By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***** out of *****.
Disorienting Dick (2022), from director Richard Griffin, functions brilliantly as a witty sex comedy, a political satire, and as a quietly charming and intimate cinematic journey. More specifically, one which concerns the time-tested theme of embracing your true self. It achieves a consummate symmetry of these previously stated elements. This is while being incredibly entertaining throughout its brisk 87-minute runtime. Just as importantly, it never wavers in its ability to make us laugh at the absurd rules and regulations society puts upon its citizens. This is also true of some policies certain parties flat-out ignore. A spectacular gag near the ten-minute mark which involves Covid-19 vaccinations, Republicans, and mask wearing hilariously displays the latter. With all that has been going-on in the world the past few years alone this is something that most will agree is welcome, cathartic, and desperately needed.
What is just as admirable is the pitch-perfect pacing of the project. There is not a single scene in the entire picture which doesn’t directly affect the plot and/or the motivations of the individuals unveiled in the undertaking. With the recent trend of bloated runtimes in Hollywood photoplays that are overstuffed with unnecessary sequences and thin characterizations, Griffin’s always trustworthy aptitude to keep the narrative going without any filler whatsoever while satisfactorily fleshing-out his leads is as refreshing as ever. This is as much a courtesy of the sharp editing and direction from Griffin as it is the smart, sensitive, and superbly structured script from Griffin, Robyn Guilford, and Daniel Martens (who also briefly and confidently plays Dream Pizza Boy/Plumber). Boosted by a remarkable flare for developing the on-screen personas in a way that is graceful and wholly natural, there are just the right amount of honest and tongue-in-cheek instances woven into the consistently clever dialogue. The capacity of this speech to pepper the proceedings with puns and sly meta moments only enhance this already stalwart quality.
Opening with an appealing section that is reminiscent of a 1950’s style educational reel that immediately introduces the delightfully campy and ultimately upbeat tone of the exercise, the plot revolves around Richard “Dick” Whiteman (Graham Stokes). When the identity he is trying to conceal from his Republican Rhode Island mayoral candidate mother, Maureen (Leslie Racine Vazquez), and girlfriend, Pat (Sarah Reed), comes into question he is abducted by the wicked Hyde Hippocampus Clinic. Through their use of extreme forms of mental therapy, they intend to transform “Dick” into a model of conservative ideals. The situation appears bleak for “Dick”. That is, until another group begins to repeatedly kidnap him. This collective is focused on bringing out the side of him which is often spied in the vivid fantasies that fuel his reveries throughout the production.
Such is a simultaneously timely and timeless storyline that will prove relatable to many spectators. From the above summary alone, it is easy to ascertain how the two establishments that are fighting to take “Dick” down their path of orientation are his own personal struggles with finding himself. This subtle yet accessible symbolism, which is fluently threaded into the fiction, makes Griffin’s venture evermore fantastic. Moreover, the well-shot and elegant erotic segments, though occupied by nudity, are more suggestive than outright explicit. In turn, audiences are offered verified proof of the tasteful and vulnerable approach Griffin injects into what could’ve quickly become raunchy material.
Though many of the central figures, particularly those in antagonistic roles, are given intentionally stock traits in an endeavor to make the humor more palpable, everyone is marvelous. They are all finely cast in what are often purposefully over the top enactments. The sheer likability of the performers and those they depict, especially the protagonists, make this attribute even more perceptible. Stokes and Reed are commanding on this front. Terry Shea is wonderful as Dr. Hyde/Jekyll Hippocampus. Such is a dual representation which showcases opposing personalities.
Boosted by a pleasantly retro commencing and closing credits bit that is eye-popping in its use of black and blue colors, the effort is constantly beautiful and immersive. This is a courtesy of the clean, colorful, inventive, and incessantly striking cinematography from Griffin. It compliments every proficient frame of the affair. The sound design from Griffin is equally crisp and all-around excellent. In related terms, the music from Kissing Contest and Kraig Jordan is catchy and tonally appropriate for the article. The work is further strengthened by the great set construction from Ted Marr. The visual effects from Torey Haas are a standout. There are also some instantly iconic sock puppets created by Margaret Wolf that, like her costume creation in the attempt, elevates the merriment at hand.
Benefitting from guffaws that elucidate from even the smallest of details, such as names and places and even the entendre-laden title of the outing itself, Disorienting Dick is the funniest movie I have seen all year. Ambitious and layered without being overdone, it is also one of the best features of 2022. It is loving, kind, and joyous. This is despite subject matter that could’ve pointed the arrangement in other directions. The composition is also a testament to the power of film as a source of discovery, expression, and freedom. Filled with Griffin’s distinct perspective and voice, it is endlessly rewatchable and enjoyable. It is a masterpiece of independent art and another unabashedly fun yet bold and thoughtful gem in Griffin’s impressive catalogue.