Literature Society: Uncle Kent 2 Novelization by L.P Eaves
My wife enjoys a laugh. She also enjoys a larf. She enjoys a chuckle as well but she does not enjoy what is known, and tolerated, and often hated, as “Anti-comedy.” My wife dislikes Anti-Comedy so much that I’ve come to define this nebulous sub-genre as “Comedy my wife does not enjoy.” She’s not overly enamored of conceptual comedy either, which means she only enjoyed about half of Community.
The novelization of Todd Rohal’s mumblecore-mocking mindfuck Uncle Kent 2 consequently isn’t just the kind of thing my wife would not enjoy. No, it pretty much epitomizes the style of comedy that makes my wife roll her eyes, scoff and say, “That sounds stupid.” Last night, I was describing the scene in Uncle Kent 2 where its protagonist, the titular Uncle Kent (Spongebob Squarepants animator Kent Osborne, playing a fictionalized version of himself), is masturbating so furiously that he begins levitating and “Weird Al” Yankovic shows up with his accordion to play part of Swing Out Sister’s “Breakout” and she said something to the effect of, “Wow, that sounds terrible.”
Assuring my wife that the novelization was intentionally badly written wouldn’t help my case, nor would explaining that the novelization of Uncle Kent 2’s greatest and most inspired joke is that it exists in the first place, just as Uncle Kent 2’s most brilliant running gag is that someone went ahead and made a sequel to Uncle Kent, which is one of those mumblecore movies that are seen exclusively by their cast and crew.
“Nobody saw the first one, so he’s back for a second” promises the tagline at the top of the Uncle Kent 2 novel, which is credited to the non-existent “L.P Eaves” from a screenplay by star and central character Kent Osborne. That’s less self-deprecating than honest and sure enough, the movie and novelization of Uncle Kent 2 open on a characteristically meta, self-deprecating note, with Osborne trying to convince Mumblecore Kingpin Joe Swanberg to make a sequel to 2011’s Uncle Kent, which he directed.
In the first in an endless parade of meta-textual, self-referential running gags, Swanberg grouses that he hates sequels but Osborne is curiously undeterred. The prologue of Uncle Kent 2 involving Osborne’s unsuccessful attempts to get Swanberg to direct Uncle Kent 2 is directed, appropriately enough, by Joe Swanberg himself.
The rest of the film is directed by Todd Rohal of The Catechism Cataclysm and Rat Pack Rat fame. Rohal takes the thousand-dollar, more or less completely unknown Uncle Kent franchise away from the low-key naturalism of the first film and into a trippy, free-associative realm that freely mixes dark comedy, absurdism and a heaping helping of science-fiction dystopian despair. It's one of the most audacious, inspired and funny mumblecore movies ever, although it's a meditation and deconstruction of mumble core as much as it is a proper mumblecore movie. The mumblecore movie it reminds me of most is Computer Chess, which is similarly a crazy-ass science fiction mind-fuck as much as it is proper mumblecore.
Mumblecore movies have historically been about not much of anything at all. They’re self-indulgent quasi-self-portraits of attractive, city-dwelling artistic types in their 20s and 30s smoking pot and drinking and hooking up and making art while trying to figure out this crazy puzzle called life.
Uncle Kent 2 begins that way and maintains a naturalistic air that is continually violated by sharp jabs of surrealism. It’s attuned to the rambling, shambling rhythms of everyday life, but is forever being violated by horrific glimpses into a world almost beyond reckoning, beyond imagination. It's casual and whatevs, but bleeding irrevocably into the apocalypse.
The film consequently has a bifurcated focus. It’s partially about a creative dude smoking weed and having sex and being creative and it is partially about the Singularity, when the intelligence and capability of computers pass a certain threshold and shit gets real. It’s about both Kent Osborne’s time at Comic-Con and the end of the world as we know it.
The novelization is written in a purposefully bloated, windy, pretentious and buffoonish style. The writer giddily assumes the persona of a self-satisfied Auteur of the written word who never uses a simple, direct word, when ten or fifteen indirect ones will suffice. The first paragraph of the prologue gives a good sense of the cheeky tome’s satirically pompous tone: “Grief crushes our wristwatches, as in a movie where a murder victim’s timepiece is smashed in the convenient service of a detective who needs to tell what time the crime occurred. But so often that clue is a ruse, planted by a wily killer. And time itself is the wiliest killer of all. Every mourner knows that time is a charlatan and a murderer and a pickpocket and a fraud. Why should Kent Osborne be any different?”
It’s the kind of writing that endlessly calls attention to itself and its faux-portentousness without actually saying anything, let alone anything of substance. The novelization turns the author into a character as important and significant as Osborne himself. He’s a fool inexplicably in love with his own voice who litters his pompous prose with clumsy pop culture references and metaphors so overwrought that they cease to be metaphors altogether and become a point-by-point comparison, like an endless passage involving Liv Tyler’s outfit and behavior in a scene from That Thing You Do.
Nothing typically happens in a mumblecore movie. That’s not quite true in Uncle Kent 2 but the novelization nevertheless gets a lot of comic mileage out of treating the parade of mundanity that constitutes its protagonist’s existence before things start to get weird as matters of profound, even life-changing significance.
The novel treats its title character not as a shambling stoner bumbling his way through a possible apocalypse but rather as a Hero and Artist fulfilling his heroic destiny as both a great artist of his time and a possible leader in a post-Singularity world where nothing is the same.
I’ve now read the Uncle Kent 2 novelization twice and seen the film once so it seems safe to assume that at this point I’ve probably thought more about them more than their creators have. Uncle Kent 2’s mere existence is a joke that borders on brilliant. The Uncle Kent 2 novelization adds an additional level of smartass, subversive motherfuckery to a project already overflowing with post-modern craziness.
Uncle Kent 2, in both novel and film form, are inspired goofs that make masturbatory self-indulgence look good. The movie ends with its protagonist masturbating to a higher state of being, which doubles as a crude but effective visual pun for this boldly masturbatory endeavor in surreal self-parody.
The best part of the Uncle Kent 2 novelization is that it leaves the door open for Uncle Kent 3, the thrilling conclusion to the Uncle Kent trilogy. Of course there’s absolutely no demand or market for a third Uncle Kent movie. I consequently can’t imagine a better reason to make one. I'll even write the novelization for it if "L.P. Eaves" is too busy.
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