Movie poster for The Great Land of Small, featuring a drawn nature scene with man holding open a sack of magic dust.

Definitive proof that LSD and Cirque du Soleil do not mix…

While other movie companies in the 80s were riding the Beefcake wave or chasing Oscars with cripped up monstrosities, a little production team in Canada was doing something very different…creating nightmare fuel aimed at children. The Great Land of Small might not be the worst representation of disability we’ve covered on this pod but it might be the strangest film we’ve covered so far. Joined by victim Adam Kearney, we try to figure out what the heck the Great Land of Small is and debate whether or not this even counts as a disability film.

Listen at…

Grading the Film

As always, this film is reviewed with scores recorded in four main categories, with 1 being the best and 5 being the worst. Like the game of golf, the lower the score the better.

How accurate is the representation?

Jeff – 2 / 5

Adam – 2 / 5

Total – 4 / 10

How difficult was it to watch the movie?

Adam – 3 / 5

Jeff – 4 / 5

Total – 7 / 10

How often were things unintentionally funny?

Jeff – 2 / 5

Adam – 3 / 5

Total – 5 / 10

How far back has it put disabled people?

Adam – 2 / 5

Jeff – 2 / 5

Total – 4 / 10

The Verdict

Regrets, I have a few…

Transcript – Part 1

Trailer narrator:

Beyond our world, there lies a secret land, a land of magic, mystery, friendship, and wonder. A land where it doesn’t matter how big you are, just how big you dream. The great land of small. Rated G.

Jeff:

You are listening to invalid culture, a podcast dedicated to excavating the strangest and most baffling media representations of disability. This podcast is all about staring into the abyss of pop culture adjacent films that never quite broke through because well, they’re just awful. So buckle up folks – the following content is rated I for invalid.

Mvll Crimes (theme song):

I’m arguing with strangers on the internet not going out today because I’m feeling too upset with strangers on and I’m winning.

Jeff:

Welcome back to another thrilling episode of Invalid Culture. As always, I am your host, Jeff Preston, and today I’m joined by old friend, graphic designer, exceptional human being. Adam Kearney, how are you doing?

Adam:

I’m okay. I don’t know about the exceptional human being part, but yeah, I’m doing good and thanks for having me on here.

Jeff:

Totally. So for our listeners, I assume all of them are stalkers of yours, but for the one or two that aren’t, who are you, Adam?

Adam:

Oh man. If I had stalkers that really spice up my life, I’m Adam Kearney, as you mentioned, a graphic designer and a general creative. I like to say I struggle with identifying as an artist, but a lot of my creative output would be considered art, I guess. I have a side hustle called Hand Cut Company. I make Spoony spoon rings a rings out of old spoons, and I make necklaces out of the parts that I cut off. And I’ve also babbled a little bit in writing. I’ve written three memoir essays, which I was fortunate enough to ask you to write two forwards for, which is also why I felt obligated to appear on this podcast. I felt like it was in the fine prints of the paperwork I signed. But yeah, also, if you’re interested in checking out some of the things, I’ve made a hand cut company on Instagram. There’s a website there too. You can access the essays that Jeff was nice enough to edit and write forwards for as pay what you can downloads on there as well. I’ve kind recently become a bit of a event organizer with a few friends. I’ve started Punk Rock Flea Market Chatham in hopes of creating a bit of a community for all the misfits in our area. And other than that I, I’ve got a dog life partner named Pogue. That means the world to me. And I think that’s all I got.

Jeff:

Yeah, I know. I think that’s pretty good. I got to say I got a couple of really nice hand cut stickers that I use. I got a really nice wheelchair fascist smashing sticker and a Oh yeah, yeah. Algorithms killing humanity sticker on my laptop.

Adam:

I get a lot of comments about that sticker you asked me to make this machine kills fascists.

Jeff:

Hell yeah.

Adam:

Anti fascist wheelchair logo on it. I love it. It’s on my laptop.

Jeff:

Now, there’s another connection actually that you and I have, which is that we are both disabled. No, not actually the real thing. Well, that is a thing, but the real thing is that I was

Adam:

Going to say, wait a minute, we aren’t.

Jeff:

Yeah, no, we’re not actually disabled. This has all just been a giant ploy to them. Sweet benefits. No, not actually. But the real thing is that both of us, like many young people with disabilities, people born with disabilities have experiences working our way through the disability camp system. And so I thought that might be a really interesting place for us. Just to start, just for a little aside, because both of us have experienced camp on both sides. Both sides as campers, but also as organizers within the camps. And so yeah, disability camps, is this a thing that we have not talked enough about as unintentional organizing spaces for disabled people?

Adam:

Well, organizing, but also really, I’ve reflected a lot on it lately, especially after watching Crip camp in just the community there outside of social justice and connection there, just the sense of being in community of other individuals with a shared life experience. It really adds a certain context to how we navigate life, those frustrations and obstacles. So many of us face is just common knowledge between us. And so when you don’t have to spend a lot of your time explaining what frustrates you to strangers, you’re able to really dive deeper into conversation and connection. And so it really kind of makes me sad and it’s partly why I started distancing myself from the organization that shall not be named when they start transitioning away from offering camp programs and closing some of the camps that you and I both attended. I feel like there’s been at least a couple generations now that have kind of lost out on that opportunity.

Jeff:

Yeah, yeah. I mean, I got to tell you, I’ll never forget the first time I went to camp and I remember being in my dorm and there’s a bunch of dudes with disabilities, various sort of physical disabilities, and we’re doing one of, you get in a circle and you introduce yourself, and I was the last person to introduce myself. And as everybody does in your mind, you’re preparing what you’re going to say. And I was used to introducing myself. And the way that I always had to introduce myself was, I’m Jeff. I have a muscular dystrophy, had it since birth. I have done charity work. I was a poster child. I have had these surgeries. These are the things I cannot do. But this is the typical way that you’re kind of expected to disclose and to present yourself in a world because that’s what people want to know about you typically.

And I remember being in this circle, and as we’re going around, it was like, oh yeah, I know. Literally everybody around this room have done charity work. Literally everyone around this room has a celebrity friend. Everyone around this room has an award named after them. Everyone in this room has the experiences that I’ve had. And so when it got to me, I was like, well, shoot, how am I going to differentiate myself? And so it was like, yeah, my name is Jeff. I like Star Wars fishing and hockey, and that’s who I am. And it was weirdly liberating and also deeply depressing in that moment of realization that I never got to necessarily be Jeff who likes hockey, fishing and Star Wars. It was always, I’m Jeff, I’m disabled, and then those things exist too, but that’s not what people want to know. And so I found that really fascinating in camp that there was this opportunity to be, I don’t want to say your authentic self, but to be more than just your impairment label.

Adam:

Yeah, I completely agree with that. And I feel like that’s what I was touching on, that when you’re not kind of always introducing yourself by that identifier, you’re allowed to show up in a different way when you’re not putting your energy into that. And I found it afforded me a lot of opportunities that I wouldn’t have gotten had I not been part of that community. Certainly I had a different relationship with it because when I got to be a teenager, I applied to be a leader in training and make the transition from camper to counselor. And I found in hindsight now that that transition actually provided me space to disassociate from my disability to move up the hierarchy of disability in a way that turned out to be really unhealthy because in hindsight, I was no longer really in community with individuals with disability. I was no longer a peer. And I feel like I really struggled with that for a long time without realizing it, and it really makes me look back much more fondly on those days now, and I really wish I’d continued on a different path in a certain way, but hindsight’s always 2020

Jeff:

Yeah, as they say. Yeah, and I think that’s the other side of me with the camp story that I think is important for us to think about is that a lot of disability camps, yeah, there could be these incredible spaces of productive radicalization of disabled kids, of which I think is a good thing. I don’t mean that as a bad thing, but I think the bad thing is that a lot of these spaces though, are created by charities and charities that are often beholden to medical understandings of disability. So you are building this space, but it’s a space that tends to be structured by these hierarchies of ability, structured by the idea of the care provider versus the care receiver. You get these sort of thin, increasingly strong lines built between those who organize the camp, the providers of care, and those who are attending the camp and those who are the receivers of care. That’s, I think, something that we need to really engage with and think about. What would a camp, a disability justice camp perhaps look like that gets away from some of those medical imperatives that structure many of the camp experiences that people go into right now.

Adam:

Yeah. Yeah. That’s really interesting because it was something I noticed in Crip Camp in that they really kind of featured how integrated the caregivers were in their daily life. They were hanging around and chumming around, whereas, I don’t know about your camp because we went to different camps. There was that kind of separation, although I still managed to connect with a handful of counselors in a very personal and engaging way. I remember one counselor, Chris Berry, introduced me to all sorts of punk music and zine culture and all this stuff that being a teenager growing up in a small town, Chatham, Ontario, I wouldn’t have been exposed to. And so it was by going to camp, I got exposed to how other people live, other culture, other things. But yeah, it really is interesting to see that hierarchy or I don’t know the right word to describe that separation.

Jeff:

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I will say my first camp experience was a counselor informing me. She was a woman and informing me that her father had met her mother at that camp. One of them, I think the father was the counselor, and her mother was a camper, and they later got married and had her, and I was like, well, that’s a weird introduction, and now I don’t know how to feel about our relationship that we’re forming right now. Yikes. So yeah, I avoided that counselor for the remainder of my time. Yeah, I was just a little weirded out by that.

Adam:

You’re saying that’s not how you met your wife?

Jeff:

No, my wife and I did not meet…well, we did actually meet at a camp. A different kind of camp, which is called University. It’s a very expensive camp. Yeah. Now I want to pick up on this sort of point you made is this thing about learning how other people live because I think that is a great segue to the wonderful piece of torture that you’ve provided for me this month for Invalid Culture, which is of course, the 1980s Canadian made for TV movie, the Great Land of Small.

Adam:

I would apologize if I actually felt bad about this. I feel like you’ve subjected me to a lot of movies that I feel were kind of questionable. But

Jeff:

Yeah, I was just going to say, why this movie? Why did we watch this movie, Adam?

Adam:

So I actually don’t know the full origin story of it, but at some point, my mother discovered that there was an actor with the same disability as me, osteogenesis Imperfecta, and he starred in this movie called The Great Land of the Small and subjected us to watching it multiple times, and it really doesn’t make a lot of sense this movie, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense to a young child. I think it’s been well over 20 years since I’ve watched this movie, but when you were kind of discussing about possible movies that we could watch and discuss on this podcast, I threw this one out, and so that’s how we landed in the predicament we are currently in

Jeff:

And quite the predicament we are in. So for this month, we watched The Great Land of Small, which is a very difficult film to get your hands on. You can rent it or buy it on several, no one streaming platform, at least in Canada. Apple TV is the only place that you can physically access it for money or you can watch a, I want to say a five to 10 pixel version of the film on YouTube. If you look it up, some generous soul has broken copyright law and placed it on the internet, although I don’t know that they broke the law because there is only about half of the pixels from the movie included in the video online.

Adam:

It’s definitely a rip from a VHS too. It has the square frame formatting and the little bit of bad tracking along the top of it. At a few moments,

Jeff:

It looks like a VHS that has been sitting beside a magnet and then ripped onto a computer and then encoded to be the worst possible video possible

Adam:

Accurate.

Jeff:

So for those of you who haven’t seen this, which I again assume is probably only one or two of you listening, what is the great land of Small? Well, we found a summary on a website called Kittle. Kittle is allegedly a dictionary or an encyclopedia for children, and this is how they describe the great land of small two children. Jenny and David meet a leprechaun like creature called Fritz in the woods. However, his gold dust is being stolen by a wicked hunter, only mimic the Indian knows the creatures is in our world. As the hunter becomes mad with power, he attempts to capture Fritz and the children with mimics help they escaped to the land of small, a mystical, magical land. Does that describe the movie that we watched

Adam:

In some ways? Yes.

Jeff:

Sort of

Adam:

Loosely. I’ve certainly read worst descriptions of movies. I think the really odd thing about the description and the movie is no one actually refers to the character as a leprechaun. No. And there is no real allusion to him being a leprechaun other than he appears at the bottom of a rainbow and he doesn’t have a pot of gold. Instead, he has a satchel of what appears to be gold dust,

Jeff:

Magical gold dust

Adam:

Magical gold dust, and a nugget, I believe, a single nugget of gold.

Jeff:

Yes, I will say that in investigating this film, Fritz is described as a leprechaun. Fritz is described as a magical figure, magical. There’s a lot of weird ways of describing Fritz, but there is no clarity on what Fritz is.

Adam:

I would agree.

Jeff:

Now, obviously the politically incorrect phrase here describing Mimic as quote “the Indian,” which I believe they mean indigenous. I wanted to follow that up with you, though I did not know or read Mimic as being an indigenous person.

Adam:

No, and actually I didn’t realize he was supposed to be indigenous in character. However, I feel in hindsight, our opinion here might differ. I think you feel as though Mimic is a character who displays disability, certain qualities, but I feel those qualities might be racial stereotypes.

Jeff:

Interesting. Okay. Well, let’s put a pin in that and come back to it because I want to get into that. Okay, so what is this film? So the film is produced as part of a long running television movie series dubbed Tales for All created by the Quebec firm, Les Productions, Lafe, which were generally adaptations of children’s books or they were movies that were then turned into children’s books. It was one of those kind of multimedia type situations. Now, this is the fifth film of the series, which was released in 1986. The most recent film released in the series number 25 was released in 2023 a year ago.

Adam:

I’m still blown away by that. This franchise will not quit.

Jeff:

No, this is like The Avengers: Quebec. The Tales for All Collection has also allegedly won more than 200 international awards. I have no sourcing on what those awards are. That is just what they’ve claimed. Now, this film itself is not as you would imagine, necessarily a English only production. This was produced both for an English market as well as a French market, and in Quebec and anywhere else where French is spoken, the film has a different name. So in English, the title of the film is The Great Land of Small. However, in French, the film translates to the title. It’s not because we’re small that we can’t be big, which I guess is a way too long title for an English film. It’s also way too long for a French film, I would say, but I feel that title is maybe more accurate than the Great Land of Small to what this movie is about.

Adam:

I really agree with you there, especially we’ll get to it later. When you get to the Great Land of the Small, there is a real lack of small

Jeff:

No, exactly.

Adam:

The first people you see when you get there are not small. No,

Jeff:

It is very unclear why this land is called the Great Land of Small. There is nothing small really about this beyond our main character, Fritz and his twin brother, and there are some various little people mixed into the crowd, but also mostly children. Now, if you told me that this movie was about the power of children, that actually makes a lot more sense to me. The other thing that I think is important to note, I reached out to some of my Quebecois friends experts, and my understanding is that this phrase, it’s not because we’re small, that we can’t be big, is actually a bit of a colloquialism in Quebec. It was at the time, back in the eighties, and it’s tied to a deeper culture of the, and French speaking Canadians living within a country as an official language, but not necessarily feeling as though they’re on equal footing with the English speakers.

And so as I’ve been told that this actual narrative of the David versus Goliath, the small but powerful person overcoming the large sort of menacing adult, for instance, like children overcoming adults, this is a central narrative at this time in Quebec culture. And so that actually helps me also understand this film a little bit more. I have no idea if that’s what they were going for, but this is actually not an uncommon thing. When speaking to my friends in Quebec, they actually knew a lot about this and had never seen this film. They didn’t really know. They knew it existed, but they’d never seen it.

Adam:

Very interesting. So it’s a fair assessment to assume that this movie is a metaphor for how Quebec feels within the country known as Canada.

Jeff:

I think that’s a very plausible read on this film.

Adam:

Wow, I did not get that at all.

Jeff:

No, no. And again, I think there’s some layers here. I think on the first layer, there’s a child empowerment story that they’re trying to tell, which fits within the broader tales for all narrative. I think that makes sense. So where did this even come from? Well, this production company is Productions LA is the brainchild of Quebec Wall filmmaker, producer, and Order of Canada winner Rock The Bears, the first film in the series, the dog who stopped the war was inspired by an article about youth suicide. So that’s kind of where rock is coming from. In this whole project, he has gone on to explain that there are not enough individuals concerned with developing the imagination of young people in the right way and goes on to say, I want to help children leave childhood and go into adulthood with certain values. This is the age when they will build the values they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

Adam:

As a child who witnessed this movie, I can certainly say there’s probably only one element of this movie that I carried on through the entirety of my life, and that’s slime.

Jeff:

Right? I thought you were going to say you did Cob, but that’s okay,

Adam:

Jeff. I thought we weren’t supposed to talk about that on the podcast.

