WRESTLING WITH SANITY by Mike Messier
“Wrestling with Sanity” (2009) is a short film trilogy that was written and directed by Mike Messier, the Rhode Island indie filmmaker whose latest film, “The Nature of the Flame,” is premiering at the Rhode Island International Film Festival on August 9 (see my review). The 2009 comedy is based on scenes from Messier’s feature-length screenplay of the same title. This condensation of a longer script adds to the thoughtful and comic insanity of this film, which presents two male friends, Cannon Head (Mauro Canepa) and Eddie Pause (Mark Carter), who are clients of the same “confrontational” therapist, Elizabeth Metzger (Irina Peligrad). Which of the three is the most insane is up to the viewer.
“Rich and Famous”
The first scene presents Cannon’s relationship with Elizabeth, both in fantasy and in reality. It is difficult to tell the two apart because Elizabeth’s therapy involves “exercises” that create confrontations between her and Cannon involving male-female relationships, which appear to be his major hangup. Ultimately, the talk turns to writing, with Elizabeth suggesting that he could be an interesting writer. Cannon replies that he doesn’t want to be an interesting writer: “I wanna be rich and famous.” When Elizabeth asks why, he replies, “So I’ll never have to start a conversation.”
The second scene continues the discussion of gender relations, this time from a very male point of view. Cannon hangs out with his friend, Eddie Pause, talking while shooting hoops, going to a comic book store, hitting a punching bag, and playing chess. Eddie offers his opinion about the superiority of the “big fat girlfriend” to the two different types of “skinny girl,” “naturally skinny” and “reformed skinny.” As in the first scene, the conversation turns to the topic of writing, as Eddie explains his writing process, which involves late-night divine inspiration. When Cannon asks him if it’s plagiarism to sign his name to God’s work, Eddie replies, “If I signed it ‘God,’ it would be sacrilege.”
The final scene puts Eddie on the couch in Elizabeth’s office, where he explains his paranoid and grandiose delusions about himself, God, and the world. His comments are interspersed with cuts to Elizabeth’s tale of receiving a chain letter (presumably from Eddie). The funniest parts for this reviewer are Eddie’s assertions that Canada is the superior “middle-sized fish” of nations and that “Calgary is God’s Country” — probably because I agree with him.
This short film tantalizes the viewer with its screwball characters, sharp dialogue, and dramatic situations that are comic on the surface, but beneath which serious questions hide. The black-and-white cinematography and film editing, both by Tim Labonte of Stand Still Pictures, are well done. Particularly good are the opening credits and the transitions between the three scenes. A feature-length production of the entire screenplay by the Messier-Labonte team (which produced the short film) would likely be an indie film hit.
“Wrestling with Sanity” and its accompanying trailer/director interview are available for viewing on Vimeo via Mike Messier’s website.