While Pushing Dead lacks a consistently engaging narrative, writer-director Tom E. Brown has created a bravely idiosyncratic tone and style that nevertheless demands attention. The most overt component of this is the combination of quirky, close framing with snappy editing – surely derivative of Edgar Wright’s films, yet startling in this far less comedic context.
Brown appears to aim for dark comedy, yet neither the script nor performances are funny enough to earn this label. There is one very funny repeated gag involving a horrendously creepy monkey toy that protagonist Dan (James Roday) gifts to his housemate Paula (Robin Weigart). This unexpectedly develops into a disturbing fixation (hats off to Weigert for playing these scenes with a straight face), and is just one part of the fragmented narrative which serves to demonstrate the extreme isolation and disconnection of the main characters. Despite the fact that the rather childish Dan isn’t very likeable, his sad seclusion serves to make Pushing Dead unremittingly bleak.
The characters’ malaise infects the film’s pace too. Pushing Dead progresses sluggishly, with repetitive scenes and subplots prefigured by over-the-top signposting. It may not make for a riotous viewing experience, but this tedium does enable a gradual understanding of Dan’s existence and allows for a more upbeat interpretation of the ending. He may be a little isolated, but the few people he does interact with are loving, caring and valued friends.
The sporadic voiceover is awfully affected, yet Brown’s screenplay works through catharsis to achieve pleasing emotional and structural closure.
Pushing Dead is characterised by bold cinematic techniques that attempt to stamp a clear identity on an otherwise understated and unsure piece of work. Either a not-funny-enough comedy or a drama that doesn’t always take itself seriously enough, Pushing Dead occupies an awkward tonal and generic space.
CAST: Danny Glover, James Roday, Robin Weigert, Tom Riley
DIRECTOR: Tom E. Brown
WRITER: Tom E. Brown
SYNOPSIS: When a struggling writer, HIV positive for 20+ years, accidentally deposits a $100 birthday check, he is dropped from his health plan for earning too much. In this new era of sort-of universal care, can he take on a helpless bureaucracy or come up with $3000 a month to buy meds on his own?