“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.
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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.