Of course we went to the first session of Manny Lewis we could get to. It’s an Australian comedy! Starring an Australian stand-up comedian! Who plays a stand-up comedian in the movie! This was going to be bigger than Roy Hollsdotter Live. Well, at least it has a longer running time.
As far as the actual movie goes, it’s a rom-com where super-popular and famous Australian stand-up Manny (played by super-popular and famous Australian stand-up Carl Barron) can’t find love. Then he does. Seriously, he’s set up as a guy who can’t find love – early on he meets a woman who seems into him, only when she says something like “when we were hungover me and my friends used have Manny Days where we’d make the biggest drinks we could and then we’d watch your DVDs!” he says “what, because I’m only funny when you’re drunk?” – but then suddenly out of nowhere he somehow figures out how to hit on Maria (Leeanna Walsman) in a café and it’s on.
But there’s a twist: earlier, at a low point in his life and also presumably before the internet existed, Manny calls up a phone sex line and gets… Maria! Only he doesn’t know it’s her so he spends his time between real life dates with her calling her up (though he doesn’t know it’s Maria) to spill his guts about how he’s dating a woman but he’s kinda not into her because having a girlfriend is a pain and why doesn’t she dress sexier. Despite this, Maria still goes out with him.
If you’ve ever seen a single romantic comedy in your life you already know exactly how this story is going to play out. Is the secret between them what breaks them up? Will Manny run like a maniac at the movie’s climax to try and prevent her from leaving the country? Is Manny’s big career break happening the exact same night that she’s leaving town? Is Manny going to play a fucking acoustic guitar and sing a sappy song that basically summarises the plot of the movie we’ve just watched? But hey, if you like this kind of thing you’re going to want to get the kind of thing you like.
What interested us – and presumably you as well if you’re reading this blog – is the comedy side of things. Not so much the comedy in the movie, because there isn’t really much of that for a rom-com, but the comedy performed by “Manny Lewis”. We don’t know much about Barron’s actual stand-up, but it seems safe to assume this film was created as a vehicle for his work – like we said, the movie is pretty basic and straightforward, with pretty much all of the “laughs” coming from the things Manny says to various people.
[SPOILERS FROM HERE ON]
Which is why it’s a little worrying that so much of his act here is kind of grim and depressing. Early on he’s making jokes like “have you ever considered suicide just because you happen to be in a really good place to do it?” – only these jokes are presented in voice over while he wanders around backstage or is staring off into space in his fancy apartment that looks like a high rise hotel room and is a clear symbol of how empty his life is.
The offer of a huge break in America is accepted with a shrug, as if he’s got nothing better to do. He tells a “joke” about how his dad told him his mum went mad and shot herself when he was eight. It’s probably true: we never see his mum, while his dad (who Manny was terrified of as a kid: another “joke” is how he dad tried to drown him in the bath) turns up for a heartwarming subplot involving drinking beer before noon because they can’t connect.
Not all of this stuff is part of his actual act, and when we do finally see him performing he weaves the darker stuff in with some more lightweight material (and in one case, saves a grim riff on his family with a quality “except for when he shit his pants” punchline). But that doesn’t come until late in the story: before then we’re hammered with this bleak worldview from a clearly unhappy guy.
Story-wise all this this probably made sense to Barron and company: Manny’s depressed because he’s lonely, finding a girl is going to help him turn it around. Only then the movie is him grimly admitting he wants a girlfriend but its hard work and he’s not sure it’s worth it to a phone sex worker – who, we cannot stress enough, still wants him despite his nit-picking. Seriously, why? Oh right, it’s his movie.
Then instead of them simply breaking up because he discovers she lied to him as you’d expect, there’s also this disturbing scene where she wants to be all free-spirited and swim in the harbour, he doesn’t want to join her, she pushes it a little, he snaps at her, and while it’s certainly realistic it’s also the kind of thing that if you saw it happening to a female friend of yours you’d probably tell her he wasn’t worth it and to move on. Before he murdered her.
Again, this kind of makes sense story-wise, in that in his next sex line chat he reveals he’s always been scared of water since his dad tried to drown him in the bath. See – he’s got issues! Issues that a relationship will solve! Because relationships are a great way to solve all your personal issues! Oh God why won’t anyone love us.
There’s nothing actually wrong with putting this stuff in a movie. In fact it makes Manny Lewis a lot more interesting than the basic rom-com it’s often trying to be. But a dark portrait of a sad clown haunted by his past and adrift in a world where success means nothing (every encounter with a fan sees Manny filled with dread) isn’t exactly a good fit with a feel-good rom-com storyline.
Put another way, when your lead punches out a mirror because of buried anger issues, it does make it just that little bit harder to hope he gets together with the girl at the end.