Film geeks everywhere, I’m convinced, each have their personal favorite Crispin Glover moment. Whether it’s his turn as a strung-out rebel in “River’s Edge” or a hair-sniffing sleazoid in “Charlie’s Angels”, the oddball actor has fashioned a singularly bizarre niche in Hollywood that has engendered a fervent, and slightly scary, cult following. My personal favorite Crispin Glover moment occurs in David Lynch’s sweet little ode to youthful love known as “Wild At Heart”. As not-quite-all-there Cousin Dell, Glover kills me every time his mother catches him making an improbably large number of sandwiches in the middle night and simply asks, “What are you doing, Dell?” Glover, fully hopped up on Gloverian insanity, screams at the top of his lungs, “I’M MAKING MY LUNCH!” I’ve been a fan ever since. So it was with great anticipation that I awaited Glover’s directorial debut “What Is It?”, a project of colossal weirdness (shocking!) ten years in the making. Early reports of his counter-cultural ambitions and debt to visionary filmmakers like Bunuel, Fellini, Kubrick, and Jodorowsky only fueled my jones for what Glover had in store. Well, the wait is over and all I can say is…”I want my mommy.”
Like the “masterpieces” of this genre, of which I would include Jodorowsky’s “Holy Mountain” and “Fellini Satyricon”, “What is it?” is nearly impossible to adequately describe, think about, or even review. Up until now, Glover’s oeuvre has mostly consisted of fringe characters with fringe, yet unforgettable moments. “What Is It?” however, is like an apocalyptic symphony of the auteur’s unconscious, an unveiling of the masturbating midgets and talking snails of his psyche, if you will. As one critic inanely put it, the film is like “Fellini on psychedelics.” Never mind that Fellini actually was on psychedelics for a time, you get her point. To be fair though, the film doesn’t actually contain masturbating midgets, my apologies to little people everywhere, but it most definitely contains talking snails. And a cast primarily consisting of people with Down’s syndrome. And gallivanting naked women in animal masks. And an anguished minstrel in black face longing to transform into an invertebrate by injecting snail enzymes into his cheek. And a naked man with cerebral palsy laying in a giant seashell getting fondled by one of those naked women. And lots and lots (and lots) of snails getting salted. And finally, Crispin Hellion Glover as a god-like figure in full-length fur coat, scheming against the film’s hero while bowing to a meta-god in the form of a Shirley Temple dictator in Nazi garb. Did I mention wanting my mommy?
So, what in Glover’s name is it then? Well, in the words of the man himself, “What Is It?” is about “the adventures of a young man whose principal interests are snails, salt, a pipe, and how to get home, as tormented by a hubristic and racist inner psyche.” Obviously. But is it worth the wait? If you’re a normally functioning adult, I’d say: hell no. You will likely consider Glover’s uncompromising vision no greater than third-rate, hallucinogenic art-school nonsense. However, if you’re like me, i.e. an abnormally functioning film critic, you’re likely to find it fascinating and utterly hilarious, even if you happen to agree with those other folks. Oh, and just wait, “What Is It?” is part of a projected trilogy, whose other films will be called “It Is Fine! Everything is Fine” and “It Is Mine”. Whew, just in time now that “The Lord of the Rings” has come and gone and the “Star Wars” prequels are at their home stretch.
In the words of Glover’s character, “I had a choice, was I a snail or was I me?” Haven’t we all pondered that at some point?
Alternate ratings: ????? and ZERO STARS