When I first met director Scott Prendergast, he had just crammed a huge gumball into his mouth, and was struggling to speak and couldn't touch anything, due to the fact that he had sticky gumball residue all over his hands. He gave the universally renown sign for "Uhhh, I need one second" and went to the bathroom to wash his hands and masticate that gum a bit more.
Once he was back, with clean hands and a jaw working like a well-oiled piston, we talked about his film Kabluey, which I had just seen. The film is set in Austin, although according to Prendergast that's only because the Texas Film Commission had a pretty lucrative "shoot your film here!" program that he took advantage of, and the setting in Kabluey is meant to be Anytown, U.S.A. We'll have an interview with Prendergast soon, and I'll let him wax poetic about making the film then. For now, I'll let you know what I thought about it, and how it made me want to go out and get a big blue costume as well.
The film stars Lisa Kudrow as Leslie, a woman trying to raise two boys and manage a career while her husband is fighting an entirely different war, having been called up and sent to Iraq. She can't devote enough time to the two kids (who are best described as "demon spawn from hell"), and in a moment of desperation her mom suggests that she call her brother-in-law, Salman (Prendergast) who is between jobs ... and places to stay. His last gig as a laminator in a copy shop didn't exactly go over well. I won't spoil it for you here, but it'll make you want a laminating machine of your own.
Salman eagerly accepts the offer and moves in to help out, sleeping in the guest room that has no bed, no light, and pretty much no furniture of any kind. His first day with the kids turns out to be fairly disastrous, and culminates with a living room full of cereal, blasting cartoons, and an afternoon full of streaking the neighborhood. Trust me, if I ever have kids, this is going to be about the best I can possibly manage on some days as well. Plus, doesn't that sound like a dream day for a kid?
The kids decide they're going to kill Salman, and tell him that in no uncertain terms. So while Leslie is back in the corporate world, Salman dodges assassination attempts and does his best to raise the kids, which means dragging them around town by leashes and tying them up to bike racks. Hey, I didn't say they were angels. Leslie takes a bit of pity on Salman and finds him a job lead somewhere in her company, although she has no idea what the position is. Salman eagerly takes the bus down to BlueNexion (a massive company that bottomed out during the net crash and is skating by on fumes) to speak with the HR lady (Conchata Ferrell).
Shortly thereafter, Salman finds himself dressed as the BlueNexion corporate mascot, handing out flyers on a desolate stretch of highway to try and rent out office space in the BlueNexion building. Salman, who is an odd duck to begin with, slowly embraces the suit, and practically bonds with it. When he's wearing it, he's someone else ... not quite Superman, but mostly importantly he's not Salman. While on the road he encounters flirty housewife Betty (Chistine Taylor) who hires him to appear at a children's birthday party, and emotionally disturbed Suze (Teri Garr), who apparently lost her life savings when BlueNexion flopped. The site of the blue costume on the side of the road sends her into fits of apoplexy every time she sees it.
As the movie progresses, Salman finds that he's enjoying being in the suit more than he likes being himself. It helps him do things that he couldn't do, and he does almost become a sort of superhero. He's adored by kids, and even celebrated by the band of teenage hooligans performing community service highway cleanup near his stretch of road. Near the end of the film, the suit empowers him to do something that he'd never do as Salman, and is one of the most selfless things he's probably done in his life.
The shots of Prendergast in the suit, shot from both inside and outside the costume, are often poignant and hilarious, sometimes at the same time, and help make Kabluey a character that is distinct from Salman. When he's wearing that thing, he's Salman on the inside, but someone else on the outside. It could have been so easy to just turn this into a bumbling oaf in costume, and go for the easy jokes, but Prendergast makes it much more esoteric. Although how he didn't drown in a pool of his own sweat by wearing that thing in Austin during the summer, I'll never know.
The film doesn't go for the obvious jokes, or rely heavily on physical comedy, which is surprising (and refreshing) seeing that the logline for this film could easily be "Guy in a wacky big blue suit struggles with life." The story is very touching at times, both for Salman and Leslie, and you see how his brother's absence has changed her life in several ways, while forcing him to actually grow up and face life head-on, rather than treat it like an amusement park. There's also a tiny recurring bit in the film involving an old man with a thermos that actually nearly brought me to tears, and it's moments like this that are sprinkled throughout the film that give it a heart and steer it away from slapstick comedy land.
Prendergast wrote, directed, and stars in the film (both in and out of the suit) and has a terrific hangdog expression and outlook that bring Salman to life, and I use that term loosely. The blank, expressionless stupor that he exudes when he's first dumped on the highway really mirror the way a lot of us still feel about life. How did we get here? Where are we going? Who is going to come by and take one of these flyers? It's shot well and edited cleanly, without the MTV-generations need for a jump cut every five seconds. We I spoke with Prendergast he was in talks with several distributors, so here's hoping you'll be able to see Kabluey somewhere near you at some point. It's well worth it.