Jeff:

Yeah, sure. Right. Okay. Well, we’re going to talk more about Cobb later. So who made this film, r de Mars, obviously attached as a producer, but no real indication that he played a major role in the production of this? This was directed by a Czech director by the name of EK Ja. Long career in film and television, starting first in Czechia in the mid 1950s. Eventually after Survival World War ii and Ja, his father was killed in World War II. He died at Auschwitz. He did escape or survive rather, world War ii. He would eventually go on to study and eventually teach film, both in broader in Europe, moved sort of west and then eventually into the United States, and somehow ended up attached to this film, which I do not know. That story, as far as I could tell, has been lost to history. The film was written by a man named David Sigmund. This is his second film that he has written a script for and also his last script. So take that for what you will. I don’t know that this movie necessarily killed his career, but it is possible that she was like, I’m putting the pen down. I’ve written my opus. There’s nothing left to say for David Sigmund.

Adam:

He left it all on the page. You may say, yep,

Jeff:

Yep. You can’t improve on perfection. That’s the reality tip of our hat to David Sigmund. Most of us though probably have come to this film because of the star of the film, arguably the star of the film, which is of course the famous Michael J. Anderson, who plays Fritz as well as the twin brother of Fritz, the king of the land of small. Now, as mentioned earlier, Michael has the edge genetic disease called osteogenesis. Perfecta used a wheelchair growing up. An interesting yet strange fact about Michael J. Anderson, which I actually learned from Adam, is that he has developed the ability to talk backwards. He is able to talk naturally backwards, so if you play a tape backwards, you’d be able to understand it in forward or in English. He learned this skill while attending a school for disabled children. This is how he passed the time.

Adam:

Yeah, and actually the interesting tidbit there is David Lynch found this out when Michael J. Anderson, who I don’t know who stole the idea of using the initial first Michael J. Fox or Michael J. Anderson. This might be a case of the chicken or the egg, but when David Lynch hired Michael to play the man from another place on Twin Peaks, he discovered that he could speak backwards and actually had Michael teach his scene mates on Twin Peaks how to do it at a last minute thing, and so in the episodes where Michael appears and they’re talking backwards in the Black Lodge, it’s all Michael’s doing. Also, the interesting tidbit is the extra tidbit to the tidbit is Michael Anderson may be one of the few instances of somebody gripping down in a movie. David Lynch, also quite happy to have Michael back for Mulholland Drive, actually built a large prosthetic for Michael to sit in to appear as though he was a tall gentleman, and I believe Michael is somewhat, I think he’s under five foot. I actually don’t know. Yeah, I’d

Jeff:

Imagine.

Adam:

But yeah, he appeared as like a six foot a human being in Mulholland Drive, so I definitely suggest you listeners Googling Michael J. Anderson, Mulholland Drive, because you’ll be quite fascinated. Yeah,

Jeff:

Yeah. He’s an absolute trendsetter.

Adam:

Oh, totally. Speaking of trends setting, I jokingly suggest to my friends about starting a GoFundMe or Kickstarter to get a red suit made to fit me like the one Michael wears on Twin Peaks. It’s red, top to bottom, and he is styling.

Jeff:

Well, that’s a good promo. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, donate to Adam Kearney’s Red Suit campaign.

Adam:

So funny. We

Jeff:

Fully endorse this, fully endorse This will be the second GoFundMe that we have started this season. Oh, wow. First GoFundMe, you’ll have to listen to a previous episode to hear about that. It is a sequel to Tiptoes. Yeah.

Adam:

Oh, right. Yeah.

Jeff:

Mike Hoja Anderson is not the only star. Well, okay. No, Michael J. Anderson is the only star. However, there are other actors in this that have histories, one of which is Ken Roberts. Now, Ken Roberts plays what Kiddle described as the Evil Hunter. I am going to be describing him instead as his proper title, which is the owner of a bar who was named Flanagan. He also though plays the man dog Hybrid Munch. Now, Ken Roberts has appeared in a variety of movies, including an uncredited role where he was also a bartender in Brokeback Mountain. He also played the character Terrance in a star-studded film that no one has ever seen called, never Was. Have you ever seen? Never Was Adam.

Adam:

No. It’s my first time hearing about this.

Jeff:

Seriously, go to the IMDB page of Never Was. I’m not convinced this is a real movie.

Adam:

I’m sure we could track it down.

Jeff:

I’m guessing It is horrible if no one has heard of it, given the stars in This is unbelievable. Now, the two children, the brother and the sister, the brother is played by, sorry. David is the brother played by Michael Bule, I’m assuming is how he would pronounce his name. Not sure. Michael did not become a baseball star. As David wishes instead, he actually became a successful stunt artist and has appeared in shows that you maybe have seen such as Gotham, the Punisher, and one of my favorite shows. Happy Jenny. The sister is played by Clarine Elkin, who has not done really anything else mimic. The River Living Man is played by Cirque du Soleil clown Chocolat Trombley. You love whenever a person has chocolate as their middle name.

Adam:

Love it. I know, and the fact that he, it is all throughout the titling too. He demanded that his pseudonym be part of his titles. It’s fantastic. I love the dedication of Chocolat.

Jeff:

Absolutely. We will only be referring to him as Mimic or Chocolat for the rest of this episode. The rest of the cast is a random sprinkle of Quebec television regulars. Many of the folks reappear in future productions of the Tales for All series. I believe several of the cast members went on to direct future versions of this series. It is the strangest thing that I had no idea existed and continues to exist as of last year.

Adam:

I’m proud of them. Keep going guys.

Jeff:

It really does show you that without getting too deeply into Canadian politics, the two solitudes kind of thing, that there is this entire media empire that has been happening in Quebec since the eighties, and we had very little knowledge of it existing.

Adam:

Now I’m going to throw this curve ball out here. Do you think that Cirque du Soleil has anything to do with throwing money into this thing considering the amount of gymnasts that appear in this movie and I imagine continue to appear throughout the series?

Jeff:

Probably there is a weird focus on aerobatics gymnastics clowning in this movie. I really go back and forth on it. I think that there are two possible explanations. Explanation number one, Cirque du Soleil saw this as an opportunity to legitimize their work in sort of children’s cinema and thought it would be

Adam:

Kind of like what the WWF does with horror movies.

Jeff:

Exactly, yes, and thought it as like a promo opportunity. Right. They were diversifying their portfolio, and so they were glad to perform and to support this. The other possibility is they got paid for this, and this was just a moneymaking venture for random people in Cirque de Soleil. I would love to know which path they went down on this one.

Adam:

Oh man. That’s a whole other wormhole rabbit hole.

Jeff:

The other actors that were not included on this list was the very surprising number of animals. The animal budget in this film had to have been staggering.

Adam:

Oh, it’s phenomenal, and it almost seems trivial at parts too when Michael Anderson rolls over and cuddles a tamed raccoon only to say, what are you doing in my bed and end scene,

Jeff:

And the raccoon is attacking him.

Adam:

Yeah. I would love to hear a story about that.

Jeff:

Yeah. I believe that’s how Michael Anderson got rabies.

Adam:

He had to take some time out off after this feature film.

Jeff:

Now, we of course have our own opinions about this film, but we are not the only ones. There are lots of people that have actually written about this film, some of which more legitimate than others. I want to draw our attention, however, to a 1988 review that was published in Cinema Canada by a Marika Seno. So Seno says, “Jasny and Brault capture the forest at dusk. This quality of light–rarely seen in films–makes Flanigan and his men appear as undefinable shapes lost in the darkening forest. The blue tinge together with the mystical synthesizer music adds to the be witching feel that the Jasny-Brault duo creates.”

Adam:

I would like to comment in that they must have definitely watched the HD transfer on Apple TV because the rip that is on YouTube, and I imagine the VHS version that I watched when I was younger basically presents that scene as pitch black. There is no contrast or blue hue to it. It’s just darkness.

Jeff:

As a deviant who purchased this on Apple tv, because again, I have a problem, I can confirm that the best quality version you can buy of this film, it is black. You cannot see anything for about a third of the movie.

Adam:

Yeah. There’s a long part in the second half of the movie that is just pretty much, you just have to adjust your TV basically if you actually want to see anything.

Jeff:

Yeah. That felt extremely generous. There was critique though Sano goes on to say, “still the spirit of the film outweighs its weaknesses. The desire to capture the inner lives of the character makes the great land of small a film in which both child and adult finds meaning.”

Adam:

Do they though?

Jeff:

I think we’re going to spend the rest of this episode and next week’s episode attempting to find meaning.

Adam:

Oh man, just like my life, right?

Jeff:

Precisely. There are, of course others that have better opinions than the official critics, and those are internet comments, which we have found on things like Amazon and IMDB.

Adam:

I cannot wait to hear these. I purposely didn’t read these when you sent them over earlier. So

Jeff:

Phenomenal going in completely sight unseen, so our first year is an IMDB review by Siouxsienova giving this film a 1 out of 10 rating. They go on to say, “film we disapprove of. Though details elude our memory, we recall an inexplicably cheerful little man and people in colored saran wrap. We fail to see what was “great” about the land, other than a volcano that burped glitter. Years after viewing it, we need only say the title to send everyone into fits of laughter and gagging sounds. This earns “The Great Land of Small” our resounding two thumbs way down. Were we to judge it on a star ratings system, it would be a black hole”

Adam:

Wow. Now, to be fair, there is no volcano that burps glitter. I think that would actually really drastically improve the great land. Instead, it is a creature that does the burping.

Jeff:

Yeah, slimo

Adam:

Of course. Slimo. Yeah. My hero. Obviously,

Jeff:

I aspire to be Slimo when I’m older. Maybe that was the moral or what they wanted you to take as a child. You too could grow up to be Slimo.

Adam:

Yeah, slim o be your own Slimo. Yeah.

Jeff:

Be the Slimo you want to see in the world.

Adam:

You know what I really took away about Slimo too was the costume or the

Jeff:

It is a puppet.

Adam:

The puppets that is Slimo really reminded me of the character Bill Paxton gets turned into in weird science. It’s basically Slimo

Jeff:

Totally,

Adam:

But they definitely put a lot of budget into creating slimo the puppet. I wonder if slime still exists.

Jeff:

Probably. There’s no way you could destroy it. That thing is huge.

Adam:

Is it though or it, did they shoot it with perspective to make it seem big?

Jeff:

That’s an interesting question. It could be a hand puppet, but I don’t know. Given everything I’ve seen in this film, given that there is basically zero practical effects at all beyond cutting things to make them look like they’ve disappeared or turned to different directions, I don’t know that they had the technology to make things look bigger than they appear.

Adam:

I feel like this could be a podcast unto itself finding slime.

Jeff:

Yeah.

Adam:

2025

Jeff:

GoFundMe number three…

Our next review, also an IMDB review, comes to us from Muppets1. I guess Muppets was already taken. Also giving this a one out of 10 rating with the title stupid movie gives nightmares. Muppets1 says, “This movie frightened me. It was an awful movie that should not be shown to little children if you want them to grow up as normal human beings. I saw it at a friend’s house, and everyone who saw it found it to be extremely disturbing. You barely see anything of the Great Land of Small except people turning into butterflies or being “slimo”d. I definitely rate this as one of the more unintelligent family films that has come out of Canada”

Adam:

I feel as though that review really undersells the great land because there was also baton, twirler jugglers,

Jeff:

Many jugglers.

Adam:

There was a parade though. It was a practice parade. There was a lot more happening in the great land of the small than just being slime mode.

Jeff:

Yeah. Keeper lives in a dungeon with his man dog.

Adam:

Yeah. Like a mirrored dungeon, oddly enough. Right. Hopefully we get back to that one.

Jeff:

Yeah. People are just getting railed on cob down there.

Adam:

It’s a tasty treat, man. Don’t knock till you tried it. Don’t yuck my yum.

Jeff:

It’s the only thing that states some people. Finally an anonymous. This is a rotten tomato reviewer that I loved, so I had to include it. This review is quote, “this movie is fucking disturbing. I was okay with it.”

Adam:

Fuck yeah, bud. I feel as though the more I lament about this movie, the more I kind of feel like it almost deserves to be compared to the work of somebody like David Lynch. There’s this real I dreamscape mentality, this alternative universe existing within our own, but yeah, it’s really not a good movie, but you can’t stop thinking about it.

Jeff:

My best belief, my best understanding, this feels like a movie where if you were to get several very well intentioned, very artistic qua folk, put them in a room, pipe that room full of LSDU gas and then have them write a movie about child empowerment, I think this is what happens.

Adam:

I would love to see remake the Great Land of Small and see his adaptation of this.

Jeff:

The best thing about that is that I could not tell you if it would be better or worse. The adaptation, I have no idea. Yeah,

Adam:

Or even if David Lynch redid it, would his adaptation be better or worse?

Jeff:

Oh, that would be upsetting. I think that would be even more upsetting In some ways.

Adam:

It would be funny if he just shot it scene for scene if it was just what they did to Psycho.

Jeff:

Oh, no. Okay. Yeah. No, I’m on board for that. David Lynch, I assume you listen to this podcast. Please do this. You can have this one for free. We don’t even want royalties.

Adam:

Also, David, if you’re out there, send me that red suit. Let’s save some money here,

Jeff:

Right? Yeah, please, David. Now, this is really only the start of our journey into the Great Land of Small, but unfortunately we need to call it a day, so I know. I know. So if you don’t want to get slime mode, make sure you tune back in next week, Monday morning when we will actually talk about the Absolute Bananas movie, the Great Land of Small.

Adam:

I Can’t wait. I personally hope you end this episode with one of the two theme songs they had written for this movie.

Jeff:

All right. Rolling

Great Land of Small theme song:

And You

Jeff:

And thus concludes another episode of Invalid Culture. Thank you for listening. I hope you enjoyed it or not. Either way, please take a second. If you haven’t to subscribe to our podcast on whatever platform you’re using, tell a Friend, and better yet, do you want to be a victim on the podcast, go onto our website, invalid culture.com. Submit your name. We would love to terrorize you with a bad movie. Have a bad movie of your own that you think that we should watch. Again, jump on our website, invalid culture.com, submit it, and we would love to watch the trash. Be sure to tune in again next week for part two where we will start to dig into the movie and find out whether or not it wins the coveted Jerry Lewis seal of approval

Mvll Crimes (theme song):

Arguing with strangers on the internet. Everyone is wrong. I just haven’t told them yet.

Transcript – Part 2

Jeff:

Previously on invalid culture.

The Great Land of Small theme song:

Keep your eyes wide open, can you see the special beings? You will never know what you’ll be seeing. If you let them show you…

Jeff:

You are listening to Invalid Culture, a podcast dedicated to excavating the strangest and most baffling media representations of disability. This podcast is all about staring into the abyss of pop culture adjacent films that never quite broke through because well, they’re just awful. So buckle up folks. The following content is rated I for invalid.

Mvll Crimes (theme song):

I’m arguing with strangers on the internet not going out today because I’m feeling too upset. Arguing with strangers on the, and I’m winning. And I’m winning!

Jeff:

Welcome back to another episode of Invalid Culture, part two of the Great Land of Small. So glad that you are back. We are joined once again by our co-host. Adam, how you doing, Adam?

Adam:

I’m good, Jeff. I’m good. I just got back from a rainbow trip back from the Great Land of Small.

Jeff:

Oh good. You caught the rainbow.

Adam:

Yeah, I caught the rainbow. I wasn’t late like Michael was and I made it for the birthday celebration.

Jeff:

Can I ask you, what is the wheelchair accommodations like on rainbow flights?

Adam:

Very lovely. Lots of large entryways. There’s really no limitations, no stairs at all. The only thing, the incline is a little challenging, especially at the starting point.

Jeff:

Right, but they didn’t break your wheelchair like every other airline in the world.

Adam:

No, no, no, no, no. They were quite accommodating in that fashion. But let me tell you something, there is glitter everywhere. Everywhere. It’s like going to the beach.

Jeff:

Absolutely. Well, as I said, this is part two, which means it is time for us to get analytical. So let’s talk a little bit about the Great Land of Small. Now for those of you who have not watched the movie, our film begins in the wilderness where we meet a surly magical something or other, maybe leprechaun, maybe not named Fritz, who has returned to Earth to verify whether or not humans are still terrible. Before Fritz had learned about Donald Trump, he misplaces his bag of gold dust while escaping several hunters that are led by barman Flanagan cut to New York City where baseball enthusiast David is refusing to visit his grandparents unless can bring his dog along with him, David, his sister Jenny, and his single and ready to mingle Mother Linda, all packed into a bus and drive to the mystical land of Quebec. It is here where his grandpa gaslights the children into believing that magical creatures exist, but only if you truly believe otherwise they are invisible to you. Get it? It’s a metaphor for the French Canadian experience.

