Oconomowoc: If you Google it, you’ll find it is a city in Wisconsin — Waukesha County, to be exact. However, in the case of the film Oconomowoc, a comedy centered around three Wisconsin slackers, the name foreshadows the silliness of the film.
When the film opens to a half-naked man in a polka-dot bathrobe running up to the main character, Lonnie Washington (Brendan Marshall-Rashid), the absurd nature of the film is immediately confirmed.
But, though the slacker-comedy film, directed by Andy Gillies, stays true to its quirky roots, it does so to its own detriment. Despite some laughs, Oconomowoc eventually feels like just a bunch of bizarre situations thrown together with many loose ends.
After Lonnie’s friend, Travis, persuades him to join his shirt business, Lonnie finds himself in the middle of a “tense” feud with a local middle school student. During this period, he also meets a cute female pharmacist who wants to change him into a more confident and self-respecting individual.
This sets the stage for a feel-good journey, and it is a script audiences know all too well: the slacker-type man who searches to find his place in the world. Still, despite the easy-to-follow format, Oconomowoc can’t seem to find its narrative.
The film focuses so much on making its characters as outrageous as possible that it loses focus on character and plot development. Sure, each character is introduced in a humorous manner that shows off just how weird they are. But the film does not expand on them or bother to give the audience more insight into exactly why they are so weird.
Lonnie’s father lives with his mother and stepfather, yet the audience only sees him for two scenes, and do not even get to see how he would interact with the other characters. The audience does not learn why the parents are divorced, nor why Lonnie is still living in the house.
Even the flow of the film lacks fluidity. The transitions between each situation are marked by a fade to black and some quirky folk music courtesy of the filmmakers. Though the music, a mix of bluegrass and folk, does meld well with the absurdity of the film, it does not help these transitions.
Instead, because of them, the film feels segmented. Rather than working toward a cohesive conclusion, the film highlights each scenario individually and does not bother to build the scenes together to make a full feature film.
The dismal acting, particularly that of Marshall-Rashid, does not help the cause. Even when Lonnie is supposed to be surprised, sad, embarrassed or any other range of emotions, Marshall-Rashid comes across as indifferent. Because of that, several scenes proved to be quite confusing because he does not express the emotions that the characters were commenting on.
The fact that one hears little about Lonnie does not help Marshall-Rashid’s cause. Early on, Lonnie does not take a job offer, simply because he says it was not in his best interest. That might be the case, but the audience does not learn why he would rather live with his mom broke than take that job. This is one of countless examples of a simple loose end that the film does not address.
Still, that does not mean that all of the characters were unlikeable. Travis Klitz, played by Gillies, is one of the few actors that are able to pull off his dialogue in an engaging and funny way. Sure, his character is just as absurd as every other, but his deadpan delivery makes all of the difference and Travis’ irrationality and quirkiness actually drive the majority of the plot.
Had the film not focused too much on its own weirdness, it could have had a lot of promise. Absurd comedies might be known for being random and bizarre, but the best ones still have substance underlying the comedy.
What Oconomowoc struggles to capture is the essence of each character, a misstep that estranges the viewers from the film as a whole. When every character in the town is crazy and the viewer cannot understand why, it indicates that the film lacks full development.
Unfortunately, these shortcomings overpower the comedic fun of the film and leave the viewer with a disjointed experience.