REVIEW: Pear Cider and Cigarettes [2016]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: NR | Runtime: 35 minutes | Release Date: July 1st, 2016 (USA)
Studio: Massive Swerve Studios / Passion Pictures Animation
Director(s): Robert Valley
Writer(s): Robert Valley

“What was he fighting for anyways?”

“He was born lucky and died unlucky.” These are the words Robert Valley uses to describe an old childhood friend named Techno Stypes, the subject of his twenty-five year autobiographical journey entitled Pear Cider and Cigarettes. From the youthful eyes of adulation, Techno was the fastest person alive and the coolest cat in Vancouver. He was good in sports, good with the ladies, and fearless when it came to living larger than any person should live. He became a millionaire after an injury settlement and even richer after a hospital screw-up. But in the end Techno became an emaciated, yellow-skinned drifter holed up in China awaiting a liver transplant. And with no one to fight for his wellbeing, Robert flies out to supervise one more wild adventure together.

You may not recognize Valley’s name, but you’ve surely seen his work. He animates virtual band Gorillaz, storyboarded “Æon Flux”, and worked on character design for “Wonder Woman” and “TRON: Uprising”. His aesthetic leans towards hyper-stylized bodies with fluid motion and thick contours, the atmosphere heavy with mystery and the action kinetic and sharply cut. It was only in his free time that he began working on Pear Cider as an ode to his fallen friend, first as a graphic novel under his Massive Swerve label and second as a short film. What makes this transition from page to screen so stunning, though, is that he did it in Photoshop (his Kickstarter even offered tutorials on how as reward). It’s literally an animated comic and it looks spectacular.

The artist narrates the story himself: beginning and ending with the death of Techno. What’s in between is the memory of this dude’s legend and the uncensored chaos that built his mythos even higher. Some of the best moments come in quick montage, glimpses at a greatest hits compilation of extreme action and stupidity. He includes heavy drinking, tons of smoking, a few curse words, and some nudity—so keep the kids at home—but it all plays into understanding who Techno was and who he wasn’t. It’s necessary to see why Valley distanced himself from the self-destruction and why he kept coming back out of love and friendship even if he knew Techno was going to pull a stunt that risked getting them all killed.

Underneath the craziness and laughter is a heartwarming story of what friendship means beyond years apart or diverting lifestyles. For most of the film Valley plays the role of police officer, watching Techno like a hawk to confiscate alcohol so they can swap out his liver and get back to North America. It’s not who Robert wants to be, but it’s who he needs to be to give his buddy a chance at life. And when we delve deeper into the psychological ramifications of Techno’s ego and lack of boundaries, we witness just what Valley means to him removed from the tough exterior and unflappable façade. We’re taken on a full-speed ride to Hell and back, each laugh and tear an authentic demarcation of an unforgettable life.

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