A trio of aspiring stand-up comedians takes center stage in “Bunny Chow: Know Thyself,” an engaging, modestly conceived road-trip pic set against South Africa’s burgeoning cultural scene. Genially ribald, off-the-cuff look at the struggles of being an entertainer is never quite as funny, lively or insightful about the creative process as its premise would seem to warrant, but should receive a warm welcome from comedy fests and cable berths regardless.
Zeno Petersen’s handheld black-and-white camerawork immediately establishes a loose, caught-on-the-fly tone as three Johannesburg comedians set out for Oppikoppi, an annual rock festival where they hope to give their talents a test run.
David (David Kibuuka, who co-scripted with director John Barker) longs to make it big but has serious stage-fright issues; the more confident Kagi (Kagiso Lediga), who like David is black, is incapable of staying faithful to his g.f. Kim (Kim Engelbrecht); and portly Joey (Joey Rasdien) is a Muslim trying to reconcile his calling with his faith.
Along the way, they pick up and almost immediately ditch a weird tag-along named Cope (Jason Cope) who has a side line in hallucinogenic drugs. Pic also periodically drops in on the parallel narratives of Kim and Joey’s g.f. Angela (Angela Chow), who are becoming increasingly aware of the liabilities of being a comedian’s significant other.
David poignantly emerges as the story’s hero of sorts, his self-esteem withering as he encounters hostile audiences and fickle would-be girlfriends. That leaves Joey to serve as comic relief by getting coked out of his gourd, while Kagi experiences the harsh consequences of his serial womanizing.
As messy and flavorful as the regional curry sandwich referenced by its title (though probably not as satisfying), pic has few ideas beyond its inspiring if grammatically confused mantra: “Know thyself, be thyself, so that they may see thyself.” But there’s something naively unexamined about the script’s insistence that David has the makings of a great comedian, despite ample evidence to the contrary.
Tech package is appropriately modest, with an especially vibrant soundtrack.