Sundance Review: 'Ass Backwards'

All art is subjective but comedy seems to be doubly so. Talent, however, is not. Put bluntly, I don't think "Ass Backwards," the road trip yukfest that debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, is very funny. However, co-writers and stars June Diane Raphael ("Whitney," "New Girl") and Casey Wilson ("Happy Endings") are genuine and true comic performers. Even though the story stunk, the set pieces were uninspired and the direction was downright wretched, when these two are "on" and doing schtick, they are absolutely fresh and hilarious. So much so that I can't help but recommend you check this out on VOD and mostly pay attention to it.

Raphael and Wilson play Kate and Chloe, a dumb and dumber pair bumbling through their lives leaving a trail of confusion and maxed-out credit cards in their wake. They are clueless dopes who have never quite gotten over the fact that they lost a beauty pageant as little kids. When a letter arrives in the mail (next to an eviction notice) inviting them back to their home town to compete in a reunion pageant or something of that ilk, that's all the two need to hit the road and let the hijinks begin.

Raphael, who is like a sexier version of Andrea Martin, has the look of a sharp CEO but is actually a complete numbskull. She makes her living off of selling her eggs and sets up her "office" in a coffee shop. Wilson, who has a bit of a Goldie Hawn thing going, wants to be a singer, but she is a complete disaster on stage. The two give one another undying support, however, and act as wonderful enablers of embarrassment.

Unfortunately, the stops along the way in this road picture aren't particularly interesting. They bunk at a camp for senior-aged feminists, stumble into a topless bar and have the obligatory scene in jail. The grand finale at the beauty pageant is devoid of any real tension, and the whole operation is shot on really crappy video.

And yet! And yet! In each sequence, there is ample time allotted for Raphael and Wilson to do what God put them on Earth to do: Act hilariously dumb. Their reaction shots, physical comedy and timing are absolutely remarkable. There are only a handful of standout lines, but the way in which they deliver them is akin to a classical duet. To that end, "Ass Backwards" is something of a remarkable feat — I basically disliked the movie, but chuckled from beginning to end because of these two enormous talents.

I think the way to go forward is this. We make sure Raphael and Wilson continue their partnership. We hope they get someone else to pitch in on the script, and they find a new director. With these elements in place, you can expect comedy gold. "Ass Backwards" can linger on out there, like an early EP of a band you love. It's got one or two good tracks on there, but is best used as a reminder of where they came from.

Grade: C

Movie & TV Awards 2018