Adam:

Oh boy. Yeah. The start of this movie is quite challenging, although it’s very entertaining to see them really try and wedge as much acrobatics in the beginning of this film to just set the baseline of what you’re going to experience in the Great Land and that grandfather. Best of intentions, that guy. Oh, absolutely. He wanted to share the magic of the world with his grandkids.

Jeff:

Yeah, absolutely. Now, okay, so let’s talk a little bit about Fritz and his introduction into the film. He is sort of just laying around in nature. He loses his bag of magic gold powder and it’s at this point that we’re explained, it’s told to us that Fritz, for reasons that are never explained, has access to five magical spells that he is allowed to perform.

Adam:

And I feel like we need to also address one factor too in that we both, I think we paused the movie, we watched the movie the first time together, the exposition in this movie is handled quite awkwardly. There’s a moment where Fritz loses his bag of gold dust and literally says to the camera, oh no, my gold dust fell out. What should I do? Moments like that happen a lot in this movie where it’s like, no, obviously Fritz just dropped his gold. I don’t know why he’s saying this out loud.

Jeff:

Yeah. The movie at the exact same time, both imagines its audience as completely unable to follow what’s happening while also presuming that the audience is fully literate in the magical world that it is set in. So of course, Fritz is invisible to the hunter that stumbles across his bag of gold dust, which is perhaps kind of a bit of a fitting allegory to some experiences of disablement in which the bar owner literally does not know you exist.

Adam:

No, because he can’t see you through the bar that he’s sitting behind. Yes. That is something I didn’t consider until my second viewing actually is how Fritz navigates the world by only being seen by humans who may not have been taught to see disability as a negative. You know what I mean? Kids often approach me and ask questions that are very innocent and unknowing, whereas adults who have been taught that disability is a negative often just ignore my existence. So that little allegory may be the most in-depth quality of disability representation in this film. Otherwise it’s pretty non-existent in my opinion.

Jeff:

And also might not have been intentional.

Adam:

No, no. I think that’s also the odd thing is in all the promotion and all the write-ups that I read for this film, Fritz is referred to as a leprechaun, but in the movie, characters are stopped short when they almost say the word leprechaun and instead they say one of them. And so the really odd thing too we were just discussing off mic, is that there is a bizarre number of Irish names in this movie, Flanagans, Patrick…It’s quite bizarre because they stopped short of identifying the one true Irish character, the leprechaun. It was like, no, that’s too odd. We can’t go ahead with that, but let’s just name everybody an Irish name.

Jeff:

Right. And this is small town Quebec, but they are in Quebec.

Adam:

Yeah, yeah. In the eastern townships, somewhere in between Montreal and Sherbrooke is our rough estimation of where they are. And so there is no Jean, there is no Michelle. Instead Patrick Kelly. I forget what the mom’s name is?

Jeff:

Linda.

Adam:

Yeah,

Jeff:

I think that’s an interesting point because this could gesture toward a little fan theory that I have, which is that Quebec in the film is not Quebec. Quebec in the film is actually English speaking Canada slash America populated by the Irish and the land of small is actually Quebec.

Adam:

Oh, that would make sense why…so?

Jeff:

Hence why as we will later, well, okay, let’s move forward. So while frolicking could in the forest, David and Jenny stumble upon light bending magical figure Fritz with some very interesting colors being placed upon the screen.

Adam:

We kind of differed there because I felt like that camera trick with the rainbow effect was very, very impressive. I felt as though it wasn’t just merely a lens on the camera. There was some special effect quality to it, although the effect doesn’t last very long, so you don’t get to really bathe in all its glory

Jeff:

To me…I think they just sliced a gel from Aliko light and taped it to the camera lens. It’s very angular and the people were moving and the camera’s kind of moving. So it’s unclear, but it looks fairly static egg. I’m unclear. Unfortunately, because of Fritz’s futile search to get his gold powder back from Flanagan, Fritz has missed his ride on the rainbow to get back home. And as a result, like many of us have been forced to do, had to spend a night in Quebec taking pity on him. David and Jenny invite Fritz back to Grandpa’s house for about 14 sandwiches and two bottles of Pepsi. Fritz will eventually spend the night for a magical sleepover after which the gang decides that they must enlist the support of mimic a strange man who speaks in brine and lives in a shack down by the river.

Adam:

Before we get to the mimic thing, I wanted to interject with, we skipped over the pop scene where they reenact a scene from Willy Wonka with the bubbles that make you weightless and float, and then there’s also a quality to this film that is a big tip of the hat to the Wizard of Oz as well, which we’ll get to in a bit. But there were a few very notable classic cinema references in this movie, which makes me feel as though like this wasn’t just a haphazard attempt that the writer really did leave everything on the page here. He went deep. I feel.

Jeff:

Well, references or copyright infringement. It is hard to say. Disney might be looking at some of this magic powder animation and feeling it’s a little Fantasia

Adam:

Or a little Tinker Bell too. Right, right. The fairy dust. Yeah. Anyway, sorry to interrupt you again.

Jeff:

No, absolutely. So Fritz spends the night for this magical sleepover and the gang determines that they must use this man mimic to help them. Now on their way to mimic, they are chased by flatheads men narrowly escape at a certain death by jumping in a canoe and heading down the river almost immediately. They almost die in some river rapids and Fritz is required to use one of his five magic spells, which I believe this is his third spell that he has used now maybe fourth, to transport them to safety, also known as Montreal apparently, because they are now in the Olympic stadi…sorry, they’re now in the Great Land of Small.

Adam:

Yeah. The architecture is very hard to miss in the great land of small, but it’s very familiar to those Canadian listeners out there, the slopes, the angles, the off white color of everything.

Jeff:

Immediately when they arrive in the great land of small, we are we’re watching it. And immediately you notice that it is both like an internal, that they’ve built a set, but it’s also outside, but it’s clearly natural light. And so when we’re watching it, we’re like, where did they find this open air studio? And then almost immediately, once we get deeper into the great land of small, we’re like, oh man, I bet you, and sure enough, yes, this was filmed in the Olympic Stadium, the pride and joy of the Montreal Expos at the time. RIP

Adam:

David would be sad and his baseball dreams.

Jeff:

Yeah, crushed. Yeah. Now, as a baseball fan, how did he not know that he was in the Olympic stadium?

Adam:

It’s a different world bud. Different world, the rainbow.

Jeff:

There were no Montreal Expos in this universe.

Adam:

You know what? That’s also funny because we were commenting about David’s hat looking very weird on his head. Why wasn’t he wearing either a Brooklyn hat or an Expos hat?

Jeff:

Right? He was wearing a red felt baseball ish hat. I understand. Not going to put branding on it, but why this wasn’t a Yankees hat or a Mets hat is kind of hilarious to me.

Adam:

Right? Or yeah, it really, I don’t know. They missed an opportunity with that one.

Jeff:

When it comes to magical powers, Fritz, as I said, lead it up to this point, has used a few spells which seem to be conjured by saying little rhymes pretty on brand. And from what we’re able to tell, he is able to a drop people into holes in the ground, which he does to Flanagan

Adam:

With a very hilarious forward and rewind effect and then forward again. So it appears as though he’s being dropped multiple times.

Jeff:

So that’s one of his spells. Another spell that he casts is to astral project David’s dog from the pound. Now my read on this, my understanding of the text is that his dog is not physically there. This is an astral projection, but there’s sort of a commentary that’s made that he’s not actually there, but he is experiencing it with them and they are able to touch him.

Adam:

True. They do engage and they even have to use the leash on him when they’re walking to mimics shack on the river,

Jeff:

Right? Because that dog will run away immediately if possible.

Adam:

Yeah, I believe it was a lab or a retriever.

Jeff:

Yeah, it was definitely going to run away the minute it could possibly going to find a tasty treat in the forest because it is on our way to Quebec that it is disclosed that Flanagan and his hunting friends are not just after caribou. Adam, what are they hunting for?

Adam:

Well, there’s a theme when the kids and mother arrive in Quebec to visit the grandparents where the grandparents pick them up in the bus at the bus station during wait, fall because all the trees have turned color in a convertible with the top down. So they’re driving down country roads and highways with top down and convertible when they come across a roadblock with a police officer who is berating Flanagan and his cronies for hunting at night with flashlights. At which point Flanagan says they are not hunting caribou illegally. They are actually after rabbit eggs,

Jeff:

Rabbit eggs,

Adam:

Rabbit eggs are Flanagan’s bread and butter, apparently a real curve ball. I really didn’t see that one coming.

Jeff:

So when this happened, I thought I just misheard it and I went back and looked and no, they said rabbit eggs and it is presented completely straight and the police officer is like, oh, well that makes sense. And it is. I have no idea if this is supposed to be a joke, if it’s an absurdist line. Is it like the police officer doesn’t understand hunting and this is just a funny little prank? Or are there really rabbit eggs in the field?

Adam:

Maybe they aren’t mammalian. The really peculiar thing too is they say it multiple times in the scene and then they don’t say it again at all during the movie or reference these rabbit eggs.

Jeff:

No, it never comes up again. Which leads me to wonder, are there scenes that were left on the cutting room floor of this film, which boggles the mind?

Adam:

I wonder what the director’s cut of this thing could have looked like.

Jeff:

Well, there’s another thing that was never really addressed, which is Linda is a single mom and there appears to be a will they or won’t they with the police officer that they meet on the roadblock because apparently they knew each other growing up and maybe there’s something happening and no, that storyline leads nowhere.

Adam:

No, and there is multiple references of hanging out with a dad, but we don’t get dad’s name. We don’t see dad. There’s really just only a reference to you’re going to see your father next week type of thing,

Jeff:

Which is a really interesting part of this film, I will say, because it is like a normalization of divorce from a Quebec company, which of course in the quiet revolution you’ll know that this is actually not an insignificant thing. Talking about divorce and going against Catholic scripture

Adam:

And for the mid eighties too, right? I guess maybe that was a slight dig at her living a sinful life in New York City moving away from Quebec

Jeff:

Or they’re aligning with the quiet revolution and the pushback, the secularism of Quebec that comes in the seventies and eighties. This is just normal. It’s just a normal thing. We don’t need to address the father because he is insignificant. So we move into the final phase of the film where we arrive at the Great Land of Small, which essentially is a Cirque de Soleil fever Dream meets an abstract 1984 concrete hellscape. We discover that Fritz is not the king, but rather his twin brother is the king of this land. And the people seem to spend most of their time doing acrobatics, juggling and being turned into butterflies. But there is just one problem. Once you enter the great land of small, you can never leave. As a result, David and Jenny are scheduled by the king and queen to be slim mode, which is unclear if this is a punishment or a reward, but it essentially consists of being fed to a giant rock blob that spits magic, morphin gold dust onto you and turns you into something else.

Adam:

So the thing about that is in watching it last night, the king and queen make a quick reference to not being able to have children of their own. And the queen says how nice it would be to have a little girl and the king says how nice it would be to have a little boy, and then they decide that the children must be slime mowed so that they can live their eternally. And so it’s kind of a kidnap plot

Jeff:

And it’s also, as I said, this is confusing because when we get to the slime scene, they are sliming a woman who wishes to become a butterfly. That’s what she’s wanting to become, so boom, slim mode. However, we also have two individuals who are in an argument and they hit slim O for being in an argument

Adam:

At some sort of resolution as though the process of being slim Oed is going to absolve the situation that they find themselves in.

Jeff:

Very unclear. Now, Fritz, the selfless magic figure that he is uses his last magical spell to transport David and Jenny as well as new characters keeper and man dog munch out of the land of small and back into the forests of Quebec. However, this will then doom Fritz to have to navigate the Canadian Social Assistance program for disabled people the rest of his life. There is ultimately only one chance for Fritz to get back home, which is to reclaim the magic powder from Flanagan. The bargain Flanagan, as you imagine has become drunk with magical power and is ploting to take over the world leading to a barely visible confrontation on the aptly titled Black Mountain, ultimately Flat again, the lights after almost clearing his daughter and the gold dust is returned to its rightful owner. The film even eventually wraps with Fritz saying goodbye to his friends from the great land of small paper and dog Man Munch who take the little powder back to the king and queen Fritz, however fits his return and instead rides off into the sunset with mimic a relationship that they will never be able to report or risk losing their disability support benefits.

Adam:

I really love how you tie that in. That’s beautiful. Well done, Jeff.

Jeff:

Now one thing I do want to talk about in the conclusion of this film, so the movie sets itself up as being a morality play of some variety, but as I can understand the story, what is the moral of this story?

Adam:

I have no idea. Other than kids running around with their leprechaun buddy and a harrowing canoe trip. I don’t know. No one seemed to really learn a lesson other than maybe Flanagan,

Jeff:

But there’s sort of the lesson of youthful innocence and being open to new experiences maybe, but that’s never really addressed or dealt with, and also it ends with this crushing reality that Fritz is now trapped away from home living in exile in the forests of Quebec,

Adam:

But he seems really okay with it. They are prancing through that meadow at the end,

Jeff:

But why were David and Jenny not allowed to know that he was trapped at that point? I understand beforehand, he doesn’t want the children to stop him from using his last wish, but once you’re there, he’s like, no, no, protect them from this terrible reality. I’m now trapped in. We’ll let them think that I’m leaving and then I will scuttle away through the tall grass and write off with mimic.

Adam:

There is just so many questions left on the Answered in this film because I think they felt that they were going to wow us with some sort of magical experience that leads you to forget about all these unwrapped up storyline,

Jeff:

Right? No, Cirque du Soleil is enough. Have you been to Cirque du Soleil? It’s enough. You don’t need anything else.

Adam:

Look at these batons. We have so many batons and they’re twirling.

Jeff:

That’s all you need. They’re children. They don’t know anything. As I said, this movie equally seems to treat its audience as hyper literate and completely unaware of what’s happening at the exact same time.

Adam:

It just really weird, some really bizarre, maybe directorial choices. You would think that if Fritz also is a leprechaun, that maybe you would have your actor do a bad Irish accent, but they don’t even attempt to that.

Jeff:

No, no. And they dress him sort of like a medieval squire kind of…

Adam:

Yeah. Yeah. There’s no real leprechaun qualities to Fritz as a leprechaun. There’s some gold, but really you wouldn’t be surprised to see Michael walking around a Ren Fair in that outfit. You’d be like, oh,

Jeff:

Absolutely.

Adam:

Sweet outfit, bro. Yeah.

Jeff:

Yeah, right.

Adam:

Absolutely. No one would be like, oh, that leprechaun outfit is tight.

Jeff:

I also am confused by they seem to be gesturing toward a moral of absolute power. Corrupts absolutely, and that you should reject power because it’s dangerous. But I also don’t know that that’s the case. Flanagan gets the powder, goes crazy with it, goes to Black Mountain, ties up Mimic to a tree, and appears to be prepared to torture him or murder him, I’m not sure. And then his daughter comes and is like, wait, no, stop. And he blasts her with magic and then it’s like, what have I done and runs down and it is like, oh, my daughter here, have the dust back. It’s too dangerous.

Adam:

Yeah, there’s really no consequences for anyone in this film other than Fritz who is now stuck in Quebec,

Jeff:

The most Irish town in Quebec

Adam:

Of all the small towns. He had to land in the most Irish of them all where the local is called Flanagans.

Jeff:

Part of me also wonders if maybe this was intended as a setup to a sequel, but were we going to get another story that was about the return to the great land of small where Fritz is trying to get back and he has to do some sort of task and learn some sort of lesson about himself and away we go,

Adam:

That would guarantee us a more slim o film time and explore the relationship between Fritz and Mimic in that quick Riverside abode. Yeah,

Jeff:

I hope that they’re lovers. That is my deep desire for the end of this film.

Adam:

It is neither confirmed nor dismissed.

Jeff:

Precisely. It is a potentiality,

Adam:

But they definitely, at the beginning of the film, they already kind of know each other.

Jeff:

Yeah, they’re friends.

Adam:

They have a history together. And that also brings up something we have yet to discuss is mimic as a character, as a potential person with disability or racist stereotype of an indigenous Quebecois.

Jeff:

So I want to dig all the way into this.

Adam:

Yeah. I feel as though this at its core is the only true representation in this movie because as we’ve addressed, Michael Anderson’s character is never really as one, the character. He’s even playing a leprechaun or two as a little person or person with disability. And so in that aspect, I feel like the representation is great where I feel like we’re going to dig into the nitty gritty here.

