SXSW: Barry Munday Learns To Love Without His Balls
During our SXSW interview with Barry Munday star Patrick Wilson (posting soon), the actor described Barry like this: "He's not a bad guy. He's definitely douchey. He's just kind of a boner." Barry is the kind of guy who tries to entice a cute secretary to go out with him by describing the "pretty kick-ass nacho bar" this one place has. He's the sort of guy who frequents air-guitar competitions. He's the sort of guy who cruises for ladies at the local Bennigan's. Barry thinks he's pretty awesome, and no amount of rejection will convince him otherwise. If you're an even semi-attractive woman, you know Barry all too well.
To say that Barry defines himself by the pursuit of sex would be an understatement. So it's a defining moment when, after an unexpected and violent confrontation inside a movie theater -- I won't spoil anything beyond saying it involves a trumpet -- Barry awakens in the E.R. and is informed by the doctors that "We weren't able to save them." Barry might not understand who "they" are at first, but you can probably guess (even if you didn't read this article's headline). Sans cojones, Barry finds his life drained of joy. All the things he once cared about, shallow though those interests were, no longer seem to matter. Sure, he can still have sex -- his doctors inform him he'll be able to have what's called a "dry orgasm" -- but even his beloved porn collection no longer holds the luster it once did.
After a few days spent recovering on the couch and drowning his sorrows in video games, Barry is sideswiped by the most ironic of news: sometime prior to the departure of his little buddies, he knocked up a Ms. Ginger Farley (Judy Greer), a girl he doesn't even remember meeting, much less entering. Ginger just wants Barry to sign off and acknowledge paternity, but Barry realizes he wants more. Even though he didn't plan the pregnancy -- hell, he doesn't even remember the conception -- this is his last chance to father a child. Ginger is understandably dubious, since "Are you sure we had sex?" isn't the sort of question you want to hear from the potential father of your child. But as Barry tries to prove he's a changed man, not just a mutilated one, he learns that he has a lot more to gain than he lost.
The obvious comparison of Barry Munday is to Knocked Up, but that only goes so far. Certainly the conceit of both movies is similar: a goofy, irresponsible character is forced to grow up thanks to an unexpected pregnancy-- but Munday explores not just newfound responsibility, but questions of what it means to be a man in the first place, not just a father. Like a lot of guys, Barry's life prior to his accident was completely defined by sex, and it takes a traumatic event to force Barry to consider if that's really all he wants out of life. And he'll have to prove it not just to himself, but to Ginger and, even more of a challenge, Ginger's parents (Malcolm McDowell and Cybil Shepherd). Who, by the way, sort of think he raped her.
Wilson does a bang-up job as Barry, starting out as a cartoonish oaf, but one that's hard not to like. Sure, Barry is a goober, but he's an earnest goober. When he sings his song in the shower about how awesome he is, it's not because he's an arrogant prick; it's just that, well, he really does think he's awesome. Barry is a lot of fun to laugh at as he flirts disastrously with every woman that crosses his path, but the film would fumble if Wilson didn't believably transition into a real, sympathetic character. Thankfully, Wilson nails it. He plays Barry so broadly during the opening scenes that we're just as skeptical as Ginger once he begins his quest to prove himself as a decent dad. As he convinces her, he convinces us. Wilson's performance works mainly because, despite how much he changes, Barry remains Barry. He's not much better at being a dad at first than he was at being a lothario, but he's just as earnest in his attempts. Not that he sheds his sheen of douche all at once, mind you; a pitch-perfect scene near the middle of the film shows Barry marveling at the feel of Ginger's pregnant belly...then casually sliding his hand toward her breasts.
Judy Greer is equally hilarious as the recently deflowered Ginger, all fright-wig hair and coke-bottle glasses. Having grown up in the shadow of her too-perfect sister in an overachieving family, Ginger is used to disappointment, and to disappointing people. She's not terribly surprised that her first time ended up being with a smarmy idiot who doesn't even remember the act -- that's just how her life goes. Ginger is layers of awkwardness wrapped in a thin but sturdy casing of bitterness, from her wardrobe and the way she holds herself all the way to her favorite insult she never tires of throwing at Barry -- the word "shiteater" has never been funnier than it is in this movie. Like Wilson, Greer builds a character that is unapologetically unlikeable in some ways, but with a core of goodness that you root to see come to the surface. Despite starting out as two people who couldn't be less suited for each other, by the end of the film you understand why these two work in a twisted sort of way, because each of them has been forced to step outside their comfort zone and become something new.
First-time feature writer-director Chris D'Arienzo definitely knows how to make a good impression, and if Barry Munday is any indication, he's got a promising career ahead of him. The film feels nearly as polished as anything coming out of the Apatow laugh factory, and D'Arienzo shows a knack for funny dialogue and pacing in adapting Frank Turner Hollon's novel, "Life is a Strange Place." His script also gives every supporting character a chance to shine, from Chloe Sevigny as Ginger's inappropriately flirtatious sister, to Billy Dee Williams as Barry's boss (just wait till you see what he drives). Barry Munday is a great little film that deserves a bigger audience than just the festival circuit. Here's hoping Barry gets a happier ending in movie theaters than that time he lost his balls.
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