Rat Pack Rat (2014)
Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage of the Reel Indie Film Festival. For more information on the festival visit http://reelindiefilmfest.com/ and follow the event on Twitter at @RIFF_Toronto.
Dennis, an amateur Sammy Davis, Jr. impersonator (Eddie Rouse), is hired by a local woman (Margie Beegle) for a special gig: a private performance for her bedridden, middle-aged son Brandon (Steve Little). The family house is a creepy scene, cluttered and a little too dark, rotting newspaper covering the windows, and Brandon kept in a back room attached to an impossible number of hoses and machines. There’s an element of surrealism, too, in the Davids Croneneberg and Lynch styles: obscenely shaped medical equipment, bodily organs replaced by bolts and worms where they really oughtn’t be.
Rat Pack Rat is a tight, impeccably crafted 18 minutes, full of dark and absurd humor, its gentle surrealism its greatest strength.
Rat Pack Rat is a tight, impeccably crafted 18 minutes, full of dark and absurd humor, its gentle surrealism its greatest strength. Dennis, for instance, doesn’t look much like Sammy Davis, Jr., and doesn’t act much like him, either. Still, there’s a magic about his performance; he has the unmistakable mien of a long-time performer, a true professional. He also has the unmistakable look of a man in no position to turn any paying gig down. Rouse gives a terrific turn in Rat Pack Rat, and with a few sighs and an almost imperceptible hesitance in his step, makes us feel we’ve known him for a lifetime.
Rouse gives a terrific turn in Rat Pack Rat, and with a few sighs and an almost imperceptible hesitance in his step, makes us feel we’ve known him for a lifetime.
Dennis is a generous performer, but in this private gig for a strange, bedridden man, he is pushed to a rather perverse extreme of generousness that compromises his dignity, something most any entertainer can relate to. It’s an issue of trust, really, an unspoken if temporary bond between the audience and the entertainer that allows the performer to feel safe enough to give of themselves. Unfortunately, that trust is often misplaced, as Rat Pack Rat illustrates in its delightfully queasy fashion. The mother is not so much a fan or even Dennis’ intended audience, but rather a consumer in a business transaction, well meaning enough but expecting far too much from a man simply because she promised to pay him. Her son, meanwhile, easily swings back and forth across the thin line that separates a grateful and amused audience with a selfish and demanding one, unaware that there is a difference.
All these roles — performer, fan, consumer — exist within a host of sociocultural concerns, including mostly hinted-at race relations issues and tropes. Though played as irony, it remains an uncomfortable theme because it’s a plain, unadorned truth, an intrusion of reality in the midst of a world that is otherwise just this side of fantasy. It’s not that this is the only truth to be had in the film, however; underneath its protective layers of absurdity and dark humor, the film overflows with confrontational truths. Rat Pack Rat is a tough, beautiful, crazy film, full of gloriously disquieting themes sure to disturb and delight the very audience it judges so harshly.
Rat Pack Rat is a tough, beautiful, crazy film, full of gloriously disquieting themes sure to disturb and delight the very audience it judges so harshly.