Jeff:

So let’s talk a little bit about Mimic because, so first and foremost, when I read the synopsis and it referred to Mimic as being indigenous, I had a bit of a double take because that I did not catch that when I was reading. I didn’t know that that was intended, which also makes me wonder if that even is intended or if this was something that was projected by the person who wrote the synopsis. Mimiced to me is presented as this sort of gesture fool character if you kind of toxin rhyme. But it has these sort of insights, and so everyone thinks that Mimic is crazy or that he’s simple, that he doesn’t know what’s happening in the world, but he does have this insight that only the viewer are able to see because Mimic seems to exist somewhere between the two worlds between Quebec and the Great Land of Small because he has awareness and can understand and see these invisible creatures. He still has belief in order to see the magical creatures. He has some sort of relationship with this magical stallion that is wandering the Quebec woods as well. He seems to know the horse or is friends with it potentially. He rides it at times, but doesn’t seem to be magic himself.

Adam:

No, no, no. And I’m going to say what a non colonialist character. He exists outside of town. He definitely has a different perception of the space he’s in. And even to the point when he comes into town, flanagan’s cronies try and beat ’em up and run ’em off. And this is where I get into the stereotype is there’s a scene where Mimic saddles up to the bar and quickly downs a pint before he gets kicked out. When Flanagan comes up to his daughter and says, I thought I told you not to serve him as though he’s not supposed to consume alcohol, which is

Jeff:

Interesting

Adam:

…a stereotype, and when Flanagan’s cronies are berating him, there is an assumption that he’s just this foolish character stumbling around, and I feel as though I didn’t realize it certainly when I was a kid, and certainly in the first watching, but it wasn’t until I read that synopsis that you posted that it clicked in that he actually isn’t supposed to be projected as having disability. He’s supposed to be a racist stereotype in Quebec, and that’s kind of what I took away from it too, especially, but also

Jeff:

Accepting. The audience are supposed to accept mimic.

Adam:

Oh yeah.

Jeff:

As a good person.

Adam:

Yeah. He doesn’t have ill intent in any of his interactions within the film at all, but it would also kind of speak to the fact of why Mimic can see Fritz is because he has a different sense of maybe spiritual connection to the land, right? So he has this innocence, innocence, maybe non colonialist view of the land and of the beings within the land that allows him to see,

Jeff:

Yeah, this is I think a completely plausible explanation for mimic. I think that we could also though interpret Mimic as being a mad character, as being the mad person who appears foolish, but has insight and is a useful character because of the way that they see the world differently and how they exist outside the world.

Adam:

Oh, I was just going to add to that, the projection of childish qualities onto an adult, right?

Jeff:

Yeah. Another major part of it, he is projected, he’s really marked as being kind of childlike, potentially having an intellectual disability of some variety where he just doesn’t seem like any other adult in the film.

Adam:

No. And even at one point riding away on a child’s BMX bike.

Jeff:

Right. You literally using a child’s bike. Okay, I’m sorry. I think we need to talk a little bit about some of the tropes in this film. So as you stated, I agree, the film itself doesn’t necessarily mark our main character Fritz as a disabled character necessarily. However, I think this movie does fall to the common trope of casting disabled people as being magical characters in some way, and the bodily difference being used as a way to signify a difference within the person. Note that Fritz is regularly referred to as a creature, as a figure, as anything but a human, despite the fact that of course he’s being played by a literal human.

Adam:

It’s also kind, it’s always kind of cringe when you hear a little person being cast as one of these kind of stereotype characters, and it’s something that we really, I know personally, I really applaud actors like Peter Dinklage from avoiding being cast as these kind of mythical characters. Although at the same point, I’m going to argue that the way that the stereotype of a leprechaun is portrayed in this film, it manages to miss a lot of those kind of cringe moments. I feel. Even though Michael Anderson has played leprechauns repeatedly in his professional life, I have not seen those performances. However, this one, it felt different. It wasn’t like the leprechaun you see portrayed at Molly Bloom’s downtown London on St. Patrick’s Day. Right. College kid puking on the railroad tracks. Yeah,

Jeff:

Precisely.

Adam:

And so that’s where it gets tricky for me because I do agree with you, but I feel as though maybe not on purpose. They handled it really well.

Jeff:

I think the other thing to be said on this trope of the sort of magically disabled person and the fact that they don’t necessarily identify as a disabled person within the text, I also think given the fact that this is called Tales for All, and it is this sort of morality story that are being told to try to help children to understand their world and develop a moral compass, that is a good one. Allegedly, I imagine that the inclusion of disabled people within this text was designed not necessarily as an equity feature. I feel very confident that they were like, Ooh, we should get a disabled person in this film. I let’s get tech disability in here, and showed people it children, oh, look, you could be friends. You could be a friend with a disabled guy, and maybe they have magic powers. And I think that behind the scenes, I think possibly leans really hard into that trope,

Adam:

And I feel as though that might be the reason why my mother tried to make me watch this so many times. It’s like, see, even Michael Anderson could save the day,

Jeff:

But he doesn’t. The only reason the day is saved is because, so the daughter of her own actions was on her way to Black Mountain, so whether or not the children returned Flanagan was going to give up the powder, he was going to almost kill his daughter regardless. They had no impact on the end of this movie

Adam:

Other than he brought the kids back.

Jeff:

He did bring the kids back, but he also brought the kids there,

Adam:

Although his bringing the kids there happened by happenstance because they were being chased and

Jeff:

They almost died in the river. Yeah.

Adam:

He saved the kids by taking them out of those precarious River Rapids. And so he both

Jeff:

Which they got to on the way to getting his powder back that he lost,

Adam:

Oh boy.

Jeff:

Fritz might be the villain of this film

Adam:

In a roundabout way…he may have been the bad guy.

Jeff:

He both caused the problem and did not solve the problem. By the end of the film.

Adam:

He really, really kind of fucked himself over at the end. I mean, yes and no. Who’s to say what beautiful life he and Mimic created

Jeff:

In the shack by the river? That’s completely fair. Now, the other trope that I wanted to talk a little bit about is this really common division between an ostensibly able bodied regular world and a not regular segregated disabled world. And we see this a lot in films where disabled characters are kind of represented as being detached from the normal world. They live in their own kind of spaces. They only date each other. They don’t marry outside of disabled community. They’re educated together. And I feel that this film sets up the notion that the regular people, the Irish people,

Adam:

The Irish

Jeff:

And the different world of the magical characters live in the land of small, which is also the only place where we see little people and other sort of disabled people in general is in the land of small. So we have this distinction that those people live somewhere else.

Adam:

I didn’t get that initially from watching this movie. It’s only in discussing it that I realized that delineation. And I think that’s largely to do because the only other person with visible disability in the great land of small is Michael Anderson playing his own brother. Even when there are little people dispersed in the crowd when they’re arriving and in the King’s Court, it’s tough to tell who is a child and who is a little person, both because of the film quality and just the outfits that everybody’s wearing, those ridiculous colored onesies, the French are always going on about in their cinema. And that’s really where I felt was a stumbling point for me getting that connection. But there really is, and then it also kind of feeds into that whole, maybe you’re going to go on about this to the trope that people with disabilities are super abled, that we are special in our own ways and that we have a magical world unto our own,

Jeff:

And it’s a magical power that is both amazing and awe inspiring while also profoundly limited because there are moments in which as they are fleeing, Fritz needs to be literally lifted and carried as they run runoff into the wild.

Adam:

Yeah, I forgot about that.

Jeff:

Both limited and powerful at the exact same time, which is interesting.

Adam:

Why didn’t you use the spell in that moment? Exactly.

Jeff:

Yeah, it’s a question. And similarly, if the Great Land of Small has the ability to generate these spells, why would you not just have an unlimited number of them or a much higher number than five, for instance, so that if you did need to get away, you could just teleport?

Adam:

That’s the thing of being given three wishes and your first wish being that you have in limited wishes

Jeff:

I should have more wishes. Just like…slimo half of the population of the great land of small, and you’re going to have all the wishes. You need

Adam:

To go back to that again too. Slimo’s magical power is never fully explained.

Jeff:

Not at all.

Adam:

He just spits gold dust at people and things happen,

Jeff:

Turns them into things. Yeah.

Adam:

Yeah. There’s a whole spinoff right there. HBO should get on it.

Jeff:

I think that this does fall to the typical trope of the super Crip, as you mentioned. The other one that I think it falls to is the proximity of disability in children. As you mentioned, disabled people in this film are interspersed in crowds with children, nearly indistinguishably. Fritz becomes friends with the children. And the only other adult that Fritz is actually really a friend with mostly is Mimic, who also might be marked as a disabled character. And then the people in the land of small like Keeper and Munch are also friends of his, but he immediately connects with the children, but friends them, they form this relationship. And so I think that there is this proximity to Childness that is definitely reinforced within this movie, probably unintentionally.

Adam:

Oh, completely. And I think the intention there was that the innocence of the child is why the connection was there, although it definitely reinforces the trope of

Jeff:

The naivete

Adam:

Being childlike inequality. Yeah,

Jeff:

Absolutely. Now, as many of you will know, listeners of the show, we have a completely empirical scientific methodology, which we use to evaluate every film completely scientific in nature. Much like golf, we use a inverted rating score. So the lower the score, the better a film is. So let’s see how the Great Land of Small does when put to the test of the invalid culture rating system.

Adam:

Let’s do this thing

Jeff:

First up. On a scale of one to five, with five being the least accurate, how accurately does this film portray disability?

Adam:

Okay, so I’m going to go with a two. I was going to come into this one with a one just because I felt as though the movie really didn’t address disability at all, and thereby doing a great job. But I feel as though by not addressing it and leaving disability as a certain ambiguity that runs through the whole film, it actually serves as a disservice. So though they had the best of intentions, I think it also was a flaw. So that’s where I’m landed too.

Jeff:

Yeah. Well, we are completely aligned on this. I also was originally going in with the thought that this might be a one. However, I think if we read Mimic as a typical fool character, and I think if we take a little bit of a stretch, if we take the notion that Fritz is perhaps connected to sort of the jester little person of medieval times, I mean, he is dressed like a weird medieval dude, and I think he’s supposed to be funny, although I did not find him as such. Then I think this is probably a two. It’s not the worst by any means, but it’s not, I don’t think it’s clean either.

Adam:

No, no. There is definitely no quality of a tip Toes, Gary Oman on his knees, quality to this film, although casting a little person as a leprechaun really never ceases to make me cringe a little.

Jeff:

Yeah, you’re going to eat a little punishment for that.

Adam:

Yeah.

Jeff:

Okay. On a scale of one to five, with five being the hardest, how hard was it for you to get through this film?

Adam:

I’ve watched a lot of bad and challenging movies a lot, and I would probably rate this as a three, mostly because of the quantity of film that is almost in sheer darkness, that leaves a lot to the imagination and makes the second half of the film really challenging when you’re expecting the most action and it’s kind of delivering in some action, you just can’t see much of it.

Jeff:

So I’ve also watched a lot of terrible movies. I’m going to be honest, this was pretty rough. This is a rough thing to get through. The pacing was all over the place. I didn’t understand it often. I was constantly asking questions of what is happening in this film. I don’t know. However, it wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever watched. It was a reasonable children’s movie. I think especially I’m made for tv, so I’m going to be generous and I’m going to give this a four.

Adam:

Oh, wow, okay. I definitely know where you’re coming from with that though, I just think personally, I felt Slimer brought a lot.

Jeff:

I mean, I spent about 40 minutes of this film trying to understand what the heck of Rabbit Egg was, and that’s not a good sign.

Adam:

I mean, it’s a tasty Easter treat

Jeff:

In Quebec. On a scale of one to five, with five being the maximum, how often did you laugh at things that weren’t supposed to be funny?

Adam:

I really wasn’t left laughing a lot here, so probably a two.

Jeff:

Yeah. I also gave this a two. It wasn’t the funniest thing unintentionally that I’ve seen, but there were some moments that were, I think, iconically kind of hilarious in ways that they weren’t supposed to be. I mean, the Butterfly people, I don’t think that was supposed to be funny. I think that was supposed to be whimsical

Adam:

Munchin’ the cobs

Jeff:

That I think was intended to be funny, I think.

Adam:

Yeah. Yeah. Although having a grown man yell, oh, he really loves his cobs. I think I was laughing at it for the wrong reasons though.

Jeff:

Yep. I think that’s fair. There were some moments, there were some moments, and in fact, I think also the complete blackout for about a quarter of the film was also objectively kind of hilarious,

Adam:

And we talked about that too, where we suspect it was shot in daylight and perhaps over underexposed in processing to achieve the look as though it was shot at night. They may messed that processing up slightly

Jeff:

Very possible. And last but certainly not least, on a scale of one to five, with five being the most, how many steps back has this film put Disabled people?

Adam:

You know what? I don’t think it did much. It neither Elevated nor declined, so I’m going to say two, and it’s not a one because they cast a little person. As a leprechaun, it’s still cringe.

Jeff:

Yeah. We’re aligned again on this one. I also gave it a two. I think this was relatively harmless, even if it was fairly cringey. And I think in part, most people will not remember this as a disability text. They might remember it as a horrific film, a thing of nightmares, but probably not because of disability.

Adam:

It really does kind of play out as something I would think Crispin Glover dreams about. This would come out of Crispin Glover’s Dream Journal. I’ll put it simply of all the movies I’ve watched, it certainly is one of them.

Jeff:

Yeah, exactly. So after tabulating our scores, we can officially confirm The Great Land of Small Drummer. Please Comes out as regrets. I have a few, the second lowest on our scale,

Adam:

And I’m not surprised by that.

Jeff:

It feels right. I would say

Adam:

It does. It’s a comfy fit. This movie, I feel like. I definitely don’t recommend it to anybody unless you’re looking for a weird film to watch. But it didn’t leave me feeling like I needed to cause a riot either.

Jeff:

Yeah, it is fully forgettable. It’s not art, but I don’t think any crimes have been committed.

Adam:

I might say that rainbow scene, it might be the closest thing to Art this movie had.

Jeff:

And this concludes another episode of Invalid Culture. Thank you for joining us. I hope you enjoyed it or not. Did you have a film you would like for us to cover on the pod, or even better? Do you want to be a victim on invalid culture? How to Wear to our website, invalid culture.com and submit. We would love to hear from you. That’s it for this episode. Catch you next month. And until then, stay invalid.

Mvll Crimes (theme song):

Arguing with strangers on the Internet…everyone is wrong. I just haven’t told them yet.

 

DVD cover of The Amazing Mr. No Legs, featuring the iconic shotgun wheelchair firing.

Will anyone survive the wheelchair of mayhem?

We launch season 3 with a bang, heading to the mean streets of Tampa Bay to learn about drug smuggling and murder cover-ups. Despite what the title of the film implies, Mr. No Legs is weirdly absent throughout much of the film…but will that hurt or help it’s rating?

Listen at…


Grading the Film

As always, this film is reviewed with scores recorded in four main categories, with 1 being the best and 5 being the worst. Like the game of golf, the lower the score the better.

How accurate is the representation?

Jeff – 2 / 5

Sarah – 1 / 5

Total – 3 / 10

How difficult was it to watch the movie?

Sarah – 1 / 5

Jeff – 1 / 5

Total – 2 / 10

How often were things unintentionally funny?

Jeff – 2 / 5

Sarah – 1 / 5

Total – 3 / 10

How far back has it put disabled people?

Sarah – 1 / 5

Jeff – 1 / 5

Total – 2 / 10

The Verdict

Is this actually art??

Transcript

Jeff [talking over the theme music of Mr. No Legs]:

Tampa Bay, Florida. The 1970s. When a college boy turned drug dealer accidentally kills his girlfriend, there is only one person who can solve the problem. The amazing Mr. No Legs. Drugs, murder, a man with no legs. This movie has everything that you could possibly want and will likely piss off the liberals. Tune in to Mr. No Legs.

 

[Invalid Culture’s punk theme song, “Arguing With Strangers” by Mvll Crimes]

 

Jeff:

Welcome back to a new thrilling season of Invalid Culture and boy oh boy, do we have a year in store for you. As always, I am your host, Jeff Preston, and I am joined by my co-host, victim, Sarah Curry. How are you doing, Sarah?

Sarah:

I’m pretty good. How are you doing this year?

Jeff:

Well, I got to say it’s a new year and we have quite the belated Christmas present that’s been delivered to us here in January. This month we watched The Amazing Mr. No Legs. This is a movie from 1978, which you may have not heard of because it’s actually … Well, it was actually very difficult to get your hands on it, but thanks to some miraculous restoration, I was able to get my hands quite easily on a Blu-ray of this film, which may or may not be the final cut of the film. From the box, Mr. No Legs is about the “double amputee”. Mr. No Legs may not see much of a threat at first, but cross him and you’ll see why he’s Florida’s ruthless drug kingpin D’Angelo’s deadliest enforcer. With his unique martial arts mastery and shotgun welded wheelchair, Mr. No Legs is virtually unstoppable. But when a henchman kills the sister of a straight shooting cop, D’Angelo’s whole enterprise made undone and threatened to bring Mr. No Legs down with it. Would you say that’s a pretty accurate description of the film, Sarah?

