REVIEW: Relaxer [2019]

Score: 5/10 | ★ ★


Rating: R | Runtime: 91 minutes | Release Date: March 22nd, 2019 (USA)
Studio: Oscilloscope
Director(s): Joel Potrykus
Writer(s): Joel Potrykus

“I quit quitting”

I remember watching PCU as a kid and thinking how awesome it would be to make my thesis paper about something as inconsequential as whether or not a movie starring Michael Caine or Gene Hackman is always on television at any given time. It’s doubtful I knew what a thesis was back then, but I had a good laugh watching Pigman stare aimlessly at the fraternity’s TV until A Bridge Too Far provided the key to the whole ordeal. Isn’t sitting on the couch with no responsibilities and therefore no reason to get up the dream for any teenager with a collection of VHS tapes and videogames? Of course it is. We unfortunately forget that doing so also necessitates a little logistical problem solving concerning food and waste.

One person who hasn’t forgotten this tiny detail is writer/director Joel Potrykus. He’s kept it at the forefront of his mind so strongly that he’s created a film around the unavoidable filth this fantasy manufactures. The challenge with Relaxer is therefore coming up with a scenario that would let the man or woman at its center remain where he/she is without fail. First you have to generate a character so passive, listless, introverted, and delusional that nothing could distract from a simple goal with an even simpler reward. Next is introducing a more brashly confrontational bully who knows what buttons to push to get the lead embarrassed enough to risk self-destruction to prove his/her mettle. And third is ensuring the grotesque by-product possesses meaning beyond mere fleeting provocation.

Potrykus solves step one with flying colors thanks to Joshua Burge‘s Abbie. Here’s a grown man with a childlike naiveté who’s somehow wanting for nothing. Rather than hold down a job, he bounces from his mother’s basement to his brother’s cesspool of an apartment. To stay at the latter means payment via entertainment: accepting meaninglessly disgusting challenges like drinking an entire gallon of room temperature milk by a series of meticulously timed glasses without leaving the couch to use the bathroom. Abbie has nowhere to go, no real friends to care about his well-being considering he willfully compromises it, and no ambition besides visiting his absentee father who now resides in a California jail for what everyone (but his ignorantly hopeful son) knows to be pedophilia.

Step two is accomplished with the help of David Dastmalchian as Abbie’s domineering brother Cam. He’s the one who challenges his sibling to vile insanity at the detriment of his own domicile’s hygiene because it’s funny watching the poor sap sink so low for nothing but ridicule in return. Now that the place is covered in bodily fluids, Cam decides to cut his losses and get out. So he presents a dare that would guarantee things get even worse if Abbie proves stupid enough to follow through. His proposition: beat the notoriously unbeatable Level 256 in Pac-Man to win Nintendo Power’s one hundred thousand dollar contest without getting up. Is there incentive for that last rule? No. Cam just knows Abbie is weak-willed enough to think he must.

That leaves step three. Potrykus hopes setting this gross-out comedy in 1999 will capitalize on the uncertainty so many felt in the lead-up to Y2K. The parallel is perfect since the glitch that makes Level 256 impossible is a mathematical miscalculation the code wasn’t designed to handle. Because Cam believes New Year’s will dismantle civilization thanks to crucial electronics not being designed to handle the date switch, he goes to their parents’ house to stock up on provisions before the apocalypse. So Abbie is left alone without food, water, or any easy way to procure either since he cannot leave the couch. He has six or seven months before the potential end of the world and all he wants is to win the money and see his dad.

This leads into a series of unfortunate, easily avoidable incidents that Abbie must embrace after choosing this challenge to be the one he refuses to quit. What’s surprising is that Potrykus doesn’t use his lead’s need for the bathroom as fodder for jokes past the prologue, so what’s being done with urine and excrement is anyone’s guess. Instead we get cockroaches, broken sewage pipes, poisonous bug bomb gas, and a dead bird. There’s an obnoxious visit by Dallas (Andre Hyland) that’s nothing but Abbie whining for help while this supposed friend does everything to make his life a living hell. There’s an out-of-place moment of compassion thanks to Arin (Adina Howard) that does little besides provide context to truths we’ve already assumed. Oh. There are Jedi mind tricks too.

While it probably adds up to something for some, I just couldn’t see any meaning behind the empty provocation. It’s a short film gimmick dragged out to fill ninety-minutes wherein nothing new is discovered. I’ll give credit where credit is due as far as the epilogue (it’s a doozy of surreal proportions that I wished has carried through its entirety), but the rest is a repetitive bore punctuated by vomit, feces, and a heavy atmosphere of stench we cannot experience for ourselves. It doesn’t help that Abbie was already living in squalor before we even meet him since any escalation of slime is non-existent. And because we have to assume he’ll never get up, the many opportunities he has to save himself arrive with bad-faith devoid of stakes.

All we have then is Burge’s performance. He’s great in the role and you do sympathize with his innocence in wanting nothing more than to reunite with his monster of a father, but it’s too fine a line for him to stop from ultimately coming across as pathetic. Once that happened I stopped caring about Abbie the character and started hoping the scenario itself would deliver a worthwhile payoff. Despite doing so, that final revelation of revisionist history doesn’t make up for the fact that Potrykus did everything possible to have us not believe he’d fully release his grip on reality. So we get eighty-minutes of empty promises before ten-minutes of off-the-wall live wire insanity fulfill what we were conditioned to accept wouldn’t come. Too little, too late.


photography:
[1] David Dastmalchian (l.) as Cam and Joshua Burge (r.) as Abbie in Joel Potrykus’ RELAXER. Photo by Adam J. Minnick. Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories.
[2] Joshua Burge as Abbie in Joel Potrykus’ RELAXER. Photo by Adam J. Minnick. Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories.
[3] Joshua Burge as Abbie in Joel Potrykus’ RELAXER. Photo by Adam J. Minnick. Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories.

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