Don Swaynos has been a busy guy. Since we last wrote about him and the Jollyville Pictures filmmaking collective in 2009 ("Three Guys, a Girl, and a Dog Named Friday," Dec. 18, 2009), he's written, edited, produced, or helmed some eight projects. This AFF sees the world premiere of his first narrative feature film, Pictures of Superheroes. It's not an easy film to describe without using the words "Austin-y," "Slacker-ish," or referencing Steven Soderbergh's early exercise in cinematic absurdism, Schizopolis.
"I've had trouble describing it, too," admits Swaynos. "Coming up with a synopsis, it's been hard to sort of incorporate what the film is like, so I end up just describing the plot. But I look at it as a comedy of slacker absurdism. It's funny you mentioned Schizopolis because [actor] Shannon McCormick said that's what it reminded him of, too."
Soderberghian undertones aside, Pictures of Superheroes is a tightly edited look at the hapless, inertial life of maid-for-hire Marie (played to deadpan perfection by Kerri Lendo) as it intersects with manic businessman Eric (McCormick, going for full-bore suit-and-tie lunacy), candy-devouring man-child Joe (John Merriman), and Eric (Byron Brown), Marie's sleazy, clueless ex-boyfriend. Maybe it's a film about the existential ennui of Marie's dull grind of a life, or possibly a celebration of adults who eat ice cream for breakfast; mainly, though, Pictures of Superheroes is a terrific, and odd, ensemble piece with what seems like at least half of Austin's best actors popping up in every other scene.
"I started the script a while back," says Swaynos, "and it just kind of sat there on my computer two-thirds written. I'd been wanting to direct something for a while and I think I had some sort of bigger ideas, but I didn't have any money and I didn't think I was going to be able to raise any money. So I looked at this as something that I could shoot in my house, with people I knew, and do it pretty easily."
Pictures of Superheroes is a small, quirky gem that rises above its humble production budget by dint of its across-the-board excellent acting turns by all involved. Its vibe is deeply Austin, making it seem as if it was perhaps made years before the city's current hipster/yuppie/technomancer invasion swelled the population past that of its weird sister, San Francisco. And we mean that in a good way.
One scene that lodges an indelible shard of laughter in your brain features Marie's chain-smoking neighbor, a heavy metal mom (Kat Ramzinski) who spends date night kitted out in full King Diamond face paint, while her beau, as Swaynos points out, "has kind of an Insane Clown Posse thing going on. So it's like, whatever concert they're going to, one of them's dressed wrong."
Pictures of Superheroes screens Saturday, Oct. 20, 3:45pm, at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, and Thursday, Oct. 25, 7pm, at the Bob Bullock Texas Spirit Theater.
Copyright © 2018 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.