Now Streaming in Austin: I've Got Issues

Steve Collins' melancholic comedy comes home to VOD

Everything's an uphill struggle in I've Got Issues, the mordant yet hopeful Austin comedy out on VOD this week

Humans. They hurt and heal. That mantra, repeated by the unseen narrator voiced by Jim Gaffigan in I’ve Got Issues, was relevant last October when the tender and morose comedy premiered at the Austin Film Festival. If anything has changed about the Austin-made film between the debut and its VOD release this weekend, it’s more relevant than ever.

The social isolation of the pandemic has “turned everyone in to alienated artists,” writer/director Steve Collins said. “Normally this feeling of loneliness and alienation is restricted to the moody ones, and this event has turned everyone into melancholy artistic types, feeling alone and detached from their community.”

I’ve Got Issues is less a story than a tone, as a series of unnamed characters find themselves in bizarre but identifiable vignettes – being interviewed for a job that no one is quite clear what it is, carrying the same object between two conference rooms over and over again, turning into a giant slice of pizza – without being able to stand up for themselves. “I find that an endearing flaw,” said Collins. In I’ve Got Issues, he added, “All the characters are timid. … The people who assert themselves are narcissists and terrible.”

“Until I was in my 40s, I hung on to the idea of these institutions of integrity [and] I’ve had so many instances when I’ve run into people from these institutions and go, ‘Oh my god, they have no idea what they’re doing. This is a ship of fools.’”
(An Austin aside: There's a sequence that deals specifically with doubting your own convictions. A woman is told by everyone that a local rocker, who looks suspiciously like Stevie Ray Vaughn, is a genius. She plays along, even though all she hears is squalling self-indulgence, much to her own detriment. For Collins, that was based on his own personal heresy of moving to Austin, and being exposed to SRV's oeuvre. "I didn't like it," he recalled, before adding with humility, "I'm sure someone could explain to me why I'm wrong.")

Austin audiences will find much of the cast – Macon Blair (I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore), Paul Gordon (The Happy Poet), Sam Eidson (Zero Charisma), Byron Brown (Mustang Island), John Merriman (Sister Aimee) – instantly recognizable. Yet there’s an additional universality that comes from them all wearing basically the same outfit: pale blue work shirts and pants of a shade that Collins dubbed middle-class beige. “That’s the uniform I had to wear when I had a middle school band concert. ... It’s what a lot of people feared their life would become. To me, it’s the color of ‘I didn’t make it to the top.’” Plus, he observed, “It was the uniform at Blockbuster Video.”

For Collins, the film is very much about the middle-age awakening that there are no adults coming to the rescue. When you’re a teen, you’re expected to think that the world is bullshit, he noted, but that’s a tougher pill to swallow as you get older. “Until I was in my 40s, I hung on to the idea of these institutions of integrity – the Supreme Court, The New York Times, the Cannes Film Festival – and I’ve had so many instances when I’ve run into people from these institutions and go, oh my god, they have no idea what they’re doing. This is a ship of fools.” If anything, the last year has re-enforced that realization, with “brash, narcissist types in charge [and] us not having the hand-to-hand combat skills to get them out of our way – and now, as a country, we’re dealing with that.”

That’s why the closing moments of I’ve Got Issues – a series of little acts of kindness – mean so much to Collins, especially in times of disaster. “These very simple images of one person helping another person. It’s like when there’s a big snowstorm, and it’s the only time you talk to your neighbor. ‘Hey, can I borrow your snow blower?'”

I’ve Got Issues arrives on VOD on Sept. 18. See this week's issue for our review.

For more on the film, read our AFF 2019 interview with Collins and star John Merriman, John Merriman and Steve Collins Admit I've Got Issues," Oct. 24, 2019.

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