Let’s say, for a minute, that you decide to make some spaghetti sauce. Fresh. Nothing out of a can.
You crush the tomatoes, you add the water, and you throw in the herbs. And then the most important part: You let it spend the better part of a day on the stove, simmering. Allowing everything to soak and blend into everything else.
Several hours go by, and dinnertime arrives. You cut up the garlic bread, drain the noodles, and take a quick taste of the sauce to make sure that it’s ready to go – but something is missing.
Sooner or later you’ll probably put your finger on what the problem is – you forgot the basil, not enough garlic – but there’s nothing you can do. Adding the correct ingredient now might make the sauce marginally better, certainly. But it’s still going to be good-not-great.
And that’s this movie.
“The Proper Care and Feeding of an American Messiah” is a mockumentary following a character by the name of Brian. He has large glasses, is bald as a plucked chicken, and describes himself as lacking any talent whatsoever. But he does have one thing going for him.
He’s a messiah.
Please note – he is A messiah, not THE messiah. In particular, he’s the messiah for a 100-mile radius either around his home, or around town. Which raises an interesting question – what if he moves?
But never mind, because Brian probably is never going to move. As a matter of fact, he doesn’t do much of anything. He lives with his brother, Aaron, who also doesn’t appear to work, and his sister, Miriam, the employed and somewhat sane member of the household. Oh, and his wife, who likes the fact that he pays for the cable. The expensive cable, that is, where Jerry Springer is on five times a day.
So how does Brian spend his time, if he doesn’t have a job? Well, he’s waiting to find out what his purpose is. He experiments with a few things – telling people their problems, for example. At one point, he attempts to take away people’s pain by giving them antacids.
Eventually, he decides that what he really needs to do is get his message to the people. He’s going to rent the civic center, invite everyone in the surrounding area, and announce his purpose.
This leaves two problems – 1) He doesn’t know his purpose. 2) He doesn’t have enough money to rent the civic center.
But the Lord will provide… won’t he?
Trying to suss out the missing ingredient in this sauce is difficult. The premise is arguably funny, and certainly original. I doubt there are many people who are going to say, “Man, another movie about a local messiah? That idea’s just been done to death.”
Many of the sequences fire on all cylinders, producing laugh-out-loud results. Asked to perform a miracle, Brian produces The Miracle of the Fruit – wherein Aaron throws plums across the lawn and into his mouth.
Asked whom this miracle helps, he replies, “Well, I was hungry…”
The three lead actors are all terrific. Performing in a mockumentary takes different acting muscles that conventional feature films don’t usually use, and they all flex them well.
In particular, Joseph Frost as Aaron, the idiot man-boy brother, is something of a marvel. There’s an odd little sequence in the film where Aaron has a matchbox car in one hand and a small plastic Jesus on rollers in the other. He races them against one another on a homemade track, complete with motor noises and a slow-motion car crash. And you buy it – you will believe this man has the imagination (and the intelligence) of an average 5-year-old. He’s never less than convincing and hilarious in the part.
Dustin Olson, who plays Brian, deserves kudos for just the same reason. He’s playing a man who is obviously delusional, self-centered, somewhat mean, and not particularly hip to what the Bible actually says. At one point, his sister points out that seven is the perfect number in the Bible. He disagrees – after all, we have five fingers and five toes, right? So of course five is the perfect number.
That, right there, might be the faulty ingredient – Brian is just not someone you want to follow for 90 minutes.
Care and Feeding is a funny movie, to be certain, but much of the humor revolves around the characters being dumb or mean. There’s a dash of smart humor here and there – the fact that Brian does not have a biblical name, while his siblings do, struck me as interesting – and a little bit of heart, but the film needed a touch more of both.
As a series of short films, or watched a couple of DVD chapters at a time, the film may actually approach greatness. For that matter, if Brian were a minor character in a major movie, he’d probably be easier to take. But Brian, local messiah, is better as the garlic than he is as the sauce.