Let’s face it: This past summer hasn’t exactly been the most positive. Between the crap going on with war and disease, to the passing of one of the most beloved comedians of a generation, it’s pretty depressing. Depression isn’t the nicest of topics, and it’s talked about even less so (in a realistic fashion) in film. So it’s interesting that director/writer Don Thacker decided to throw that into the mix with his first feature-length film, Motivational Growth. The film made it’s premiere at the 2013 Boston Science Fiction Film Festival, where it won Best Feature. It also snagged a couple more awards and festival selections before the year was out. But is it really worth your time?
Ian Folivor (Adrian DiGiovanni) is a depressed mess. He pretty much crosses off every indication that he’s depressed: he hasn’t left his increasingly messy apartment in a year, hasn’t bathed in months, and hasn’t had any human contact for what seems like forever. His only constant “companion” is Kent, an old cabinet-style television set that’s been really the only thing keeping him going. So naturally, Kent up and dies. Ian is distraught and decides life isn’t worth living. Going to the bathroom to off himself, Ian succeeds in only hitting his head on the bathtub. When he wakes up, Ian discovers that the mold (voiced by Jeffrey Combs) that’s accumulated on the bathroom wall is talking to him. The mold has a plan for Ian, and promises that if Ian follows it, the payoff will be worth it.
Right away, you know a film’s going to be fun when you have Jeffrey Combs involved. The man’s a legend, and like the rest of the cast, are spot on. DiGiovanni is superb as Ian. He comes across as believable, and it’s pretty cool to see him go from the mope on the couch to seemingly turning things around for himself. And yeah, he probably has the same reaction as anyone would have if a fungus (sorry, THE MOLD) started talking to you. The duo wax linguistics in their conversations as if it were second nature, which is both entertaining and thought-provoking. Pete Giovagnoli as Ian’s landlord, Box The Ox, is a treat. The guy threatens Ian with unintentionally-humourous stories over not paying the rent (breaking chimpanzees’ arms is hard), and is stereotypically a goon. Danielle Doetsch is sweet as Leah, the literal girl-next-door and Ian’s love interest. She, like Ian, is a bit quirky herself, which is all the more endearing. I don’t think I’d have the same reaction as she did if someone hurled on me. Everyone else involved is equally impressive.
Thacker also deserves praise for just how he crafted this weird little tale. It’s set in the 1990s, uses chiptunes by Alex Mauer for a soundtrack that sound straight out of a video game, and even has 8-bit video game style cutscenes for certain scenes that add even more character to the film. What’s even more interesting is the film’s budget, and what Thacker was able to do with it. Shot for just over $176K, the limited number of effects that Thacker was able to pull off were quite impressive. As far as the gore goes, there isn’t too much going on, but there are more gross-out moments than gore, such as Ian eating fungus, vomiting various types of goo, rotted dead bodies and more.
On the negative side, the film is understandably weird. While that might not seem like a bad thing, it might be too weird for some people. It keeps itself together for the first hour, but after that, it begins to lag. Compounding things is the acid trip-like happenings that Ian sees or doesn’t see, causing confusion for not only him, but the viewer trying to follow the story. Things only get more confusing once the ending rolls around, leaving you wondering just what exactly happened. I can understand and appreciate Thacker for trying something so out of the box, but it threatens to alienate viewers and limit it’s audience, which is a shame.
Once the cabinet TV doors closed at the credits, I was impressed with Motivational Growth. It sports great acting from all the players, some great touches of humour mixed with it’s weirdness, and who doesn’t love listening to Jeffrey Combs? And while the film may be a little too out there for it’s own good, it’s also what endears it, along with it’s moral message. Thacker definitely deserves to be noticed for his work, and while it may take repeated viewings to just figure out what the hell is going on, Motivational Growth is certainly impressive.