Sarah:

It’s only missing the 15 minute long car chase, but I think other than that it’s pretty faithful.

Jeff:

Yeah, that’s spoiler, I think. You don’t want to spoil the ending there for people.

Sarah:

I don’t want to spoil a seventh of the entire film.

Jeff:

Yeah. You got to keep that under wraps. Under wraps.

Sarah:

Gotcha.

Jeff:

Now, this of course is … It’s a movie from the ’70s. It is a grind house film that is exactly what you probably imagined it is. It’s shooting, it’s punching, it’s bar fights, but it’s also a whole lot more than that, particularly because of the people that were involved in the making of this film, which is almost as shocking because the film itself. So Sarah, what can you tell us about Mr. No Legs?

Sarah:

According to my research, there is a kind of Adam Sandler like cast style to this film, as in the producer and the head writer of the screenplay already knew each other from five different adaptations of Flipper, like the dolphin, which apparently has five films. And then they called up all their friends in Tampa, Florida and said, “Hey, I’m doing a ’70s action film,” except it was the ’70s so I guess they didn’t say the current year, but they also might’ve. You don’t know. Because genre evolves and is inherent like that. And they got a shocking amount of people. They got an actual double leg amputee to play the titular role and he is also a double black belt in karate in real life. And he was a Marine and the director was on the US Air Force swim team. And the director was also a scary movie monster in one of these old horror films so he had some notoriety for that. There were a number of action movie stars in this that people recognized from other films. There was … Oh no, it wasn’t John Agar. John Agar was known for being the former husband of Shirley Temple. So everybody here is also really, really old.

So it was hard to get the original cut of this film and we still don’t know if we have the full cut of this film, and I think we can talk about that a little bit more when we get to the ending because that actually made the ending make more sense. Because you said you got the Blu-ray, which was restored in 2020. It came out in 1978, but it was filmed in 1975. But between ’78 and 2020, the original pre-VHS film versions, which were apparently recorded on a rarer film stock, were damaged. So they had to restore the damaged film stocks to get to the VHS versions to get to the Blu-ray versions and so on and so forth. So we don’t actually know if we have the full version of Mr. No Legs, also known as … What was the UK name? Destructor. Also known as The Amazing Mr. No Legs, also known as Gunfighter, which was the script name, and also re-released as Killers Die Hard.

Jeff:

Yeah. So this is a prequel to Die Hard is what you’re telling me.

Sarah:

Yeah. And it does better. It goes harder than Die Hard.

Jeff:

Yeah. There was a ton of very familiar actors in this. Rance Howard was here from Chinatown. Luke Halpin, also from Flipper. Flipper is all over this movie. I would say that we wouldn’t have this film if it wasn’t for Flipper.

Sarah:

It was a reunion of Flipper.

Jeff:

I never thought I would say that ever on this podcast.

Sarah:

Yep. But here we are.

Jeff:

So while it was difficult for them to actually get this film out, whether it be for the damaged film stock and the VHS and then numerous different names or the re-releasing, there is still a bit of critical acclaim for this film, in part because it becomes a bit of a cult classic. Which I was skeptical of at first. I fully understand now that I have watched the film. The film really became popular, weirdly though, in the 2000s. Probably because of the internet making it easier for people to access this film, which led to a variety of film websites and podcasts like this one that started covering this absurd film, which then spread its popularity. But people’s response to the movie is actually really interesting in a very kind of strange way. I have been provided a series of reviews for us to go through and talk a little bit about. Most of them have been culled from our favorite place, Amazon reviews. They’re the best, most authentic reviews, I would say, of popular culture. So let’s dive in a little bit.

Our first one, this is a five star review from Sean R., coming to us from Australia in 2020. So this would’ve been right in the thick of COVID. Take that for what you will. The title of this review, “Have you ever wanted to see a guy with no legs do kung fu?? This movie is insane. It’s got everything. Bar fights, detective work, a wheelchair with guns and ninja stars and bad assery all over. More movies need to be made like this.”

Sarah:

I actually included that review because I thought it was hysterical and probably reductive because there’s no way the film actually comes out this way. It’s actually pretty dead on and it’s funny to read after the fact because he pretty much nails it.

Jeff:

Yeah, it’s a pretty good summary actually of this entire film in a lot of ways. I do enjoy the fact that he wrote this in 2020 talking about a movie that was made in the ’70s, what 50 years later, and is like more movies need to be like this.

Sarah:

It was visionary.

Jeff:

They perfected it. They perfected filmmaking in 1975.

Sarah:

The cinematography anyway. And I think I called it when I was talking to you, the David Caruso style line delivery, which was obviously made pre David Caruso. But it felt like every single scene, two cops had to look at each other and deliver ’70s quips just minus the sunglasses.

Jeff:

The script for this movie … I don’t know if this movie was actually written or if they were just feeding them lines off camera.

Sarah:

They gave them a general scenario and just said go.

Jeff:

But sharp though. There were so many zingers in this film.

Sarah:

There were.

Jeff:

And they were presented in a way that didn’t feel like they were looking at the camera after they dropped the line and be like, “I don’t get it.” They were just sort of seamlessly integrated in this casual way. It was great. I will say my biggest qualm, and this isn’t a script qualm, but the accents in this movie were terrible. D’Angelo talks like Al Capone for some reason. One of the cops’ girlfriends allegedly has a Latina accent. Maybe it’s an eastern European accent, maybe it’s a Scandinavian accent, maybe it’s a speech impediment. I have no idea what was going on there. It seemed like every character was thinking about a character that they’d seen in a film previously and was like, “I’ll just try and sound like that.” So the mobster guy is like, “I’m just going to sound like a mobster, which sounds like a person from New York, even though I’d be in Tampa.” And the girl was like, “Oh, I like bond movies and I’m by the pool a lot, so I’m going to sound like a bond girl.” Who are European generally. That was outrageous.

Sarah:

My bet for the brunette danger girl was that she grew up in Tampa like everyone else in this film and doesn’t have a natural Latina accent. And the director said to make her more exotic, “Hey, can you bullshit us an accent from your country?” And she goes, “I’m from here. I’m from Tampa.” And he goes, “Just do it. Just please.”

Jeff:

Right. And she was trying to do it live. She was imagining what an accent might sound like in her head as she was trying to parrot the lines

Sarah:

That is frame for frame what I think happened in the shag room on set.

Jeff:

Yeah, absolutely. Okay. So we got another review. This one is from, I believe IMDB, from Humanoid of Flesh, which is good. I prefer my humans to be made of flesh, personally. This one is a seven out of 10. A mob enforcer with no legs. Descriptive. This is the review. “First of all, Mr. No Legs doesn’t quite live up to its outrageous title, but it’s still a decent action flick with ground house exploitation feel. Rod Slinker is a mob enforcer without legs. He gets fed up with his immediate boss’ insults and pay and decides to double cross the mob when he’s had enough. The insults about his condition enrage him to the point that he decides to wage war on the mob. There is also an awesome wheelchair of mayhem, which helps him to dispatch various mobsters and other scum. Cheaply made and rather inept action flick with several fantastic fight scenes and pretty brutal killings. The action is fairly slow moving and there’s not enough Mr. No legs, but if you are into ’70s cult cinema, you can’t miss this movie. Seven out of 10.”

Sarah:

Okay, I do love the phrase wheelchair of mayhem, however, I disagree with that the action is slow moving. I actually thought that the action went a little bit too fast a lot of the time.

Jeff:

There was pretty much only action in this movie. They were either sitting beside a pool talking on phones with giant wires all over the place, or they were fighting. I mean, there were multiple murders in the same bar on different nights.

Sarah:

And the bar fights, I almost didn’t know where to look because there were multiple fights happening at once, synchronously during the shot. So whoever choreographed the fights did a pretty okay job because they don’t run full on into each other. But there’s just so much happening. I don’t know what this guy’s watching where he’s like, “Yeah, Mr. No Legs was pretty slow for me, but seven out of 10.” What?

Jeff:

Yeah, this was written in 2010. So this is of course before this man would’ve experienced COVID and understood what it really means to be in a slow event-less sort of moment, I suppose. Also, this one really stands out to me because there’s this line in it where he talks about the lack of pay and the comments about his condition enraging him. And I’m not sure here if he saw a different version of this film than we did that included scenes, but I don’t remember any scenes in which his condition was brought up, mocked or referred to in any way.

Sarah:

He had that one line when he went inside after he flips off his hot danger angel babe, where he goes like, “The mob boss is going to flick me like a pencil into the street? Hell no.” And I didn’t really even know what that expression meant, but it was clearly supposed to be an insult.

Jeff:

Yeah. But it doesn’t seem about his condition. I think he was trying to say that he was going to be penniless. That all he would have is a pencil. He would have nothing to his name, I think is maybe what that line-

Sarah:

I don’t know if the class warfare angle works for a mob film though.

Jeff:

Yeah. I’m very curious about this. I would love to know if there are scenes in which his disability was brought up, because notably, there’s only one moment when his disability is kind of … There’s two moments I suppose that we’ll talk about a little bit later, but it’s certainly not really in a derogatory way that I would say it anyway. The drive for Mr. No Legs is that he’s a bit ambitious, he’s tired of being at the bottom of the hierarchy of the mob, and he realizes that he’s about to get flipped on. That the mob boss is going to kill him, and he decides, well, I’m going to kill him first.

Sarah:

Yeah, I think he does get wise to it and he just tries to get in on the action first.

Jeff:

Okay. So we have another one, and I want to note before I read this, this was written in 2006. So this review was written before MAGA and even before … This is before all of that, and I think that’s important. Maybe there was evidence that this was coming all along. This is a nine out of 10 review from Steve Neiland. Ny-land? Neil-and? He writes, this is the title, “My New Hero and Every Liberal’s Worst Nightmare. Rod Slinker, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing right now, you are my new action adventure movie hero. This movie is one of the most amazingly endearing and delightfully stupid exercises in brain-dead cult mayhem ever created and so badly deserves a chance to see the light of day on a DVD reissue, if only for the sheer number of people who would potentially be offended by its gleeful off the wall, willingness to go beyond the constraints of good taste and show us things that will boggle the mind.”

Sarah:

I struggle to agree with this mostly because of the N word drop like an hour into the film, which makes it very problematic. But A, he did correctly predict that this would get a Blu-ray re-release a little over 10 years later. And B, I do think there’s a lot to really love about this film, especially if you’re a bad action or an ironic film watcher. There’s a lot to love. I spent a lot of this movie laughing so hard that my roommate asked me what was going on in my bedroom place.

Jeff:

I 100% agree that this movie is both amazingly endearing and delightfully stupid. Full marks. I fully agree with that. I’m wondering about this thought. And again, we will note there is a hard R N word dropped in the middle of this film. I’m wondering about this thing about being offensive. Do you think that now as we flash forward to a post MAGA world and a world where allegedly cancel culture is out of control, do you believe that there will be a sheer number of people offended by this film?

Sarah:

I think it’s possible he’s comparing this kind of off the wall nonsense film to this deep intelligentsia culture that I think is just as much a parody as the counterculture that this is parodying. Neither of those two cultures actually exist in any semblance of reality and him pinning those realities against each other is just this over the top way, like this film, of bringing two worlds together. Does it lean more to the, I don’t know, traditional hard right? Yes. But I don’t think if this came out now, anybody would A, take it seriously or B, think that it was at all trying to be this Christopher Nolan-esque hard go at epistemological thought and beat cops in Tampa Bay.

Jeff:

And at the same time, there was some interesting gender things going on in this film. I don’t know if it was intentional, but there was a scintillating homoeroticism happening at all times between almost all of the male characters. There were some delightful crop tops in this film. There was a trans woman at the bar in this film. There was a little person.

Sarah:

There was also a little person.

Jeff:

Yeah. There was a little person.

Sarah:

Watching the bar fight. Nobody punched him. They just let him watch.

Jeff:

Having a great time. And then at the same time, there were these women are to be seen, not to be heard, that women played no real role in this movie beyond delivering phones and flirting with the men a little bit.

Sarah:

But counterpoint, they did make being a danger angel look incredibly good. I came out of this movie like I wouldn’t say no to that career. They were living large. They were in cabanas. They were in rooms entirely composed of shag beds. They were eating huge breakfasts and dinners. They were being driven around everywhere. Not so bad. All I have to do is get told to fuck off when the guy has a phone call from his mob boss. Deal.

Jeff:

And also she had a gun. One of them had a gun as well. She had a loaned some gun.

Sarah:

Oh, the brunette. Yeah.

Jeff:

Yeah.

Sarah:

My gun is in the other guy’s Camaro. And she goes, “Here, take mine.”

Jeff:

Take mine. Yeah. And it’s like a little dainty two shot pistol and he’ like, “Oh, is this even a gun? It’s not even a man gun.”

Sarah:

My baby handgun.

Jeff:

There was some stuff going on there. There was also an implication of a pimp that was pimping out men potentially. They see a pimp on the street and one of the greatest lines of the film is, “What he’s selling, you don’t smoke, you stroke.”

Sarah:

Yes. Extremely memorable.

Jeff:

I’m not sure. Maybe that was a reference. I read that as referring to that he has men that he is prostituted out. Maybe I’m wrong on that. Maybe they’re within-

Sarah:

No, I think you read that completely right. I think this was one of the most accidentally inclusive films of the 1970s. It’s from the Schitt’s Creek school of inclusivity where they never comment on who they’re using ever. They’ve got gay guys in bars, they’ve got sparkle wearing guys, they’ve got every edict under the rainbow. They’ve got a variety of genders and people of various ages going to school. There was like a 40-year-old in college. There was the little person in the bar. They had everybody. They had the guy in the wheelchair, and he’s not even one of the top seven or eight I named, and that’s supposed to be the titular disability or way of inclusivity in the film. And I’m just like, everybody here has something to bring to the table. That was pretty neat and nobody comments on it at all. They’re just like, “nope. Standard. This is everyday life. This is how these people want to live. They do them and I do me.

Jeff:

Yeah. I mean there was a race riot in the bar at one point.

Sarah:

But that was only because of the one woman who was then promptly killed for not being inclusive. Everybody else hated it.

Jeff:

Yeah. Well, there was a white guy who didn’t like the black woman, and then the black bartender bottled him. So there was a bit of justice in this film too. I think it’s also important to note that this movie is named after Mr. No Legs, but Mr. No Legs is not even the main character of this film, I would argue.

Sarah:

No.

Jeff:

A side character. 100%.

Sarah:

He gets as much screen time as the danger angels, and one of the danger angels is actually the calling from on high that signals that Mr. No Legs is about to get a short scene. Whenever you see the blonde babe danger angel at the pool, you know that we’re about to see her counterpart, Mr. No Legs.

Jeff:

100%. Yeah. She is the siren that inaugurates the birth of Mr. No Legs.

Sarah:

Oh yeah.

Jeff:

Yeah. So I’m interested. I don’t know that I fully agree with Steve that this would cause a liberal nightmare to occur necessarily. Which is interesting. I think maybe this film has something for everyone, which is a very weird thing for this podcast. That’s not usually the case.

Sarah:

No. We were joking that every scene construction, I guess mostly because of Mr. No Legs himself, was automatically ADA compliant in the architectural sense. There were no scenes about, oh man, the mob thing is in the basement. Mr. No Legs can’t get down there. Which was what I was kind of expecting coming into this film. No. It’s just inclusivity and compliance and racial justice and LGBT justice and alliances the whole way through.

Jeff:

We got to put a pin on that because I actually want to come back to this and talk a little bit more about the fact that this film is wildly wheelchair accessible. But we will come back to that. We have one last review. This one from Coventry. I assume the entire town came together and wrote this. I assume that’s what that means. This one is the eight out of 10, so another happy customer. This one is titled, hilariously, “He’s a role model to us all. Let Mr. No Legs be a source of inspiration for all of us. Not because he’s a relentless one man killing squad, of course. Because he’s living proof that you can still chase your dreams and realize your ambitions even if you’re physically disabled. Yeah, right. Enough with this rubbish. The Amazing Mr. No Legs is totally demented in idea as well as execution exploitation feature with a premise that is unique and refreshing, and production values look so cheap and amateurish that you simply have to show admiration for the costume crew.

“If you just imagine what these guys could have accomplished if they had a proper budget at their disposal. The titular anti-hero controls the complete drug business of a major town and acts as judge, jury, and especially executioner whenever someone screws up or tries to double cross him. Although he hasn’t got any legs, duh, everyone fears it obeys Mr. No Legs because he’s merciless, is an expert in martial arts and drives around in a heavily armored wheelchair. When the sister of a dedicated cop gets in a drug execution, it means the start of a devastating war between the good cops and the bad drug dealers and everyone in between. The script is surprisingly convoluted and well-written, but those are not the main reasons why this film will stick in your memory. It has girl on girl bar fights, wild shootouts, bad acting, sword fights, odd cars, and virulent chases and much more.

