Kabluey is an odd little film, and it’s one that is odd for odd’s sake. It’s hard to pin down what it’s about exactly, and that’s a lot of its charm. It’s ultimately about the awkwardness of relationships, and it puts this forward by developing the most awkward situations imaginable. It’s one of a class of indie films which throw out events and characters so odd they can never manage mass appeal, but at the end they say, “See, it was just you all along.” And, at the end, we have to admit, “Well, yes, that’s me.”
The story opens with Leslie (Lisa Kudrow) at the end of her rope, or in this case telephone cord. Her husband is in Iraq, where he’s been for quite a while, and she has recently learned that his stay is being extended. Her two young boys are straight out of a Supernanny episode, and she’s pulling the phone cord to its limit in order to hide in the pantry. She’s talking to her mother-in-law, and displaying “frazzled” for all she’s worth. When Leslie mentions that she’s going to need to go back to work, but can’t afford daycare, mom-in-law quickly suggests that Salmon (Scott Prendergast) could stay with her and help out. Salmon is Leslie’s brother-in-law, and the black sheep of the family. He’s also probably the most awkward, oddball character with more than one dimension that’s ever been on screen.
Salmon soon arrives, and the blind leading the blind begins. He’s inept at taking care of himself, and the differences between him taking care of the kids, and leaving them home alone are difficult to discern. It isn’t long before Leslie finds him a job so that he can make enough money to go away. That job turns out to be wearing a giant, blue, “logoman” costume, and standing on a strip of highway passing out fliers. It’s a lonely strip of highway in the middle of vast fields of farmland. We actually watch him do this for a surprising percentage of the film’s run. It’s not quite an action movie.
Kabluey is the kind of movie that can truly make one appreciate the world of indie films. There is no big-budget version of this movie, and I think there’s really no way to say precisely what this movie is saying once you have to try to attract a large enough audience to cover such a budget. “Giant, blue guy standing by the side of the road” just isn’t pulling people into theaters. There is also a continuous, forced discomfort that makes this a tricky movie to shower with the sort of praise that persuades. Unfortunately, it is the masterful awkwardness that is most enjoyable, and most difficult to recommend.
From the moment Salmon arrives, we share in his bumbling uncertainty by way of Prendergast’s own writing and direction. We don’t need much explanation for the uncomfortable silences that might surround a brother-in-law coming to live with his sister-in-law when there is no brother buffer around. We’ve been to the Christmas dinners and found ourselves in the micro-version. But, Kabluey isn’t letting go of you there. It also puts on a ridiculous costume, and stands you in the middle of nowhere, and really for no reason. Then it puts you in the position of discovering that your sister-in-law is cheating on your brother. Then you’re the fly on the wall forced to listen to all her colleagues discuss how she’s sleeping with the boss. It’s hard not to fidget.
In the end, it’s tough to say if this is Salmon’s movie, or Leslie’s. It may be tough to say if all the struggle is really doing anything, or if this is eventually a story at all. There are a lot of versions of this film you can imagine which wind up destroying themselves with manipulative pseudo-emotion, but I think Prendergast pulls it off here. That’s mainly because in some sense he’s never really saying anything. It avoids manipulation by lack of clarity, and though that may sound like faint praise, it works for this story. You’ve got to experience the loneliness and general “misfithood” to understand it, but understanding it is something that happens after the credits roll, if at all.
There isn’t exactly an ending to the film such that it could be spoiled, but at the end Salmon putters away into the sunset with something like a smile on his face. It’s a quiet moment of reflection, where Prendergast can look at you, and without words tell you that all he wanted to say really was that Salmon is walking around in a giant, goofy costume, whether he’s walking around in a giant, goofy costume or not. Of course, everyone else is too.
The horrible injustice of indie films is that they are likely to be the ones that make us most long for special features, and they are least likely to deliver. Kabluey at least has rather nice looking packaging, even if a picture of the blue suit isn't going to suck in new viewers. The only real special feature is a whopping 25 deleted scenes, most of which are really extended scenes. Unfortunately, none of them are really worthwhile in the sense that they might represent decisions of merit. They're just the less interesting bits that had to be cut to trim things down. A couple of the extended versions are actually a bit more of laugh than what ended up in the final cut, but nothing to lose sleep over.
It's a shame, because Prendergast might have given a good commentary track. He has a few films under his belt now, and he's moving up into the world of managing some name actors. This film in particular seems likely to lead to interesting discussion from someone who is beginning to make a name for himself on the indie circuit. I'm not sure if it's good or bad to say, but there are a unique amount of lulls in this film during which he could stray off a bit without it being bothersome.
Apart from that, we only get 7 trailers, and a rather robust commercial for Blu-Ray technology.