The Bar Fly- Uncle Kent 2 (2016)

THE BAR FLY

Uncle Kent 2

At this point in my life – the early 30’s – I look at movies about growing up, maturity, and heading towards mid-life crisis with more focused eyes. Granted, my vision may lose its clarity sometime soon… but still, these are films I will watch attentively. Even 1980’s high school dramas, like The Breakfast Club, hold now, for me, special messages on living that I wouldn’t have caught more than a decade ago. It’s a sad and funny thing, having contexts shift, definitions update, and priorities change with age.

Kevin Smith nailed it with Clerks 2. Occasionally over indulgent in his classic way, Smith expressed the frustrations and angst of the post-post-teenage adults with semi subtle grace and on point conversation. Easily, I could see myself like Dante, insecure and unsure, floating day to day in a jobby job, dealing with mooks. A hard change of perception from friend Randal is what kicks him in the ass and points out that his place in the universe isn’t so bad. What you want is right in front of you, basically.

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To make a long story longer, I will lay out for you a film that probably has no reason to exist other than to be my own personal crystal ball and guiding spirit animal. It sums up what I feel like now and will feel like down the line a little. It predicts an end that I couldn’t possibly agree more with. In short, when it comes to the next decade or so of my life, Uncle Kent 2 suggests I go multiple choice.

  • Breakout!

The Sister Swing Out song “Breakout” plays prominently in the mind of “Uncle” Kent Osborne, whom the side-quel Uncle Kent 2 follows. The “original” film from Joe Swanberg also followed Kent’s exploits, but in a more subdued and voyeur friend with a camera manner. Not quite a sequel, not quite not a sequel, Uncle Kent 2 is turned over to director Todd Rohal, who pushes Osborne’s life from sad, quiet and content subtlety to bright, colorful and datamosh apocalyptic obtuseness. And it’s exactly what I wanted – even if I didn’t know it before. “Breakout” is repeated internally to Kent and audibly to us, sometimes in a pattern, sometimes as a catchy jingle, but always as an occurrence that, perhaps, suggests either a “break”down of certain mental faculties, or a “breakout” into a new way of living. Living in your early mid life, that is.

I can’t help but relate to Kent Osborne heavily. He is mild-mannered, but wildly imaginative. He has a good career, but dreams of reliving a small chapter from his past. His senses are going haywire, but his attitude couldn’t be cheerier. What attached me to him in the “first” movie was his lovable loser-esque, bittersweet passiveness – something that I feel is a symptom of becoming an adult too quickly. Once Rohal takes control in this alternate timeline split-quel, Kent faces his old self with a goofier and happy go lucky disposition. Excitedly making his breasts bounce as he shakes his salad, going on afternoon delights with costumed strangers, and openly discussing simulation theory in a sly method of woo, Kent has turned his smile from one of uncertainty to one in the moment.

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Certainly, what was once Joe Swanberg’s version of Kent’s life and story, has been turned upside down and sideways into a scenario and conclusion that Kent himself clearly prefers. Not that Swanberg did wrong by him, not in the slightest. In this film, Swanberg himself tells Kent that he should tell his story his way. Uncle Kent 2 interprets this to the highest degree possible, determining that destiny can be like a choose your own adventure game, where any outcome is attainable, and by any means. The sky is, almost literally, the limit. What a wonderful philosophy to have. What a potentially dangerous philosophy to have. No matter, Kent goes out happy, and it’s enough to bring a tear to your eye.

  • A Trilogy? You never know…

Uncle Kent 2 was recently noted to be a sarcastic response to the mumblecore movement, which Joe Swanberg himself practiced in. I can see how this can be interpreted, as the film has a cynical nature throughout. From the get go, Kent isn’t just wanting to continue his story on film, but to re-write it. Reel life vs real life, and which is more important. However, I don’t take this to mean it’s a negative statement on a lo-fi cinematic indie style, but rather an “I’ll do it myself” flexing of muscles, at least in context of the tale. In context of the film in our reality, Uncle Kent 2 is both making fun of the over-manufacturing of franchise filmmaking and presenting its audience with a positive if fantastical solution to grown up woes. It’s also just a wacky comedy of neurological misfires with calm and collected personalities that would be best suited for handling the end of the world or playing a game on XBOX with.

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Whatever.

Absurd and silly, personally prophetic and at ease with its zaniness, Uncle Kent 2 makes us witness to a stripping away of self and dive into a masturbatory and fun to ponder “what if?”. It’s something I think we all should go through at a certain age. Better late than never?

RATING

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About Bill Arceneaux

Independent film critic from New Orleans and member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA).

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