“The Amazing Mr. No Legs is extremely violent, but never actually shocking since the effects of the stunts aren’t exactly convincing. Some people might take offense upon seeing the fight sequences involving the handicapped lead character, but then again, I don’t suppose easily offended people are likely to put Mr. No Legs on their Christmas list. The slow motion sequence where actor Ted Vollrath demonstrates his genuine martial arts skill is literally jaw dropping. Ever seen a guy with no legs kick someone repeatedly in the stomach? No legs. The titular ought to be considered as one of the greatest cult icons ever. A truly menacing, bad to the bone and self reliable villain. Mr. No Legs is not an easy movie to come across, but it’s definitely worth the search.”

Sarah:

I love that he wrote his dissertation on Mr. No Legs and I kind of wish I did too because I think I would put out a banger dissertation on the inclusivity potential of Mr. No Legs. I think I figured out what we don’t like about these people apparently repeatedly saying that easily offended people won’t like this movie. This is what I think it is. I think it’s because people who tend to do the worst, most devilish, far right MAGA-esque part of that view would be of the opinion that Mr. No Legs could never be amazing or an action star or an action hero because to say that would be to go against the traditional American values that they hold as their Lord and Bible. So to have these people come out like, “Oh, the liberals are going to hate this super inventive and investigative and inclusive flick about this man with no legs that achieves everything we could ever offer.” It doesn’t really make sense, and then they try to throw it back at you with the, “If you’re easily offended, you won’t like this.” But he’s talking about himself and that’s wild to me. Right?

Jeff:

100%. Yeah. I think that they are feeling uncomfortable about it, and they assume then that the other side will also be feeling as uncomfortable as they are about this.

Sarah:

But we’re not. You guys are just unknowingly slipping over to our team here.

Jeff:

Yeah. I will say I do find it really interesting that this starts out as a weird inspiration porn. Being like, we should all be inspired by him.

Sarah:

I think he’s mocking the liberals.

Jeff:

…but then he also then comes back to it. He recants it and he’s like, “No, no. That’s all silly.” But then he returns to it and is like … First of all, he’s like, “The violence in this is not very convincing.” And then he says, “But the no legs guy’s martial arts was legitimate and amazing.” That this was an incredible ability that this guy portrayed. And I’m not a black belt martial artist. I did not personally find any of the martial arts in this film, let alone Mr. No Legs, as either A, legitimate or B, impressive in any way.

Sarah:

Okay. From background, we do know that this guy in real life is a double black belt.

Jeff:

Is a martial artist. Yes.

Sarah:

So he knows what he’s doing and he obviously does his own stunts, but we know there’s also a big stunt cast in this movie, so a lot of people are not doing their own stunts, especially when we get to the car chase. I think that’s just one or two guys playing the part of every single person in the car chase for the sheer danger level of that entire sequence. I do agree with him that a lot of the action scenes you kind of can’t take seriously because you can tell, especially in the bar fight, when they’ve got the broken bottles, they’re not actually hitting each other. They’re kind of coming close and stopping and you catch it in the lens, and it’s funny in kind of a kitschy way. Or that sword fight scene where he’s got the broad sword going into the Camaro, it makes no sense whatsoever, apart from the fact that it was a pirate themed bar. So you’re like, okay, I guess the broad sword could have maybe come from there. But could it beat the shit out of a Camaro? I’m not sure. I think the Camaro would win that fight. And then how many spoilers can we do?

Jeff:

All of them.

Sarah:

All of them. Okay. So the other one … And maybe I just don’t have enough martial arts experience for me to personally believe this, but you were led to believe during Mr. No Legs’ martial arts sequence that once one of the baddies got him and threw him in the water, you’re like, “Oh man, it’s over. He’s got no legs. He’s going to have to use all his energy to just stay afloat.” And he ended up being more dangerous in the water than he was on land. He was taking kills like nothing, and then climbing out of the pool and climbing back into his chair like it was just another Tuesday for him and rolling away.

Jeff:

Okay. So do you believe then that Coventry, when Mr. No Legs karate chops a man to death in the pool, do you think that this person was actually what an incredible display of martial arts?

Sarah:

I mean, I think he thinks that, which is fine with me. He is allowed to be in beloved community living the reality where his martial arts skill is so great you can karate chop a man to death underwater.

Jeff:

One karate chop to death.

Sarah:

One chop. It’s all it takes.

Jeff:

Yeah. And so I found that really interesting that … Again, I’m not a martial artist. I didn’t find any of the martial arts that this felt impressive. I mean, I didn’t feel like I was watching Bruce Lee here by any means.

Sarah:

I think his above water martial arts were pretty cool.

Jeff:

Oh, I think they were cool scenes. I don’t disagree with that. But I don’t think there was anything impressive. He literally blocks a kick. Okay. The front kick and the back kick that were in slow motion, that was great cinema.

Sarah:

He delivered a very literal ass kick.

Jeff:

Yeah. I don’t know though that that would hurt. Again, I’m not a martial artist. I’ve never been punched. But I kind of feel like getting a bum to your belly probably isn’t going to incapacitate you. But again, I’m not that. What I do kind of feel though is Coventry is like, “We shouldn’t be inspired by this guy. That’s liberal nonsense.”, but then he comes back and is like, “Oh, but he’s so inspiring in his martial hearts abilities.”

Sarah:

Okay, but he doesn’t say the word inspiring. He says the word menacing, bad to the bone and self reliable. So the real villain in this is rhetoric all along. You just couldn’t use the liberal catchphrases to describe his inspired-ness. If you say menacing and bad to the bone, that is the same thing as saying you’re realizing your ambitions and being an inspiring character. You’re just being more of a badass about it.

Jeff:

Yeah. He’s cool. He’s a cool guy. And I think he is a cool guy, but it’s interesting that this need to both preface it, recant it, but then also lean into it at the same time. That even-

Sarah:

I don’t think he knows he’s leaning into it.

Jeff:

I don’t think so either.

Sarah:

I think he sees a legitimate difference in rhetoric there. And I think because we have the benefit of multiple degrees and arguing with people, we can see that he’s just circuitously making the same argument and he thinks that argument is different.

Jeff:

Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think that this maybe actually gets us to a really interesting insight in people’s responses to disability in film. That I think everyone obviously is bringing their own baggage when they watch something. They’re bringing in past insights and past experience. They’re like, “I’m a black belt martial artist, and that’s not martial arts.” For instance. But I think that in this instance, and in a lot of instances, people are bringing in with them what they believe the expected response should be to the disabled character that they’re supposed to feel a certain way. They then maybe feel a different way, and either that’s a good thing or a bad thing. So I think often because he felt good about this character, that he felt that he was cool and menacing and badass, and maybe something that he would aspire to be, then it shifts it into this is a good representation, I like it, I’m happy. But then when those ideas are conflicted or confronted in some way, people don’t feel the same way or don’t feel right about it. They have this different response then, I think, to the film and then perhaps say maybe that was offensive or that was unrealistic or unbelievable. It’s interesting that at no point did Coventry not think it was an unbelievable thing that a man with no legs would be this mobster. He was like, “Yeah, this is possible. It’s happening and it’s fricking cool.”

Sarah:

Yeah. I think what I was saying at the beginning of the review about how I think the words easily offended are working in multiple reviews is what you’re saying about how he’s taking inspirational. So we got to the same conclusion using different keywords.

Jeff:

Yeah. Well, I have to say, ladies and gentlemen, this film was a ride, literally and figuratively. And when we come back next week, we are going to get into the nitty-gritty and take this film step by step and really unpack what is the genius, maybe, of The Amazing Mr. No Legs.

 

[Theme song, “Arguing with Strangers” by Mvll Crimes finishes out the episode]

Part 2!

Jeff:

Previously on Invalid Culture.

Have you ever wanted to see a guy with no legs do kung fu?? This movie is insane. It’s got everything; bar fights, detective work, a wheelchair with guns and ninja stars and badassery all over. More movies need to be made like this.

Sarah:

I actually included that review because I thought it was hysterical and probably reductive because there’s no way the film actually comes out this way. It’s actually pretty dead on and it’s funny to read after the fact because he pretty much nails it.

[Invalid Culture’s punk theme song, “Arguing With Strangers” by Mvll Crimes]

Jeff:

Welcome back to another episode of Invalid Culture, Part Two of the amazing Mr. No Legs. I as always, I’m your host, Jeff. I’m joined by your other host, Sarah.

How you doing, Sarah?

Sarah:

I’m pretty good. Pretty sorry to leave the audience on a cliffhanger.

Jeff:

I know, but this is the car chase of the No Legs episode. We got them here and now this is the last 20 minutes of destruction.

Sarah:

That’s true. You made it and now you get 15 unabridged minutes of hilarious violence.

Jeff:

Yeah, that’s how every Invalid Culture episode’s going to go this season pretty much.

Sarah:

Oh, perfect.

Jeff:

So it’ll be good.

Okay, Sarah, so for those of our audience who have not, for reasons that I will never understand, not watched this film, can you help us understand as best as you can, the plot line of the amazing Mr. No Legs?

Sarah:

So in act one, the rising action of what becomes Mr. No Legs, you get the inciting action of the killing of a 20-something female and her 30 or 40-something boyfriend. The boyfriend is obviously tangentially involved with the Tampa mob scene for the smuggling and selling of cocaine and cocaine accessories, and-

Jeff:

A very small amount of cocaine.

Sarah:

Yes, a bizarrely small amount for… And D’Angelo gets called a kingpin for this. So Tampa in the ’70s, extremely non-competitive drug scene. Anyway, Tina finds Ken’s drug paraphernalia in his bedroom and the paraphernalia itself is hilarious, but she flips out and Ken accidentally kills her. But this kicks off the whole film because Ken was a low level mob guy and now the mob people have been called in to help cover up Tina’s death and for some bizarre reason, they decide to also kill off Ken.

Jeff:

Yeah. To get rid of the evidence of course.

Sarah:

Yeah, but they didn’t even really have to. Tina fell… It looked like she found the stuff, she goes into the living room, she falls into the back of a CRT TV, takes a critical injury and dies on the floor. Nothing needed to be covered up.

Jeff:

No, not necessarily, but they are mobsters and the key detail here, Tina’s brother is a cop.

Sarah:

Okay, that’s true. So Ken was the problem. No, Tina was the problematic character and Ken couldn’t have Tina’s dad getting involved, but he obviously had to get involved. But with all of that action, you set up what became the kind of environment, if you can call it that from the film, where there’s this kind of Romeo and Juliet action between the cocaine mobsters and the Tampa Bay beat cops.

Jeff:

The start of the movie also introduces us to our titular character, the amazing Mr. No Legs who rolls into this film literally in his manual wheelchair in which he has double shotguns mounted in boxes on his armrests. So he rolls up on some people that were skimming a very, very small amount of cocaine out of the already tiny amount of cocaine. He pops his shotguns out of his arm rest and blasts away taking out these two dock workers. He will then later be called in to help dispose of Tina’s body. And it’s at that point that he explains that he leaves no evidence and shoots Ken in the head.

Sarah:

Yeah, my understanding is that he’s like a Mike Ehrmantraut style mob enforcer, but he kind of just comes onto the scene and his analysis of every single scenario is just killing whoever was involved. There’s no analysis whatsoever. He gets called to the scene, he gets there, he brings out the shotguns, he shoots whoever’s there on site. The dock workers didn’t need to die. Ken didn’t need to die. The people in the bar in act two didn’t need to die. Arguably, the only people he ever fought that actually had a reason to die were at the very end of act two, beginning of act three when people were actually coming after him. He was just ruthlessly killing for sport beforehand.

Jeff:

So he’s this merciless character. He’s a killer. He’s an enforcer. He’s also a problem solver, and he seems to have what may be the best PSW in the world. There is a man who is unnamed, does not talk and drives him around at times, seems to help him, but then also vanishes halfway through the film and is never seen again. So I don’t know exactly who this man was, if he was another mob guy or possibly like a state assigned support worker who just was like, I just worked here. I’m not saying anything. I’m enabling this man to live independently.

Sarah:

He could. Okay. It’s arguable because we also know from the last episode, he’s got that blonde bombshell, Danger Angel, and whenever he starts doing mob dealings, he just turns to the Danger Angel and goes, “Beat it baby.” He could also be doing that to his PSW. Maybe he just waits in the getaway car.

Jeff:

I mean, the PSW was there for the first murder for sure.

Sarah:

That’s true.

Jeff:

But the dock workers, the PSW was behind him and then helped him back into the car.

Sarah:

Yeah, that’s true. I don’t think we see him again after that though.

Jeff:

We see him once more when they’re back at the house. Yeah, which is why I’m not sure who this person is, but I like to believe that they’re just some low level PSW fresh out of college, and this is just the luck of the draw. This is who they were assigned and to work for.

Sarah:

Sometimes you get a grandfather, sometimes you get a mob enforcer. It’s just the way she goes.

Jeff:

Yep.

So I think we got to talk about the wheelchair because I think this is something that a lot of people are going to want to talk about because it’s so ostentatious. It is amazing. It’s very cool.

Sarah:

What did the reviewer call it? Because he had a great phrase for it. I think it was something like wheelchair of mayhem and that’s dead on.

Jeff:

Yeah, pretty much describes it.

I want to know. So Sarah, I don’t know if you noticed this, but you can clearly see the shotguns at the back of these boxes that they’re in. I thought they could have done a better job of hiding them. They did do a very good job of hiding the ninja stars, which are magnetized to look like hubcaps on the wheelchair’s rims.

Sarah:

The shuriken additions to the wheelchair killed me. When those came out…

Jeff:

Absolutely incredible. So he’s a gun wielding martial artist. He’s adept at throwing stars.

Sarah:

That’s right. And that brings us to act two. So act two introduces the homoerotic romance angle of Captain Hathaway and beat cop, Chuck, who teams up with his homie, who has the second-highest kill count in the film after Mr. No Legs, not Chuck, his homie to investigate Chuck’s sister’s death at the hands of her deadbeat boyfriend who was in the mob, but they don’t know yet he was in the mob, but they also don’t know yet the big reveal at the end of act two, that Hathaway, the police captain, is also in the mob. So they spend an entire 15, 20 minutes sussing this out on police investigations in Camaros and other muscle cars, and they find time to get into two different bar fights.

Jeff:

At the same bar.

Sarah:

At the same bar. Yeah.

Jeff:

Yeah. This is one of my favorite parts of the film is that Chuck goes to this bar to meet with his informant in which he walks into a full-blown race riot and is just like, okay, and just starts killing people.

Sarah:

He said something like, “You didn’t like the service here,” and then they launched.

Jeff:

He full-blown murders at least three people in this bar, like fully murders.

Sarah:

Four people were bottled to death, which I thought was awfully specific.

Jeff:

So he’s a bloody path through this bar. The following day, he returns to the bar and kills another two people.

Sarah:

Yes. And it was funny because when they were sitting in the Camaro and Chuck was sitting there like, “Man, this is really boring police work.” And Andy goes, “Our tusk is to observe and report.” And Andy can’t stop killing civilians.

Jeff:

So I also really appreciated the Colombo investigation scene in which Andy…

Sarah:

Oh, my God.

Jeff:

… goes into the house of Ken and finds the blood on the floor, which he picks up with a napkin, puts it in his pocket, the broken television, the dead flowers, and he proceeds to walk around and just push around some shirts, look under the bed, and then comes out. He’s like, “Well, I figured it all out. I think this guy killed Tina.”

Sarah:

I’ve done a better job looking for my phone charger drunk in my bedroom in total darkness than he did with the crime scene with Tina’s body.

Jeff:

The crime scene felt like those apps that you see advertisements for on your phone where it’s like, can you find the clues of the mystery? And there’s this giant key, it’s all highlighted. It’s like, can you find it?

Sarah:

And he brushes past the shirts in the closet and he lifts up the bouquet of flowers and he is like, “Well, no damning evidence under here.”

Jeff:

Now, all of this has led to, of course, Chuck has an informant who turns out to be a racist who drops the N-bomb in the middle of this film and starts out the [inaudible 00:11:48] riot, and that’s how he ends up at the amazingly named bar, the 7 Seas.

Sarah:

Okay, so the first bar fight was the race riot and the racists, which is weird for Tampa, but maybe not weird for Tampa in the ’70s. The racists are clearly the ones in the wrong here, and they get the shit kicked out of them by the rest of the bar mates, including Mr. No Legs, who shows up about halfway through. I don’t think we’re ever told who called him.

