×

Film Review: ‘Poor Boy’

Set somewhere in the American Southwest, this mostly frustrating collection of lunatic elements tries too hard to be weird.

With:
Lou Taylor Pucci, Dov Tiefenbach, Michael Shannon, Dale Dickey, Pat Healy, Amy Ferguson, Justin Chatwin.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3893664/

“Poor Boy” has a strung-out, sunburnt feverishness that makes it seem, at any moment, poised to tip into outright insanity. The effect is intentional, though that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing, as Robert Scott Wildes’ directorial debut is the sort of out-of-control whatsit that spins about like a decapitated chicken in its spastic death throes. This unhinged tale of two wayward brothers trying to subsist in the desert will undoubtedly attract its fair share of gonzo-cinema fans, but only in the long run, as its chances for theatrical success are about as high as its moron protagonists’ combined IQs.

Wildes’ film opens with a long tracking shot toward, around and behind sad rodeo clown Blayde (Michael Shannon) as he makes his way to center ring. Following that non-sequitur of an intro, “Poor Boy” dives headfirst into its madness proper, which concerns long-bearded, trucker-hat-adorned Romeo (Lou Taylor Pucci) and his bald brother Samson (Dov Tiefenbach) — initially seen with his face and head wrapped in clear tape for no good reason.

A traffic incident involving a woman furious at the duo for stealing her lawnmowers attracts the attention of cop Vern (Pat Healy), who does his best to manage the situation to his own benefit. Yet no sooner has this scene been set than Wildes segues to the first of many imagistic collages comprised of pixelated VHS-grade footage of the brothers and other unknown figures.

Popular on Variety

That montage is set to the sound of Shannon’s clown (who it turns out is Romeo and Samson’s father) musing about the need to stick together — a lesson abided by the brothers, who live together on a boat in the middle of the vast plains, and whose saga begins when they get on “The Internets” in order to find Samson an “Injun” woman he can marry in order to snag a lucrative dowry that’ll allow them to sail off to California. That bizarre scheme eventually brings Samson together with Cynthia (Amy Ferguson), who’s only an adopted child of Native Americans. Nonetheless, her appearance can’t separate these siblings, who make money by selling stolen cameras and vaping equipment, as well as by taking bets on local girls’ volleyball games that they convince the players to throw.

Flailing about with intoxicated instability, and driven by ugly performances by an arrogant Pucci and eccentric Tiefenbach, “Poor Boy” also concerns itself with the efforts of mysterious Deb (Dale Dickey) to locate Samson and Romeo (known derisively by everyone as “Prickface”) — a search that entails procuring roller-rink hookers for teenage boys in exchange for information. Scuzzy through and through, “Poor Boy” embraces its protagonist’s dirtbag trailer-park profanity and putridness, casting itself as a gun-toting, street-fighting surreal odyssey of two lunatics striving for a dream that was passed on by their long-departed paterfamilias.

The action’s ramshackle white-trash craziness is shot in helter-skelter style. Wildes and d.p. Andrew Wheeler segue between carefully framed and frantic handheld compositions, utilize different film stocks and employ an array of lens flares, split screens, blooming lights and dusty hues. Chris Walldorf and Brent Bagwell’s score is equally scattershot, boasting everything from orchestral noise to synth-pop tunes to syncopated ditties. It’s a torrent of belligerent formal gimmicks in sync with the careening paths of its protagonists. And like their story, it’s a lot of in-your-face sound and fury devoid of compelling substance, primarily intended to provoke and alienate in the most extreme manner imaginable.

“Poor Boy” quickly devolves into a morass of sex, shootings and murder, albeit without any larger purpose that might make one care about its idiot characters’ aimless, reprobate shenanigans, which are embellished with hallucinatory moments in which they become engulfed in cosmic stars and conclude with a Shannon-centric flashback that has the audacity to feign genuine pathos. As with one woman’s admission that her girlfriend gets horny from watching cage fighting, the occasional out-of-left-field comment elicits a WTF-type chuckle. Mostly, however, the film is so enamored with its “twisted roustabouts” and scuzzball aesthetics that it practically begs viewers to not take it seriously — an altogether easy task with which to comply.

Film Review: 'Poor Boy'

Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (Spotlight), April 19, 2016. Running time: 105 MIN.

