Director: Joel Potrykus
Stars: Joshua Burge, Joel Potrykus
4 (out of 5) Globes
The disheveled antihero of “Buzzard” is a unique brand of loser. Marty (Joshua Burge) is a low-, low-, low-rent scammer of cons so small and pathetic it’d be more shocking if anyone bothered busting him at all. At the same time, he’s quite accomplished, in his way, kind of. Exploiting the apathy of store clerks and customer service drones, he’s introduced closing his checking account only to reopen it, so that he may take advantage of a new $25 discount for new customers. He’ll also steal office supplies for modest cash, and he has something going with oven pizzas, which he consumes two at a time, like a sandwich, with tortillas and ranch dressing in between. What he does is an unsettling mix of sad and impressive.
Marty’s just getting by, like many in our wintry economic climate, when he lucks upon what isn’t the one big score, but is his most ambitious venture yet: he makes off with a bundle of checks from work, which he will cash. Going into hiding until he knows — or at least half-assedly suspects — he’s in the clear, he first holes up in a coworker’s “party zone” (read: the basement of the guy’s ailing father), then high-tails it to nearby Detroit. There, things turn rough — not because it’s Detroit, a city demonized on film like no other, but because the line separating what’s funny about Marty and what’s dangerous becomes increasingly blurred.
Part of the fun tension of “Buzzard,” in fact, is wondering how far it will go. In some ways it’s like the people it portrays (unkindly). The colleague, Derek, is played, with appropriate misplaced confidence and bad goatee, by “Buzzard”’s director himself, Joel Potrykus. He fashions his second feature (after “Ape,” which also starred Burge) into a series of black-out sketches, often banged out in one static long take, sometimes with key body parts cut off by the frame. The middle section, set entirely in the basement, has the feel of two (talented) guys just making a(n accomplished) home movie, shooting whatever ideas they have. (The high point: a close-up of Derek, head lying on a moving treadmill, trying to eat as many deployed Bugles as he can and almost choking. It’s the world’s fattiest, saddest video game.) “Buzzard” is handmade, much like the makeshift Freddy Krueger claw Marty is crafting out of an old Nintendo Power Glove and some dull blades. That’s the perfect metaphor for the film: a silly idea that has the potential to draw real blood.
But it’s more than that. It’s unusually astute and articulate about diagnosing the state of today’s young white males. There are a lot of films about modern men as manchildren — some semi-scathing but ultimately affirmative (the work of Judd Apatow), some pitch black (“Listen Up Philip”). “Buzzard” is both more depressing and more aware of an outside world and its characters’ absurd place in it. Derek loves his absolutely go-nowhere job because it allows him the comfort of no ambitions — well, no ambitions beyond creating a bubble that allows him to do nothing but drink soda, eat crappy snacks and brag about how he’s the king of the video game he purchased a week before. His white entitlement means he’s never challenged, and so he never has to try for more.
Marty, meanwhile, is ambitious but in skeezier and still slacker ways. He can settle for tiny scams and turn into a low-level sociopath who will never be caught because he flies under the radar. Meanwhile, Detroit is right there, where people, just like Marty, fight for survival amidst a wintry economic climate. The difference is most of Detroit’s low-income denizens wouldn’t get away with any of the tricks Marty gets away with because, in a sense, no one’s really worried about him.
“Buzzard” probably didn’t need to drive this point home via a miscalculated final moment. (It even has what could have been a killer final shot, one that plays like a hilariously recontextualized parody of the famous running scene from Leos Carax’s “Mauvais Sang.”) In fact, sometimes it can feel unwieldy, though in retrospect that appears to be from design. What starts off as a laugh-at-the-loser comedy, as it goes on, becomes both funny and depressing, often at the same time. Marty is one of those characters, like David Brent, too buffoonish to be wholly relatable, but if you’re honest, you’re bound to find bits of stray, terrifying similarities.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge