Written by Caballero Oscuro
Don’t be fooled by this film’s misleading and incongruous title; it’s a slice of corn-fed, whimsical Americana that quite certainly couldn’t take place anywhere outside of our borders. Populated by a cast of remarkable, colorful characters and structured with some odd elliptical storytelling that keeps viewers engaged trying to figure out where it’s going, it’s at once an ode to small-town life as well as a comedic examination of the oddballs allowed to flourish there. Although not as accomplished as the quirky standard bearers it emulates, there’s a strong influence by the works of David Lynch and Wes Anderson, leading to a film that nearly defies explanation.
Donald Turnupseed (Will Oldham) is an eccentric young man in a rural Pennsylvania town who goes missing one day after a power interruption at the local nuclear power plant. His father doesn’t seem too distraught, instead showing far more concern for his unique electric car that also went missing with Donald. Meanwhile, Donald’s very pregnant girlfriend is training for a demolition derby, while another young man named Stool tries to keep a job and find a girlfriend, the latter usually accompanied by his habit of whipping off his shirt at completely inappropriate times. Then there’s the lonely old dog lady desperately searching the town for her missing poodle while also taking time out to attend her own funeral, as well as the young girl named Turkeylegs searching for her friend Donald. The Turnupseed electric car seems to tie everything together, changing ownership multiple times and traveling through the intersecting lives of the characters. The central plot is the search for Donald, but that’s little more than a ploy to cobble together the rest of the characters.
While the film is enjoyable throughout and carries a distinctive new voice, it’s ultimately a bit too precious for its own good as it wallows in the bizarre tics of its characters and scattershot chronology rather than coalescing into any clearly defined focus. It’s little more than an examination of oddballs on parade, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing for viewers in the right frame of mind as its characters are admittedly charming and eminently entertaining. As long as viewers don’t go in expecting any deep insight into the human condition or logical plot progression, they will find a memorable little film that bears the hallmarks of a cult classic in the making.
The DVD release is an elaborate two-disc effort that includes over two hours of bonus features such as deleted scenes, casting sessions, interviews, outtakes from the film’s theatrical premieres, and six short films directed by members of the cast and crew. The Guatemalan Handshake is available on DVD on April 29th.