Film Review: ‘The Brass Teapot’

A fresh riff on 'be careful what you wish for' fables that should score some coin in VOD and limited release

Aladdin had his magic lamp. An American couple settles for a special kettle in “The Brass Teapot,” a fresh riff on “be careful what you wish for” fables, in which things quickly get out of hand after two young lovers inherit a vessel that rewards them with cash every time they injure themselves. No pain, no gain, as they say, though they’d better look out, as the enchanted teapot corrupted Genghis Khan and Hitler before them. Snapped up by Magnolia out of Toronto, this VOD-led indie should score some extra coin in limited release, but plays just fine on smallscreens.

Though the brass teapot’s elaborate backstory is only barely referenced in the movie, director Ramaa Mosley first developed the idea as a comicbook, which benefits her feature debut by giving the impression that the small-scale episode belongs to a far grander mythology (reinforced by opening credits that place the teapot in famous artworks over the centuries). Inspired by an original short story she stumbled across online, a darkly comic cautionary tale in the tradition of W.W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw,” Mosley contacted its author, Tim Macy, and enlisted him to expand the idea together.

Endearingly played by Michael Angarano and Juno Temple, twentysomething lovebirds John and Alice can barely make rent when the teapot falls into their laps. In theory, the two actors make a curious match — he of the perpetual babyface and she voluptuous beyond her years — and yet, the early scenes quickly establish that nothing in the world matters more to them than one another, which is the ideal dynamic for a supernatural litmus test: This teapot has a way of bringing out the worst in its owners.

During a country drive, Alice enters a rundown antique store and steals the ancient device from a knowing old Jewish woman. The episode isn’t quite so straightforward in that Alice does her shoplifting after surviving a near-death car accident (evidently rigged to satisfy the teapot’s thirst for carnage), but the pic’s tone is tongue-in-cheek enough that plausibility questions don’t slow things down.

Once they get the thing home, it doesn’t take Alice long to discover the teapot’s powers, and soon she and John are earning stacks of cash simply by banging, burning and bruising themselves. Where another writer/director team might have taken the same concept in a darker direction, Macy and Mosley seem to think there’s no reason they can’t have fun with it, having John consult “Antiques Roadshow” for an estimate of the priceless teapot’s value and devising a montage in which the characters find the most delightful possible ways to cause themselves pain, from a visit to the tattoo parlor to some light BDSM in the bedroom.

The payouts decrease as they go, however, and a fair amount of the plot concerns the couple’s increasingly extreme trial-and-error tests as they try to keep the money flowing. (When the teapot is pleased, it gushes forth with CG cash; when it’s unsatisfied, we hear only the tinkle of small change.) The vessel itself comes with a shady occult history, along with a fair number of tacky stereotypes seeking to possess it, ranging from a pair of cartoonish Hassidic money-grabbers (Thomas Middleditch, Robert Michael McClure) to a mysterious Asian figure (Stephen Park). Even the couple’s white-trash landlord (Billy Magnussen) wants in on the loot.

But all this isn’t nearly as interesting as how the nouveau-riche pair deal with the temptation before them, and the film is a little too easily distracted from its central test of character. Continuing a run of tarty-yet-complicated parts, Temple has the trickier job of the two leads, remaining likable even as her appetite runs amok, though things stop far short of the genocidal owners who’ve come before (a measure of restraint that would have served Richard Kelly well on his similarly themed “The Box”).

Despite the inherent perversity of the concept, Mosley succeeds in maintaining a certain sweetness throughout. Even more impressively, she makes her low-budget enterprise look as slick as most midrange studio comedies, demonstrating herself a director with both imagination and technical ingenuity. If she wishes to work again, “The Brass Teapot” is likely to make it so.

The Brass Teapot

Reviewed on DVD, Los Angeles, March 24, 2013. (In 2012 Toronto Film Festival — Discovery.) MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 102 MIN.

