Control Nathan and Clint: Pottersville (2017)
It’s often a good thing when the release of an upcoming movie inspires questions, unless the questions are along the lines of “How could a movie this terrible-looking possibly exist?” and “Is this movie even real, or some manner of elaborate, Andy Kaufman-like put-on?”
Alas, those were the questions prompted by trailers for Pottersville, which I chose as one of two options for Control Nathan and Clint, the online and audio column where the 20 kind patrons who pledge to Nathan Rabin’s Happy Case get to choose between which of two impossibly dire-looking movies Clint and I must watch, then talk about for our podcast, Nathan Rabin’s Happy Cast.
For the third entry in Control Nathan and Clint, I gave patrons a choice between the ill-fated Brendan Fraser-fights-CGI animals flop Furry Vengeance or the eventual winner, Pottersville. Pottersville is a Furry themed Bigfoot Christmas sex comedy starring Michael Shannon that’s also an elaborate tribute to Frank Capra and It’s a Wonderful Life. That sounds more like a Madlib or a random jumble of words than the premise for an actual movie. Yet I can wearily attest that Pottersville is all too real and, astonishingly, is even more misbegotten and ill-thought-out than it first appears.
That’s because while Pottersville is indeed a Furry themed Bigfoot Christmas sex comedy, albeit of the almost impressively half-assed variety, much of its running time is devoted to elaborate parodies of Robert Shaw’s steely hunter Quint from Jaws and reality TV adventurers like Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: if the person you’re spoofing has been dead for over a decade, as Irwin has, or just under four decades, in the case of Shaw, you may want to go with something a little more timely. Then again, maybe we should just be grateful that because Pottersville clocks in at 85 minutes we were spared sex-themed parodies of Barney the Dinosaur or, God help us, poor, helpless Elmo.
Who thought taking the piss out of the Crocodile Hunter and Jaws was a good idea in a Bigfoot-themed 2017 piece of Capra-Crap? The otherwise very smart and accomplished Thomas Lennon and Ian McShane, apparently since they’re the ones playing, respectively, Brock Masterson, a reality television “Monster Hunter” with a big fake Australian accent that betrays a very predictable reveal that he’s an American actor faking an Aussie identity, and Bart, the film’s hard-living, steely-eyed Quint figure.
Pottersville features some of our greatest character actors doing some of their very worst work, beginning with national treasure Michael Shannon, who Executive Produced in addition to starring as Maynard, a small businessman and bastion of small-town decency who tries to surprise wife Connie Greiger (Christina Hendricks) only to find her dressed in a Bunny costume doing sex stuff with a guy in a wolf costume who turns out to be his good friend Sheriff Jack (Ron Pearlman).
Now I just finished the first draft of a book on the movie Postal and Ron Perlman turned down the role of Uncle Dave, which Dave Foley ended up knocking out of the park, on moral as well as creative grounds. He was offended by Postal and particularly its opening scene. So whenever I see Perlman in a movie like this I think, “Really Ron? You were too good for Postal but you said “Hell yes! Gimme that wolf costume! I’m gonna get my furry-fuck on!” to Pottersville?
Maynard is so devastated that he gets blackout drunk and, in a very confused act of quasi-revenge, or masochism puts on what barely constitutes a gorilla costume and stumbles about the town in a drunken haze. When Maynard comes to, everything is suddenly different in Pottersville, what with reports of Bigfoot sightings transforming this sleepy little piece of shit knock off of a Frank Capra small town into an unlikely Mecca for Bigfoot lovers.
While ambling to work one day, Maynard is accosted by a pair of overly enthusiastic dweebs who gush to him, “We’ve been researching this whole Bigfoot thing and people really love him! It’s true! He's been around for centuries and people on every continent, that speak every language, they can’t get enough of this guy. So we decided to get into the Bigfoot business. We’re gonna start this cottage industry!”
Pottersville thinks people are so stupid that the audience for wacky, sentimental Bigfoot Yuletide Furry sex comedy that they need to be introduced to the concept of Bigfoot via the dialogue equivalent of a poorly sourced, badly written Wikipedia page.
Boy, these geniuses must really have done a lot of research. I’m surprised they didn’t mention that these creatures are also very hairy and have big feet. Maybe they need to do more research before they achieve that level of wisdom and mastery.
But it goes beyond that. This is a Bigfoot Yuletide Furry sex comedy that also feels the need to explain the concept of Furries in a way that’s condescending, threadbare and feels inaccurate. Pottersville literally depicts the world of Furries as a social club people in small towns join so they can put on animal costumes and rub up against each other in a way that’s maybe sexual and maybe not? Pottersville seems fine with either interpretation, just as it seems oddly fine with being a wholesome, bland, family-friendly small town Christmas movie for a Furry sex comedy. If you’ve ever wondered what a Lifetime Christmas movie would feel like if it were Furry-themed, this is as close as you’re likely to get unless Lifetime or society change in surprising ways.
