Austin Film Fest Review: Diani & Devine Meet the Apocalypse
Cali comedy duo blow up some seriously sweet and smart doomsday heart
By Marc Savlov,
5:50PM, Sat. Oct. 15, 2016
Bad times make for good, subversive comedy, which partly explains why this gleefully absurdist, end-of-the-world, road movie romance works so very, very well on so many levels. The rest of the film’s sneaky, borderline low-key genius is due to the fact that Gabriel Diani and Etta Devine are that rarest of comedy commodities: a perfect team.
Envision an alt.universe Hope and Crosby road movie, add a pinch of Six-String Samurai and a momentary bit of inspired Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior lunacy, and underpin it all with the sublime writing chops of Mike Nichols and Elaine May – yes, it’s true, the chemistry is that good – and you’re in the ballpark of their co-starring, co-written, and co-directed codependent comedy of semi-terrors.
Thirty lashes on me for not having already had my eyeballs super-glued to their YouTube channel or their Kickstarter campaign to excise the offending “N-word” in Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with the word “robot.” (Yeah, I know, right? Visionary.) … Apocalypse, also crowdfunded, kicks off with a mysterious Armageddon-esque event that forces the “not married” but sure act like it comedy-improv couple out of their SoCal safe space and onto the metaphorical road. Not so metaphorical, as it turns out. Eventually, though, it’s time to break bad and head to a rumored outpost-cum-commune further north. Real world problems ensue: Sucking off the gas tanks of abandoned vehicles is just as gross as anyone who’s ever done it knows, and shopping carts and cardboard cat carriers make for lousy travels. Along with their faithful dog Watson and feline friend/annoyance Mrs. Peel, they try (and succeed to a large degree) to hold chaos at bay, even as frothy black plumes of awfulness erupt from the horizon and food, water, and cat food run low.
This isn’t Cormac McCarthy, however, and the way Diani and Devine play it, the apocalypse comes off as more of an existential comedy that might remind you of Quentin Dupeiux’s Los Angelean werid-outs (Rubber) but with a funnier, more human edge. Encounters with an overly gracious, upscale couple (Jonathan Silverman and Janet Varney), a gun-toting band of sharp-dressed, professional survivors led by Barry Bostwick, and the running gag that no one seems to have any idea what, exactly, has led to the sudden downfall of civilization, fill out a story that’s essentially about two goofy people in love and the basic, ridiculous humanity necessary for that particular emotion. Which, it must be said, I second. The apocalypse? It’s just another divot on the road to happiness.
The Austin Film Festival runs Thu., Oct. 13, through Thu., Oct. 20. See www.austinfilmfest.com for schedule and info. Follow our continuing coverage of the fest at www.austinchronicle/austin-film-festival.