Who would have predicted a year with two hand-puppet pics? Worlds away from “The Beaver,” Canadian helmer Aaron Houston’s “Sunflower Hour” is a cheerfully non-PC mockumentary ostensibly following four amateur puppeteers as they vie for a slot on the titular kiddie cable show. Blending lowbrow sexual humor and mean-spirited digs with an in-pursuing-dreams-you-find-yourself narrative arc, the low-budget item, winner of the Karlovy Vary fest’s Independent Camera award, is too risque for network broadcast, but will blossom in further fests and home-viewing formats.
The four contestants, all social outcasts, rep a variety of issues and family backgrounds which the mostly off-camera documaker (Greg Ng, who also edited the pic) exposes in the least flattering light. First seen at preliminary auditions, the quartet includes Leslie (Patrick Gilmore), the ever-smiling son of an evangelical minister, obsessed with ridding the world of homosexuality, although he’s clearly gay himself; faux Irishman Shamus (Ben Cotton), who operates a leprechaun that, like him, speaks with a heavy brogue; angry teen Goth Satan’s Spawn (Kacey Rohl); and sensitive David (Amitai Marmorstein), whose bullying older brothers refer to him as “Gayvid.”
As the four ready themselves for a final challenge — appearing before a tot audience with the show’s regular cast — the unhappily married producers, porn-industry vets Donald (Peter New) and Melissa (Johannah Newmarch), engage in an escalating game of tit-for-tat.
Modeled on the Christopher Guest school of mockumentary, Houston’s crudely entertaining script makes inspired use of budgetary limitations; locations include Vancouver’s blandest hotel and least posh suburbs. Wholehearted performances from the all-pro cast, which remain with the concept every step of the way, rep the pic’s strongest asset. Appropriately, the visual style is cheesy homevideo.