I love Michael Shannon. Before Pottersville, I would have thought he could do anything but he is horribly miscast here as an everyman exemplar of small town dignity, George Bailey in the body of Vlade Divac. Maynard is a man of few words. Unfortunately, in Pottersville those words include dialogue like, “I went to to breathe some life and then life decided to poop in my face so I ended up breathing poop”, “There’s no Connie! She’s been replaced by the Easter bunny’s evil twin” and “I’ll play freaky forest animals with you!”
The election of Donald Trump has forever changed the way I gauge the plausibility of art and entertainment. Before Trump’s election, I would argue strongly that nobody could possibly be stupid enough to mistake a man (not even an actor, or someone with improv training!) in a cheap, ten-dollar store-bought gorilla costume for the legendary beast known as Bigfoot, Yeti, King Harold the Furry Juggalo and many other names.
After Trump’s election, I’m not so sure. You have to be pretty fucking stupid to think a tall guy in an almost egregiously bad ape costume is a legendary mythological creature that does not actually exists, but you also need to be pretty fucking stupid to think handing Trump the nuclear football is a wise idea.
Pottersville becomes the international hub of Bigfoot mania all the same. Narcissistic reality TV adventurer Brock Masterson swoops into the situation, hoping to tape the biggest episode of his career.
When Brock shows up Pottersville, the film briefly seems to forget about Maynard and the Furries and becomes the Thomas Lennon show. I did not object. The only time I laughed was when Lennon’s preening TV phony whips out an acoustic guitar, announces that his next song is dedicated to Nelson Mandela and begins singing about his love of Yetis. It’s Thomas Lennon being Thomas Lennon; even in these dire circumstances, that’s funny but the moment he stops crooning the movie resumes sucking.
The widespread mortification surrounding Pottersville centered on the Furry aspect. It was wild enough that a respected Thespian like Shannon would be making a Bigfoot Christmas movie. Throw in a sexual fetish society, but particularly the wisenheimers online can’t stop giggling about, and you have a movie that emits an almost Star Wars Holiday Special level of morbid fascination.
So it is both a relief and a let-down that the Furry aspects of Pottersville are mere window dressing. Despite his ape costume, Maynard never gets into the lifestyle and Maynard’s wife and the sheriff are both one-dimensional caricatures, a furry femme fatale and goober small town lawman respectively.
Pottersville is astonishingly misconceived even before a tone-deaf climactic monologue where Maynard explains how putting on a dumb-ass ape suit and pretending to be Bigfoot taught people to believe in magic and wonder and something bigger than themselves while bringing the town together.
The movie’s PG-13 rating speaks to its hopelessly confused nature. What the fuck kind of a sex comedy is rated PG-13? Then again, Pottersville is weirdly asexual for a sex comedy, particularly one involving furries.
I have talked about the many dispiriting, unforgivable elements of Pottersville but I haven't even gotten to perhaps its most egregious crime: Judy Greer is the motherfucking female lead! How infinitely wrong is that? Pottersville wastes the cast of a lifetime, but Greer is the most hopelessly wasted as a plucky young woman who believes with all her heart in Maynard and, in her nadir/apex, convinces the town to love Maynard all over again by revealing that the big book where Maynard claimed to jot down all the money he’s owed by customers—Maynard’s is the first general store since the fifties to allow people to buy stuff on credit—is empty! What a Saint! What a shitty businessman! How very much exactly like It’s a Wonderful Life only total shit!
When a delight like Judy Greer is reduced to having the most thankless role in Pottersville her agent has clearly failed her. Show business has clearly failed her. Heck, society has failed her.
Pottersville somehow imagines that it can spend seventy minutes giggling sophomorically about Furries and spoofing pop culture phenomenon that was played out decades ago yet still give itself the It’s A Wonderful Life ending where the town comes together to save him because of God and America and Jesus and the Bible and Jimmy Stewart.
Even the woman who earlier expressed a desire to stick a “big foot” up Maynard’s ass is remorseful. I know almost nothing about Furries, except that they derive sexual pleasure from wearing animal costumes and doing sex stuff yet I am nevertheless offended and insulted on Furries’ behalf. They deserve so much more than for a movie as unconscionably, unforgivably dumb as Pottersville to try to glean cheap, glib laughs at their expense. But I’m even more offended as a human being and film watcher (I stopped being a critic long ago, and cinephile is too highfalutin' for my homegrown, hillbilly self). It’s not just Furries who deserve better than Pottersville: everybody does, particularly, one of the most insanely over-qualified, wasted casts in recent memory. We still love you, Michael Shannon, but this was a Bigfoot-sized mistake for everyone involved, you most of all.
Want to listen to Nathan and Clint talking some Pottersville with special guest (and king of cinematic Christmas) Alonso Duralde? Oh yes you do!
Support Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place and Happy Cast and get to vote on polls like the one that led to me and Clint suffering through this abomination over at https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace