Suffering Man’s Charity

Screened at the SXSW Film Festival

Alan Cumming’s maddening, inexplicable directorial debut sent a significant fraction of the adventurous SXSW audience running for the exits, and left many of the rest chuckling self-consciously to show that they were “with it.” Sadly, it’s not funny, just brash and hysterical; Cumming described the film as “genre-hopping,” but it doesn’t really hop, it just grotesquely mimics. The only genre it confidently embodies is stagey screwball comedy, and the opening scenes showed some promise as the interactions between Cumming and co-star Henry Thomas drew some genuine laughs; from there, the film descends into strange, blood-splattered chaos.

Much of the problem is that this is the sort of screenplay that proudly has no connection to reality: it’s all verbal and thematic games, constantly congratulating itself on its cleverness. Vandermark, Cumming’s character, is repeatedly described as “bipolar,” but he’s just unhinged in a way that threatens to transform Suffering Man’s Charity into a piece of bad performance art. He rants and raves, gives impassioned speeches about nothing in particular, ties his leeching houseguest up in Christmas lights and proceeds to ask him trivia questions while threatening torture. The film makes much of what are supposed to be obsessions, insecurities and personality quirks, but they aren’t, really, since Vandermark in no way resembles a human being.

As such, Suffering Man’s Charity has a tough road to hoe as a film about obsession — being able to identify with the obsessives is somewhat of a prerequisite. As an exploration of the things we expect in return for acts of apparent altruism, the movie fares somewhat better. But any interest it evokes is purely abstract. I doubt that this self-absorbed, stereotypical festival film will see the light of day.

-- Eugene Novikov

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Screening Log

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The Window

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Street of Chance

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