A Magnolia Pictures release presented with Northern Lights Films, in association with Queen Nefertari Prods., TFI Intl., of an Atlantic Pictures, Laundry Films production, in association with Union Entertainment Group. Produced by Kirk Roos, Darren Goldberg, James Graves, Ramaa Mosley. Executive producers, Diane Nabatoff, P. Jennifer Dana, Mandy Gray, Erik Rommesmo, Jeff Schlossman, Anthony Gudas, Michael Corso, Lanre Idewu, Cynthia Stafford.

Directed by Ramaa Mosley. Screenplay, Tim Macy; story, Macy, Mosley. Camera (color, widescreen), Peter Simonite; editor, Ryan Fosley; music, Matthew Hewitt; music supervisor, Linda Cohen; production designer, Elizabeth Jones; art director, Brian Goodwin; set decorator, Heather Thomas; costume designer, Malgosia Turzanska; sound (Dolby Digital), Mike Guarino; sound designer, Jeffrey Alan Pitts; supervising sound editor, Mark Mangino; re-recording mixer, Stanley Kastner; visual effects supervisor, Elad Offer; visual effects, Resolution LA; stunt coordinator, Manny Siverio; line producer, Louise Lovegrove; associate producers, Noah Haeussner, Michael Raimondi, Taylor Ferguson, Erin Tauscher; assistant director, Don Julien; second unit camera, Danny Moder; casting, Laura Rosenthal, Maribeth Fox, Jodi Angstreich.

Cast: Juno Temple, Michael Angarano, Alexis Bledel, Stephen Park, Billy Magnussen, Alia Shawkat, Bobby Moynihan, Debra Monk, Matt Walsh, Ben Rappaport, Lucy Walters, Jack McBrayer, Michael Delaney, Tara Copeland, Thomas Middleditch, Robert Michael McClure.

Film Review: 'The Brass Teapot'

More Film

  • Awards Season Mens Fashion Harry Shum

    Men's Fashion Is Changing Things Up This Awards Season

    The standard black tuxedo men donned to awards shows for decades is quickly becoming an outmoded uniform. From bold colors, to striking textures, to novel silhouettes, men’s awards show looks are now just as fashion-forward as women’s. “It was a slow evolution and then a really quick evolution,” says Ilaria Urbinati, who styles Rami Malek, [...]

  • Montage Los Cabos Queen Kapiolani Hotel

    Where to Relax After Awards Season, From Mexico to Hawaii

    Sundance and the Grammys. Here’s where to trip a little light fantastic and celebrate in style, forget disappointments and, best of all, reconnect with loved ones or yourself. FAMILY GETAWAYSDisney magic: Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, Disneyland, Anaheim, Calif. The Disneyland Resort is expert at handling VIPs and the 948-room Grand Californian is its hotel [...]

  • Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his Night

    Box Office: 'How to Train Your Dragon 3' Takes Off With $3 Million

    “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” flew to $3 million at about 3,200 North American location on Thursday night. The figure doubled the preview gross for “The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part,” which pulled in $1.5 million two weeks ago on Feb. 8. More Reviews Album Review: Lil Pump's 'Harverd Dropout' Berlin [...]

  • Isnt It Romantic

    The Rom-Com Is Dead. Long Live the Rom-Com (Column)

    The romantic comedy as we’ve known it may well be on its last legs. There is now a whole generation that sees through its synthetic stylings and princess fakery — and, more than that, feels fundamentally insulted by them. Yet “Isn’t It Romantic,” the beguiling meta version of a kitschy-koo romantic comedy, proves (among other [...]

  • Atmosphere91st Annual Academy Awards, Governors Ball

    Inside the 2019 Oscar Parties

    Stars party all around Hollywood before, during, and after the Oscars. Here, Variety hits the town to give you the inside scoop on all the star-studded soirées. Keep checking back throughout the weekend for the latest updates… Variety x Armani Beauty Makeup Artistry Dinner Sunset Tower, Los Angeles, Feb. 20 More Reviews Album Review: Lil Pump's 'Harverd Dropout' [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content