Boreanaz share a majority of their screen time together and the histrionics, saliva and snot fly. They literally scream at each other so much that snot of spittle go flying all over the place, and especially on one another. I guess that’s intense method acting, but it just looked gross to me. But everything about “Suffering Man’s Charity” just looks and feels like, yup you guessed it, a stageplay. And I think the filmmakers know the film felt stagy because every once in a while some convoluted editing technique or weird camera angle or move is used as if to say, “hey now, this a movie even though we all know it would be a great play.” Truthfully, Cummings performance is pretty great if it were live instead of on hi-def video.

It feels funny to get down on a movie with such searing black comedy and a plot that reminded me of “Sunset Boulevard” meet’s Poe’s “Tell Tale Heart,” but it’s just too much of the stage for the big screen. If “Suffering Man’s Charity” ever comes to town live on onstage (and especially with C*****g in the lead) I’ll be amongst the first in line. But as far as the film goes, it’s 90 rather irritating minutes of camp and bombast that in the end felt like an epic.

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