Production: A Them Gold Wolves presentation, in association with Bow and Arrow Entertainment, in association with Guns and Fame. (International sales: UTA, Beverly Hills.) Produced by Kristin Mann, Robert Scott Wildes. Executive producers, James McLachlan, Matthew Perniciaro, Michael Sherman, Anton Gurevich, Jim and Sally Rothwell, Steven Ilous, Lou Taylor Pucci, Owen Drake. Co-producers, Adam Stone, Will Rimmer, Jeremiah Gurzi, West McDowell.

Crew: Directed by Robert Scott Wildes. Screenplay, Robert Scott Wildes, Logan Antill. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Andrew Wheeler; editor, Chris Walldorf; music, Chris Walldorf, Brent Bagwell; music supervisor, Lauren Mikus; production designer, Anne Goelz; art director, Lenna Karacostas; set decorator, Steve McCrae; costume designer, Dakota Keller; sound (DTS/SDDS/Dolby Digital), Will Patterson; re-recording mixer, Craig Henighan; visual effects, SMI Entertainment; associate producers, Graham Smith, Michael Royal, Chase Hoyt, Jean Dalsin, John Robinson; assistant director, Will Rimmer; casting, Liz Winter.

With: Lou Taylor Pucci, Dov Tiefenbach, Michael Shannon, Dale Dickey, Pat Healy, Amy Ferguson, Justin Chatwin.

More Film

  • Chris Messina Ewan McGregor

    Ewan McGregor and Chris Messina Say Their 'Birds of Prey' Villains Are Probably Gay

    Rosie Perez isn’t the only actor playing a gay character in “Birds of Prey.” At Thursday night’s opening of the “Birds of Prey” Harlywood exhibit in Hollywood, Variety asked co-stars Ewan McGregor and Chris Messina if the internet chatter surrounding the sexuality of their characters — villains Roman Sionis (aka Black Mask) and Victor Zsasz [...]

  • A still from Rebuilding Paradise by

    Ron Howard on Capturing Wildfire Devastation in 'Rebuilding Paradise' Doc

    Ron Howard’s upcoming documentary “Rebuilding Paradise” puts the spotlight on survivors from the northern California community in the aftermath of a deadly and destructive wildfire. “We weren’t just interested in the drama and the trauma, but on a human interest level,” Howard told Variety’s Matt Donnelly in conversation at Sundance Film Festival’s Cinema Cafe series. [...]

  • Zola

    'Zola,' the Stripper Tweetstorm Movie, Premieres to Warm Reception at Sundance

    “Zola,” the A24 movie based on a viral Twitter thread, premiered to laughter and applause on Friday at the Sundance Film Festival. The film is based on a mostly true story tweeted in October 2015 by Aziah Wells King (nickname: Zola, played by Taylour Paige). King recounted, in highly entertaining fashion, her journey from Detroit [...]

  • Alma Har'el with Lucas Hedges and

    DGA Marks Inclusion Milestones on the Eve of Awards Ceremony

    Two months ago, the Directors Guild of America heralded a major milestone in its long push for inclusion in the television industry. The DGA’s episodic television director inclusion report found that half of all TV episodes in the 2018-19 season were directed by women or directors of color for the first time. “Inclusion has been [...]

  • Meg Whitman and Jeffrey Katzenberg Quibi

    Jeffrey Katzenberg, Meg Whitman Explain How Quibi Differs From Other Streamers

    Jeffrey Katzenberg has heard the chatter about streaming wars, but the media mogul thinks that when the dust settles, the fight to attract audiences won’t end with just a few victors. “Everybody suddenly wants to declare winners and losers and the fact is there’s only winners and winners right now,” he said during an interview [...]

  • Anaconda

    'Anaconda' Reboot in the Works at Sony With 'Divergent' Writer

    Sony Pictures is in early development of a reboot of the “Anaconda” franchise, hiring “Divergent” writer Evan Daugherty to write the project. The studio has not set up the project with a producer, director or actors. Sony released the original “Anaconda” in 1997 as a horror thriller starring Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Jon Voight, Eric [...]

  • Annabella Sciorra

    Friend Tells of Annabella Sciorra's Mid-1990s Struggles at Harvey Weinstein Trial

    A longtime friend of Annabella Sciorra testified Friday in Harvey Weinstein’s criminal trial that the actor turned to cutting herself and exhibited other troubling behavior in the mid-1990s after she was allegedly raped by the disgraced film mogul. The defense questioning of model Kara Young got heated as Judge James Burke sustained repeated objections to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content