Jeff:

He was there. He was at a table. He was at a table in the background.

Sarah:

People get thrown through the plate class window. People get thrown over the bar top. There’s transgender people watching. There’s little people watching. There’s people of all different races watching. There’s the bartender who’s this older black male with an afro kind of just holds his head and rubs it like, “Oh, another Tuesday.” This is just standard practice for 7 Seas Bar.

Jeff:

After the fight is over, the bartender laments, “I’ll be damned.”

Sarah:

He was not upset enough about the trashing of his bar.

Jeff:

And so this leads to another, I would say, iconic scene in which it is discovered that the police have found the body of Ken, which was apparently not very well hidden. And now Leo, who is the branch manager of the mob, I guess, he’s like a middle management below Mr. No Legs, above Ken, I believe. And so he and someone called the Mower, never explained why that’s his name, dress up as ambulance attendants to go and try and steal the body from the hospital. And this of course does not go well. They are interrupted by our two researching detectives. A fight ensues, as every 40 to 50 seconds, a fight ensues in this film, and the badlands get away, but something very fishy is revealed. Captain Hathaway has sent them to identify if the body was Wilson’s body, but Andy had never said Wilson’s name to Hathaway.

Sarah:

But I love that he specifies it’s because he didn’t do his paperwork. He’s like, “I know he doesn’t know that name because I did not submit the work I was supposed to do yesterday.” The crime here was that Hathaway thought that his beat cops were halfway competent and they weren’t. And their own incompetence actually leads them to kind of accidentally reverse Colombo solve the crime, because he was like, “Wait, Wilson?”

Jeff:

“He shouldn’t know that name. He didn’t get the blood in the napkin like I did.”

Sarah:

“I haven’t done my homework for weeks.”

Jeff:

This was like the ChatGPT solution of a mystery, like a murder mystery, where it’s like the end of the second act, they don’t know how to wrap it up and they’re like, “Oh, I know a good trick. We’ll just have someone disclose something that they shouldn’t know and that’ll be the way that we resolve this.”

Sarah:

Well, I’m honestly surprised that they even caught that. That had to be end level mystery solving for both of them at that point. That was their career highlight.

Jeff:

Now, at this point, we haven’t got a whole lot of Mr. No Legs. I remember as we were watching it, commenting, Mr. No Legs is not actually very present in this film, and when we do see him in the middle act, it’s either A, at the bar, shanking a racist in the stomach, or B, it’s by his pool with his bombshell, blonde mistress, wife, support worker, maybe, not sure, throwing his ninja stars at dartboard.

Sarah:

Okay. And I think that actually makes him a legitimately aspirational character because when he is not out at the bar achieving racial justice, he’s hanging out with Danger Angels at the country club.

Jeff:

This is also the moment when we finally had an answer as to why Mr. No Legs is Mr. No Legs. It’s disclosed in a conversation with D’Angelo, the mob boss, that Mr. No Legs, before he was Mr. No Legs, I guess he was just Mr. Legs at that point, was at the docks. He’d worked at the docks and he’d lost his legs in a dock accident, and D’Angelo then brought him on to the mob racket to take care of him after the injury because, of course, there is no healthcare in America.

Sarah:

Yeah, I think it’s relevant at this point to include that Mr. No Legs does in fact have no legs in real life because in disability film, we really cannot take that for granted. And he does all his own stunts.

Jeff:

Yeah, they did not Lieutenant Dan this 100%.

Sarah:

No, they did not. They did not Beautiful Mind this operation.

So then we get to act three, the final act, and the final act is also surprisingly absent of Mr. No Legs for a film that’s called Mr. No Legs. So you get the showdown. Mr. No Legs decides that he’s had enough with the bullshit of his mob boss, and he’s pretty sure that the mob boss is lining up to pick him off anyway because he’s always been fairly low level. And I think that’s where we get the review, where the reviewer thought that there was some kind of class consciousness angle there, but I don’t think Mr. Legs is about that.

Jeff:

No.

Sarah:

I think we agreed on that. So Mr. No Legs sets up a showdown between his secret informant, captain Hathaway, and D’Angelo, the small shipments of cocaine mob boss of Tampa Bay, Florida. And when they meet up, it’s actually kind of funny because they look at each other and they go, “Hey, who told you to come here?” “No legs.” “You?” “No legs.” And they kind of chuckle and they go, “Well, that’s kind of funny, actually because I was a bit to pick him off.” And Mr. No Legs, just like how he appeared in act one, rolls back into the same warehouse, does the same stunt with the double barrel shotguns on both sides of his manual wheelchair and immediately picks off D’Angelo. But Hathaway puts up more of a fight, kills No Legs with, I think he emptied the entire gun, like six shots into Mr. No legs. Unfortunately, he doesn’t even get a good death scene. We just see his arms fall to the side and that’s it. We never see him again. And Hathaway goes on an epic car chase with the rest of Tampa Bay, Florida. Discuss.

Jeff:

Yeah. Yeah. So Mr. No Legs goes out in a bit of a blaze of glory. So he’s jumped at the pool by, I believe it was three, possibly four thugs. He fights all of them off with his incredible kung fu. He judo chops a guy to death in a pool. He drowns another man. He ninja stars another man. And he butt kicks another man and then punches him to death in the face. So he is taking out four guys single-handedly. His PSW helper man, I think, ran away. He was not present at all during this scene. And then he goes and has this blaze of glory, kills the man that wronged him but doesn’t get the cop.

This car chase that Hathaway then goes on literally feels like half of the movie. It keeps going and going and it has literally every car chase cliche that’s ever been created. There are rollover cars that explode. There are cars that go through a mobile home. There are cars that drive through baskets of fruit. There’s a car that drives through ice bricks. There is cars that spin out. There is…

Sarah:

You forgot the jump.

Jeff:

… power slides. There is a jump off of a raised bridge.

Sarah:

The jump.

Okay. My pop theory is that the script was actually created after they had fully written this car chase to justify the budget needed to make this spectacular Hot Wheels style car chase. It was wild.

Jeff:

I fully endorse this theory, and it’s odd that there’s so much emphasis on the car chase, but in all of the promotional material, that is not what people talk about. Everything is about fighting.

Sarah:

That’s why I was so bothered by the synopsis. Yeah, a fifth of the film is actually just the car chase.

Jeff:

Right. And so why are you talking about gunfights and martial arts and all this other stuff when the car chase is literally the only thing you cared about? And the bar fight, I guess.

Sarah:

Fair.

And if we’re talking about things the film does well, which I think is later, but I’m going to jump in really early here. Off the top, the cinematography of the car chase, the whole sequence I actually thought was beautifully shot. I think, on average, the cinematography in this film was nothing special. Definitely not Villeneuve level or anything. When we got to the car chase, he was putting some serious thought into the direction of these supercars and muscle cars and all the damaged cars and where the placement of all these obstacles should go. It was better than Die Hard.

Jeff:

My theory is this, my vibe for all of this movie is that it’s all a pastiche of the things that the director and the writer like in film and television, and they just took all the stuff they like and tried to reproduce it. So the fight scenes are WWF, right? They are so WWF. They clearly were wrestling fans, and the bar fight in particular was like they live on steroids. It was so WWF. And so I think similarly, they love car chases and they were like, well, what are all the best things we’ve seen about chases and let’s just redo them.

Sarah:

They did that. It was greatest hits. It was the Shania Twain Greatest Hits album of ’70s, early ’80s. They’re actually also omniscient car chase scenes.

Jeff:

100%.

Sarah:

Amazing.

Jeff:

It was high octane. The cops were wearing visors clearly to hide the fact that it was the same stunt driver in every car.

Sarah:

Yeah, because the stunt driving was actually really good. They were doing stuff where I was like, this is actually actively dangerous to shoot. It’s the ’70s.

Jeff:

Oh, yeah. Again, it wouldn’t surprise me if literally this movie created three or four Mr. No legs during the car chase.

Sarah:

So in that way, it’s actually disability activism.

Jeff:

Maybe, actually. Yeah.

Sarah:

DAV recruitment. Not only inspiration, but active recruitment.

Jeff:

Yeah. I really wonder if the buddy cop piece came first or if the No Legs piece came first. Was this a matter of they knew this guy and he said, yeah, let’s get him into a movie. Let’s put it together. Did they have this buddy cop car chase thing, and then they met the guy and were like, “Oh, let’s shoehorn him in”? And then we’re like, “This is the best part. So let’s make this the sell for this film.” Because it is the most original part of this film.

Sarah:

Definitely.

Jeff:

Mr. No Legs is everything else you’ve seen a million times before.

Sarah:

Okay. And this is edging into disability theory light. And I wouldn’t say I’m on the side of goodness here because you could say that I’m being kind of tropey or putting him up on a pedestal, but stay with me. If you were the guy who directed five different versions of Flipper and a producer called you up and was like, “Yo, I’m going to give you like 100K. You want to grab your boys and make a film?” And he goes, “Adam Sandler style, knocking on doors of his friends’ houses in Tampa, Florida. And one of his friends says, ‘I got a guy. He’s a war vet. He was literally on the Marines. He wants to dabble in acting as a side gig, but there’s one thing.'” And the flipper director and the flipper writer was like, “What? What could it possibly be? This guy’s a badass.” And this other guy goes, “He’s got no legs.”

Jeff:

Movie brain.

Sarah:

Origin story. And a film was born.

Jeff:

A film was born.

Sarah:

And I think the sheer notoriety of that guy, because even in the IMDB reviews, and these guys get intensively into film in ways that we don’t. I think we are casual film lovers and these guys can name every second cameraman in Caddyshack type film lovers. And they were naming other things that these relatively unknown actors were in besides Flipper. And everybody seemed to know Mr. No Leg’s backstory as this war vet, but he hasn’t actually done anything else. So I think he’s just this whole guy in Florida, like Waterloo used to have this guy named Bucket Man, and all he did was walk up and down the streets of Waterloo banging a bucket to a beat, and everyone knew who he was. My theory is that Mr. No Legs is the bucket man of ’70s Tampa. And they were like, we got to do it. We got to make an action film with Mr. No Legs and everybody treats him like he already exists and he belongs here because he does. He’s already a local legend.

Jeff:

And grew into this cult legend beyond. He is the best part of the film.

… about this film. And I got to say, of all the films we’ve watched so far for this podcast, this one didn’t give us a lot to chew on. The one most obvious thing to point out, I would say disability trope that comes up in this movie, of course there needs to be the disclosure scene. So there is that moment where it’s like, why does he have no legs? It was an incident at the dock. So we had to have that little slipped in. It had no real relevance, and there was no reason for us to know why Mr. No Legs, A, had no legs, and B, why D’Angelo employed him. Because at that point, we already knew that he was a merciless killer. That’s why he’s employed. It has nothing to do with the fact that he was injured at the docks.

Sarah:

Absolutely.

Jeff:

That didn’t need to happen. But there’s this, again, this desire that you must position disability, you must explain why it happened or what happened, because that’s the thing that everybody wants to know and they can’t get past it.

Sarah:

I think it’s worth noting though, that they wait till almost halfway through the film to do it. Normally that comes pretty early on. It was late into act two before somebody was like, “Yo, what’s the deal with Mr. No Legs?” Our introduction to him, I actually thought it was pretty badass, even from a CDS angle. He rolls into the warehouse, flips down the… What’s that called? The arms…

Jeff:

It’s an armrest.

Sarah:

… of his chair, flips them down into two fully loaded double barreled shotguns, looks up, starts firing. That’s your introduction to disability in this film. And I have no notes. That’s great.

Jeff:

Yeah, it was completely unnecessary to disclose it. I mean, and similarly, I fully believe, I thought that they were going to just be like, “Oh, he got injured in Nam.” That he’s a war vet and that’s why he’s also a killer, because he is a soldier, he’s trained, but they were like, “No, he was a dock worker and now he’s a martial artist.”

Sarah:

Well, it’s funny that they reversed the trope for it because he really was an injured and retired marine. So that would’ve been the only legitimate instance where you could do that without being tokenistic…

Jeff:

Totally.

Sarah:

… because that’s his real ass backstory. And you got to wonder if it was Mr. No Legs himself who was like, “Nah, just make me a dock worker.”

Jeff:

“Yeah, no, I’m just a regular man. Anyone could do what I do.”

Sarah:

Yeah, “Except I have shurikens on my wheelchair.”

Jeff:

“And I will go right for the neck.”

I did see the other one, and this is a little tropey. There does seem to be this desire often when it comes to adaptive devices to build in cool features. And this is something that some people get bothered by it. I actually am going to go in a really different direction with it. I think that we need to actually embrace this and realize that at the moment, we are not creative enough with wheelchairs. At the moment, we think of wheelchairs purely as mobility devices. We’re like, we’ll give you a chair, we’ll give you some wheels, maybe a battery and a motor. And that’s it, more or less. But what if we built wheelchairs that were like go-go gadget chairs. Why aren’t we putting things like our robotic arms and lift devices and all these other tools that could help somebody live independently?

We don’t do that for a variety of reasons, but a lot of them are because of policy. A lot of them are money related, but I think a lot of them is that we don’t have the creativity. And so I find… And this is where I wanted to come back to from the previous episode or mentioned, I want to talk about accessibility in this film because something that I think is really amazing about this movie, and I think this is something that we see in this super wheelchair that’s rigged out with gadgets, is that within the movie space, we have the ability to create anything. The world of a film doesn’t exist. Literally, they have to build sets to make a film. You are building buildings often if you have budget or in this instance, you’re like choosing buildings.

So for this film, they actively made these choices to ensure that all of the places that they were going were wheelchair accessible, and they needed to because they had a cast member that had a disability. But what’s amazing about it is that we then present this fantasy world in which we kind of had a what if the world was accessible? And so in some ways, in 1975, the same year that the UPIAS puts out their manifesto of the social model of disability, we have this movie that comes out that basically shows if the world was just accessible, disabled people could be anything, even killers, they could even be mob enforcers.

Sarah:

I was wondering where you were going with that whole bit. And I’m really glad we got there with it.

Jeff:

I landed it. It was a bit of a journey. I apologize.

Sarah:

You did a lot of work to get to that destination, and I appreciate that.

Jeff:

Yeah, but it’s one of those things where I feel film so often lets us down, is that rather than leaning into the fantasy of what disability and accessibility could be, they instead lean into the fantasy of a world either without disability, a world that’s precarious for disabled people or a world in which disabled people are the threat themselves because of. And I feel like this movie resists all of those things, even though Mr. No Legs is dangerous.

Sarah:

Okay, I’m going to go, yes and. And I mentioned this in the last episode, but we didn’t go into too much debate over it. I mentioned the Canadian TV series, Schitt’s Creek, because it got really famous for this kind of defacto inclusivity angle it used, and everybody was kind of wondering because the same way there’s a trope around how did you become disabled, there’s this kind of corollary trope around, especially for leading gay characters, how did you become gay? What was your moment? What was your coming out? All of these side questions. And Schitt’s Creek was really interesting because they kept doing interviews mostly for American publications where they kept answering that with, we didn’t want to honestly engage those questions. We wanted to just show you a town and a place where nobody wants to ask that. It’s just it’s fine however you are and however you come, and all the problems they have are not identity based in that way.

It’s like silly problems about socialization or class rhetorics especially, or I think there was an arc with a minor racial rhetoric, but they never, ever, ever brought the LGBT intersectionality angle to account on purpose. And I think there were some people who said, that’s not realistic and therefore not inclusive because it’s kind of this envisioning of a reality that doesn’t really exist. But I guess, my counter argument to that would be kind of [inaudible 00:34:00], the reality we’re currently in doesn’t really exist because I’ve made that up too. You can do that forever and ever and ever because my experience of the real is obviously really different from the real that existed in Tampa in 1975, and that is going to be really different from the reality of 1980s Kuala Lumpur. So if I’m trying to build arguments on what I feel the real is, we’ve entered this kind of pseudo [inaudible 00:34:31] in fantasy of now I have to define something that which is, by its own nature, undefinable. So in that instance, why don’t we just create what we want to see?

Jeff:

Yeah. Build the world that you wish to live in.

Sarah:

Yeah. Kind of Adrienne Maree Brown vibes.

Jeff:

Yeah, a little bit. A little bit. One thing that I think we need to leave off before we go into our ratings of this film is that it is remarkable in some ways, that this movie was made in the 1970s and is possibly one of the more progressive representations of disability that I have ever seen.

Sarah:

Absolutely.

Jeff:

In part because it just is. It doesn’t need to be defined. It doesn’t need to be a motivating factor.

Sarah:

No.

