Year: 2017
Director(s): Paul Briganti
Writer(s): Paul Briganti, Dan Schoenbrun
Region of Origin: US

Rating: n/a
Color, 87 mins

Synopsis: A man and his brother-in-law find themselves in way over their heads during an impromptu getaway. 

You wouldn’t be able to tell from the deliberately chintzy travel ad that opens Village People, but it immediately becomes apparent that Paul Briganti’s (SNL) debut feature is something special. In its own twisted way, this is the bromantic, inverse Forgetting Sarah Marshall riff you didn’t know you wanted, populated with quick-witted characters and a story about learning to move past heartbreak. This thing is bursting with energy, never afraid to get totally weird while remaining emotionally grounded. If you aren’t already a fan, stars George Basil, Brandon Scott and Aya Cash will leave you thirsting for more, a perfect trio of performers with undeniable charm and genuine vulnerability. Even amidst the unrelenting laughs, its the honest depiction of modern relationships that’ll stick with viewers, blending poignant reflection with spiraling absurdity.

After Alan’s (Brandon Scott) wife Megan abandons a last-ditch attempt to save their marriage, his brother-in-law, Mike (George Basil), springs into action, joining Alan on a trip to Nicaragua’s Mercado Village. The resort is a small one nestled off the beaten path, one led by quirky hipster types looking to remain tied off from an increasingly complicated world. Though Alan and Mike couldn’t be more different, the two forge a tenuous friendship, with Mike doing anything he can to show Alan that he can turn something negative into a positive. Hijinks ensue of course, and things take a turn when the pair meet one of the resort’s caretakers, Barbara (Aya Cash), herself someone bored with her surroundings and looking for a way to feel again. What follows is a whirlwind of regrettable choices, strange bedfellows and new beginnings.

Though Briganti underlies his film with pain and human imperfection, it never feels cynical or mean-spirited – there’s a lightness to every scene and a sense of freedom that mirrors Alan’s journey to self discovery. Unlike most modern comedies, the humor and eccentricity feels borne of real human limitation, pushing each character to do things they didn’t know they were capable of at times. At its core, this is a story about learning to love again and finding the strength to take life’s punches, no matter how unpredictable or painful they can be – it’s also a celebration of how nothing goes according to plan, and how that can be a liberating thing. Even though the story has a strong heart and sincerity that can’t be beat, it’s still an endearing, bizarro blast of laughs, replete with rapid-fire one liners, a running gag about goggles, gut-busting drug freakouts and a sex scene that’s simultaneously the funniest and most painful thing I’ve seen in a long time. This film goes there!

Briganti’s sense of candor and comedic timing is anchored by a cast who make all the absurdity feel earned. Leading things is Brandon Scott, who makes the meek Alan someone we totally care for and understand. Restraint is the name of Scott’s game, giving us a character that makes us feel the weight of his ordeal, but able to throw in cartoonish elements without feeling forced. George Basil is the ultimate bro, as Mike. We all know someone like this guy, someone with a heart of gold even though his intentions don’t always come through in the best way. Basil’s deadpan humor is never anything short of endearing, even when desperation begins to set in. Together, these two are a killer, and we can’t wait to see where their escapades take them. If there’s a secret weapon here, it’s Aya Cash as Barbara. Cash’s character is wonderfully subversive and an about face from what we’d expect, someone who really challenges perception and expectation. Cash fills the role with confidence and aplomb, stitching the film’s ideas together and helping to tie together a few tonal shifts.

In the hands of anyone else, Briganti’s film could’ve been a collection of worn tropes and overt sentiment – instead, Village People is an endlessly quotable look at the unexpected places where life takes us, and the people who force us to question who we are. It’s not high drama, but its smart human reflection with the right amount of irreverence and a genuine interest in its characters. Briganti’s handle on the material is impressive, and proves that he’s a voice that deserves to be heard.