×

Film Review: ‘Applesauce’

A sardonic high-school teacher's vaunted cool crumbles under a barrage of dismembered body parts in Onur Tukel's surreal black comedy.

With:
Onur Tukel, Max Casella, Trieste Kelly Dunn, Jennifer Prediger, Dylan Baker, Karl Jacob.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4270878/

“Applesauce,” Onur Tukel’s latest and most accomplished microbudget exercise in cynical absurdism, throws dismembered body parts into a couple of amicable marriages and charts the resultant explosions as paranoia runs rampant. This time around, Tukel casts his charmingly perverse, sardonic persona in the role of a high-school history teacher exhorting peaceful conflict resolution; his addiction to a radio talkshow that asks “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” leads to wildly unforeseeable consequences. With its sarcastic dialogue, deadpan humor, believably flawed characters and surreal logic, “Applesauce” may expand Tukel’s growing indie fan base into niche release.

Ron (Tukel) is pried away from the phone just as he is about to confess his worst deed to talkshow host Stevie Bricks (the incomparable Dylan Baker). He is pried away by his wife, Nicki (Trieste Kelly Dunn), who is impatient to join their best friends, Les (Max Casella) and Kate (Jennifer Prediger), for dinner. Still primed to tell all, Ron confides instead to his wife and friends about how he once severed a promising sax player’s fingers by accident, an incident that has disturbed him for 20 years.

The question of one’s darkest deed continues to reverberate in conversations among the foursome even after they get to their respective homes. The ensuing revelations between spouses provoke anger, hysteria, jealousy, suspicion, retaliations and disillusionment far out of proportion to the relatively minor transgressions revealed. Thus, the act of peeing on a puppy elicits the kind of appalled loathing generally reserved for rapists and murderers.

Popular on Variety

Meanwhile, Ron becomes the horrified recipient of a severed finger sent through the mail in an inlaid box, followed shortly afterward by a severed foot in his laundry. Finally he finds a penis in his Chinese delivery order, tucked among the noodles, only discovering halfway to his lips what his chopsticks have captured.

Ron’s vaunted cool completely dissolves in panic as he casts around for the person responsible for this barrage of body parts, his suspicions escalating in all directions as he turns his paranoia — first on those who might actually have heard his confession, and then on anyone he feels harbors ill will toward him. His resultant defensive hysteria soon has him suspended from his job, alienated from wife and friends, and missing a body part of his own.

Often mislabeled a mumblecore helmer, Tukel in reality merely overlaps with the movement’s fringes and shares some of its actors. He makes low-budget, darkly comedic films that display an acerbic sense of humor that is both fully scripted and inseparable from the lead character, increasingly portrayed by Tukel himself.

A typical Tukel hero alternately shocks with deliberate politically incorrect provocations and himself exhibits the same behavior he mocks in others. His partial awareness of this contradiction helps not at all to modify his actions. Indeed, the very tone of Tukel’s films is determined by the degree to which the viewer is asked to identify with the protagonist’s intellectual superiority, while also despising his smugness and hypocrisy. As surrounding circumstances grow increasingly surreal, whether from vampirism (“Summer of Blood”), Republican insensitivity (“Richard’s Wedding”), or impotence (“Ding-a-ling-Less”), the viewer’s balancing act is stretched to the point of collapsing in on itself in comedic horror.

Film Review: 'Applesauce'

Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (Viewpoints), New York, April 24, 2015. Running time: 91 MIN.

Production: An MPI Media Group release of an MPI Media production. Produced by Matt Grady, Melodie Sisk, Karl Jacob, Greg Newman. Executive producers, Onur Tukel, Clifford McCurdy.

Crew: Directed, written by Onur Tukel. Camera (color, HD), Jason Banker; editors, Justin Kavoussi, Tukel; music, Michael Montes; sound, Andrew Sterling, Nick Bohun; re-recording mixer, Michael Suarez; casting, Stephanie Holbrook.

With: Onur Tukel, Max Casella, Trieste Kelly Dunn, Jennifer Prediger, Dylan Baker, Karl Jacob.

More Film

  • Mickey Rourke

    Mickey Rourke Joins Religious Drama 'Man of God'

    Pure Flix/Quality Flix has picked up international sales rights to religious drama “Man of God,” starring Mickey Rourke, Aris Servetalis and Alexander Petrov. The rights are for sale at the Berlin Film Festival. “Man of God,” directed and written by Yelena Popovic. Producers are Alexandros Potter and Yelena Popovic through their company Simeon Entertainment and [...]

  • Young Hunter

    'Young Hunter': Film Review

    Director-writer Marco Berger has been playing with same-sex seduction since his debut, “Plan B,” frequently pitching one confident gay man against a more closeted or curious conquest. Eleven years after that first feature, his latest, “Young Hunter,” continues to riff on the same theme, here exhibiting parallels with the entrapment scenario of 2011’s “Absent” in [...]

  • Kumail Nanjiani Stuber

    Film News Roundup: Kumail Nanjiani Boards Political Thriller 'The Independent'

    In today’s film news roundup, Kumail Nanjiani has been cast as a journalist, Daisy Ridley boards Imax’s “Asteroid Hunters,” “Best Summer Ever” leads off a festival, Shelley Duvall gets an honor and “Dark Harvest” lands at MGM. PROJECT LAUNCH Kumail Nanjiani will star in the political thriller “The Independent,” which is being introduced to buyers [...]

  • Balloon

    'Balloon': Film Review

    On paper, the plight of a pair of families fleeing 1979’s East Germany in a hot air balloon sounds like fabricated fodder for a spy novel. But as implausible as it sounds, this “The Mysterious Island”-esque grand escape from Deutschland’s then walled-in, oppressive slice really did happen. And nearly four decades after being the subject [...]

  • J.D. Dillard Star Wars

    New 'Star Wars' Movie in Development With 'Sleight' Director, 'Luke Cage' Writer

    Lucasfilm is developing a new “Star Wars” feature film with “Sleight” writer-director J.D. Dillard and “Luke Cage” writer Matt Owens, Variety has confirmed. The project is still in its very early stages, and all further details — characters, location, time period within the “Star Wars” creative galaxy — remain a mystery. That includes whether Dillard would [...]

  • Foster Boy

    Shaquille O'Neal on Why Foster Care Is the Great Untold Story

    It’s no secret that I have suffered some losses lately. For better or worse, my pain and grief are public. But I understand the opportunity to face the pain, learn from it, and model a behavior. I wouldn’t want it any other way. But there are hundreds of thousands of kids across the U.S. — [...]

  • Emerald Run

    'Emerald Run': Film Review

    “Emerald Run” is one of the weirdest hodgepodges to make its way to theater screens and digital platforms in quite some time. Unfortunately, oddness is just about the only thing this muddled little indie has going for it. Despite the game efforts of lead actor David Chokachi and attractive lensing by DP Michael Caradonna, the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content