Jeff:

He just happens to be disabled. That’s just a thing.

Sarah:

And apart from race, which I guess was beyond the realm of the believable in the ’70s, especially ’70s America, especially ’70s southern America, you can keep adding layers onto that, but they treat kind of disabled identity, but also sexual identity with this kind of Schitt’s Creek nature of, “Yeah, dude, that’s just you. That’s how you’ve come to the table. That’s fine with me.” The only thing characters ever seem to have a problem with is race, and it’s only really the white characters who have a problem with it. So that’s saying something too, right?

Jeff:

Absolutely. Yeah, and I feel like they fully knew what they were doing in that, or not, or maybe not. Maybe they accidentally got this right. And maybe-

Sarah:

If that was accidental, that’s a phenomenal accident because that film was more inclusive than most actual published disability theory I read in my lifetime.

Jeff:

There were so many accidents, so many accidents in this film.

Sarah:

Yeah.

Jeff:

Well, as you know, every movie that passes through the gates of Invalid Culture must be evaluated through our completely scientific, rigorous, tested methodology, a scale that we use to measure the quality of film.

Sarah:

It’s at least as rigorous as anything coming out of clinical psychology, I’ll say that.

Jeff:

Taking shots, I appreciate that.

So like in golf, our scores mean the lower the score, the better a movie fares. Lower is better, that’s what we’re looking for.

So we’re going to start out here. On a scale of one to five, with five being the least accurate, how accurate does this film portray disability?

Sarah:

I think if we’re reading it with the live into what you want to see and be and do in the world argument, which is what we were ostensibly operating on toward the end of this conversation, I’d have to give it a one, because it is portraying the disabled world as we want to see and be and do in it. And it’s doing a lot of work that a lot of modern disability films seem completely incapable of or are blatantly unwilling to do, which is to take people as they are.

If you put this up against, especially psychosocial disability films like Silver Linings Playbook and A Beautiful Mind, the entire consciousness of the film is about what’s wrong with them and how you can use that positively. In this film, it’s still about… It centers on the disablement of Mr. No Legs. They call him Mr. No Legs. It’s probably not his name, but it’s about everything he can do. Even the reviewers who called themselves far writers who in this argument, you think they wouldn’t be with you on this, they could do nothing but tell us how much of a badass, how much of an inspiration, how much he brings to the world and society. So in that way, he would be a really phenomenally well done disability character, even if this came out last year, which I think in a lot of ways is kind of sad, right?

Jeff:

Right. Yeah.

So I was almost in line with you. I gave this a two out of five, and the only reason that I took off marks was that I don’t believe the full accessibility of the mob layer and everything else in Tampa was very accurate to reality. It did present this sort of dream world of full accessibility, but I think that’s a minor sin. I’m not totally against that, but it would’ve been kind of hilarious if he had gone to the bar, the 7 Seas Bar to start shit and it was inaccessible and he wasn’t able to get in. That would’ve been… Actually, and then double barrel shotguns [inaudible 00:39:43] for it. [inaudible 00:39:44].

Sarah:

Okay. He would’ve, I’m calling it, thrown the chair with one arm down the stairs, launched himself down there and started fighting.

Jeff:

Yeah.

Okay. On a scale of one to five, with five being the hardest, how hard was it for you to get through this film?

Sarah:

I thought this film was an absolute delight. I said in the last episode, my roommate actually asked me what I was doing because I was sitting in my room with Jeff just laughing maniacally for much of this film. It is genuinely hilarious. I give it a one. I’d watch it again tomorrow.

Jeff:

Yeah, this was a hard one for me. It was under 90 minutes. Blessings. But also every scene, at the end of the scene, I was ready for the next. I was like, give me more. I want to see what’s coming next. There were zingers throughout the film that were delivered perfectly. It was silly and funny and weird and a fight every 10 seconds.

Sarah:

And you know what? Callback to the cinematographer. Whoever they got for that, he was legitimately very good. He was well above the caliber of Mr. No Legs, the film, and he made it look, especially the car choreography at the end, really good.

Jeff:

Totally.

And this might be actually the hardest one for us to answer. On a scale of one to five, with five being the most, how often did you laugh at the [inaudible 00:41:20] that we’re not supposed to be funny?

Sarah:

Okay. Yeah, that’s hard because I really do think that there’s no way this was supposed to be serious. There’s no way. And if you know, it’s supposed to be a funny kind of pseudo parody, but also goes really hard for a parody on manly man bravado action films, it’s a one. But if you think that they legitimately wanted every minute of this to be Die Hard and you come out of this kind of wishing you were him, I guess it would be a 2 or a 2.5. I don’t know. I think maybe I’ll go in the middle. Maybe I’ll go two.

Jeff:

So hilariously, I had almost the exact same wrestling with angels in my mind, and I also came out at a two. And the only reason I came out at two is that I think there were lots of moments in this film that were objectively hilarious. I think they clearly wanted to be funny. A lot of the little one-liners were clearly supposed to be funny. I think a lot of the fight scenes… When you stab at a Camaro with a broad sword, clearly intended to be funny.

There were other parts of the film that I’m not totally sure if they were in on the joke or not. I’m not sure if they were trying to mock hypermasculinity or if they were just performing hypermasculinity, unclear. But either way, it was funny, and I think I lean more towards you, like this is supposed to be like a Grindhouse-like film. And so I think that that kind of over the top nature, that sort of funny, I think it’s supposed to be funny. So I’m going to give it a two. It might be a one, but I’d want to talk to the directors and find out a little bit more about what they were actually intending.

Sarah:

Yeah, if the directors came out and said, this is a parody of big macho action films, it would be a one for sure.

Jeff:

Okay.

And our last question. On a scale of one to five, with five being the most, how many steps back has this film put disabled people?

Sarah:

I think we should be citing this film in the AODA. I think this should be a core piece of disability arguments and disability empowerment moving forward because it wins over even the most hard to win people on the epistemological and ontological use value in the loosest sense of CDS gang. One.

Jeff:

Yeah, this was an easy one. I didn’t even have to think about it. If there was the ability to give zero, I would give zero. I do not believe this set us back. Okay, maybe it did earn the one. It doesn’t deserve the zero. The only thing is that I think it does unfortunately lead to a tremendous disappointment by both disabled and non-disabled people when they realize in the real world that every wheelchair does not have double barrel shotguns hidden in the armrest. And that maybe does set us back a little bit. It promises a future that never occurs.

Sarah:

You know what? Never say never. Because everybody thought iRobot was a spectacular 2044 future, and it’s looking more like a 2004 future.

Jeff:

Fair enough.

With the lowest score ever on Invalid Culture, drum roll please, the amazing Mr. No Legs clocks in with a score of 10. This might be an underappreciated piece of art.

Sarah:

If I saw a poster in a store for this film, I would buy it outright.

Jeff:

If I saw Mr. No Legs’ in Tampa, Florida, in real life, I would beg to become his Danger Angel.

Sarah:

I want to be a Danger Angel as a career choice now. This movie has changed the trajectory of my life and probably yours because you will forever be in pursuit of a Mr. No Legs style chair.

Jeff:

Yeah. So I’m going to chalk this one up as an enormous win for the disabled population and an absolute abject failure, on my part, for trying to find a terrible movie, because I didn’t. I accidentally found a good one.

Sarah:

I’m going to be so much more disappointed next month because the fall is going to be hard from here.

Jeff:

It is a steep drop-off as we get going in the year of 2024. That’s right, folks, there are many more episodes to come, so be sure to tune in next month as we continue, or rather maybe begin our descent into the depravity of disability representation in film.

And thus concludes another episode of Invalid Culture. Thank you for joining us. I hope you enjoyed it or not.

Do you have a film you would like for us to cover on the pod, or even better, do you want to be a victim on Invalid Culture? Head over to our website, invalidculture.com and submit. We would love to hear from you.

That’s it for this episode. Catch you next month, then until then, stay invalid.

[Theme song, “Arguing with Strangers” by Mvll Crimes finishes out the episode]

 

 

Come for the teen murder, stay for the harshest eulogy of all time.

What happens when the movie “Mean Girls” has a baby with the movie “Carrie”? You get the excessively strange Christian inspiration porn adjacent film “Touched By Grace”…apparently. Currently viewable for free on YouTube, this film follows teenager Cara’s evolution from high school bad girl to caring youth group member, a metamorphosis made possible by a special friendship with a young woman with down syndrome.

Join Erika and Jeff as they dive into promposals, questionable eulogies and possible crimes against humanity in another thrilling episode of Invalid Culture.

Listen at…

Grading the Film

As always, this film is reviewed with scores recorded in four main categories, with 1 being the best and 5 being the worst. Like the game of golf, the lower the score the better.

How accurate is the representation?

Jeff – 4 / 5

Erika – 4 / 5

Total – 8 / 10

How difficult was it to watch the movie?

Erika – 4 / 5

Jeff – 2 / 5

Total – 6 / 10

How often were things unintentionally funny?

Erika – 5 / 5

Jeff – 5 / 5

Total – 10 / 10

How far back has it put disabled people?

Jeff – 3.5 / 5

Erika – 4 / 5

Total – 7.5 / 10

The Verdict

A Crime May Have Been Committed

 

Erika:
Welcome to Invalid Culture, a podcast dedicated to excavating the strangest and most baffling representations of disability in popular culture. Unlike other podcasts that review films you’ve probably heard of, Invalid Culture is all about the abyss of pop culture adjacent media that just never quite broke through because, well, they’re just awful. I’m your host, Erika.
Jeff:
I’m your other host, Jeff. It’s time now for us to think about some culture that might just be invalid.
[Theme song: “Arguing with Strangers” by Mvll Crimes, a choppy punk song with lyrics “I’m arguing with strangers on the internet – not going out today because I’m feeling too upset. Arguing with strangers on the internet and I’m winning. AND I’M WINNING!!”]
Erika:
Jeff, how are you doing today?
Jeff:
I am excited to be back. I feel like I haven’t watched a terrible movie in so long.
Erika:
Well, I would be able to say the same if I hadn’t just recently watched Touched by Grace. Safe to say I am happy to be back, coasting as we are, straight through the second full year. Are we into the third year of pandemic now? I’ve actually lost count.
Jeff:
I don’t know. I think we’re still in 2020, so we’ll just see where we pop out the other side.
Erika:
Perfect.
Jeff:
I think so. I think so. Speaking of what it feels like to be in a global pandemic, this episode, we watched a thrilling film called Touched by Grace, which had all of the same what is happening that we have experienced in COVID. Now, I’m all of our loyal listeners have listened to the, or have watched rather, the movie before, but in case you have not yet managed to watch this amazing film, let’s give you a little bit of a breakdown.
What is Touch by Grace? Well, Local mean girl, Cara is moving away from her best friends forever after pulling a totally sweet, albeit, fat shaming prank on a fellow youth. Now, in her new city, she has no friends, but it’s okay because Cara’s thirsty mom encourages her to befriend cafe worker and high school, 35-year-old senior Brandon, and eventually connects with the other local mean girls, Quinn and Skyler.
One day, went out taking pictures at a playground, for reasons, Cara meets and befriends Grace, a person with Down syndrome. Cara begins to become a better person or something, but still wants to impress her new friends. Skyler and Quinn, her new mean girlfriends decide then to play an epic senior prank modeled after a prank that Cara claims to have played at her own school, which includes getting Grace nominated prom queen and then humiliated her before the school by making her sing on stage.
But wait, Brandon, the cafe worker, and his brother Ben, who is essentially the Down syndrome version of Dr. Ruth, surprised Cara and Grace within awesome promposal that involves a gorilla costume and pop in a million balloons with a group of very cool Christian teens. The plan succeeds and eventually Grace will have some sort of attack of some version on stage while singing and legit dies.
Her preacher then gives an impassioned speech, repeatedly clarified that Grace was a broken blight on society. Lessons were learned, I suppose. No one is charged for manslaughter and the movie ends. Perhaps most importantly though, the box description of this movie explains it is inspired by real bullying events that our teenagers in our community have witnessed happening in their local high schools. Did we witness a murder, Erika?
Erika:
We witnessed some violence, that’s for sure.
Jeff:
I think that is completely fair. Okay, if we take a high view of the film, what were your general impressions of this beautiful piece of art?
Erika:
I think my most general impression was that I felt, in some ways, that we were watching a recap of season one of Invalid Culture. It was as though every theme we had discovered discussed during the first season was recapped for us in this film with, of course, some notable additions. I’m pretty pumped to be getting into those additions today, but yeah, I think just like your standard train wreck.
Jeff:
Yeah. I have to be honest with our viewers. I started watching this film a couple weeks before Erika and I watched it. I got about halfway through and I stopped it because I knew that this was going to be the first episode of our season because this movie is so ridiculous, so absurd, but yet, I don’t know, there’s something about this movie that brought me back that made me want to watch it again. Part of it was because I wanted to see some of the just borderline human rights violations that occurred in this film.
Number two, I was enamored with the fact that the film seemed to actually have a lot of insight into people with disabilities, but seem to have almost zero insight on people that do not have disabilities. This is, I think, the first film I’ve ever watched where I’m like, “Have you never met a non-disabled person ever,” because none of the non-disabled characters behaved like real people in this film. That, I thought, was just such a beautiful inversion. I knew we had to do it.
Erika:
Shall we get into some of what the critics had to say?
Jeff:
Yeah, absolutely. There are people much smarter than us that have words to say about this film.
Erika:
We are looking here exclusively at the popular critics. Shall we begin with Judy F. from Christian Cinema?
Jeff:
Absolutely.
Erika:
Judy F. gave this film five Stars and said, “What a wonderful movie. As a child that was teased due to my walking handicap, I saw an excellent lesson for all to watch and learn from. Thanks for the great movie.”
Jeff:
Now, I want to talk about this a lot more later, but what lesson did this film… I do not actually know what the lesson that is being learned by this film.
Erika:
No.
Jeff:
I have no idea.
Erika:
I was going to ask you the exact same question.
Jeff:
I actually am more partial with another Christian cinema reviewer. Two stars from iOSC. Yup, that is right, iOS is in the Mac operating system for your phone. iOSC, two stars, “I enjoyed the film.”
Erika:
Jeff, you found my review. That was me, iOSC, two stars, “I enjoyed the film.” Shall we move on to Amazon? Honestly, I mean, I guess Amazon has everything. Part of me is a little bit surprised that this film is on Amazon.
Jeff:
Yeah. It’s barely on Amazon. You can buy it on Amazon. It is very expensive, very expensive.
Erika:
Okay. That means that Amazon is aware of it but does not actually have it.
Jeff:
Precisely.
Erika:
All right. Another five star review. We have Carolyn Kowalski, “Yes. Great movie. Teaches kids to respect and appreciate each other. Also working with special ed kids and adults, which I do every day at the grocery store. Sara Cicilian was great in this movie. She was one my scouts in high school, so I was very anxious to own and watch one of her movies.”
Jeff:
I love this review because of this weird admission right in the middle. Why do you believe that Carolyn needed to disclose to us that they work with special ed kids and adults in grocery stores?
Erika:
I’m just having trouble processing what that means.
Jeff:
I wonder if this is an appeal to authority. I know disabled people, therefore, I can assess that this is a good film.
Erika:
Oh, yup, yup.
Jeff:
You know who has figured it out, is our reviewer Wimpy Charlie, four stars explains, “It’s an excellent movie, but perfect for teenagers. I would recommend this movies for teenagers to watch.” This is actually something we’ve seen a lot in a lot of the reviews. A lot of people believe that this is a film for teenagers, and I would strongly debate that point.
Erika:
Yeah. I would advise, I mean, I would not advise anyone to watch this movie, but especially not teenagers.
Jeff:
No. I think the lessons that teenagers would learn from this film is how to murder someone with Down Syndrome.
Erika:
How to murder, how make fun of. I just don’t, I mean, the film as we know it is called Touched by Grace, but the alternative title is the Senior Prank.
Jeff:
Yes. Yes. That’s a good point. The movie was originally going to be called, The Senior Prank. The Prank is the heart of the movie.
Erika:
Yeah. No, definitely not for teens.
Jeff:
We have one last review and this one I’m going to turn over to you, Erika. This one comes from the YouTube channel that is hosting this entire film free for you to watch right now, Christian Movies on YouTube.
Erika:
From Kate Pearson,” I absolutely loved this film. If only everyone could see the world through Grace’s eyes. I used to work and look after people with Down syndrome, and I always wanted to have a child with the condition too. The way they see life and the amount of love they have in their hearts, we see life and stress and worry about stupid things. We get upset and argue with others, but people who have this disability are so loving, pure and see life full of color and compassion as well as full of happiness.
God only gives children with disabilities to special parents. It makes me sad that, although, it was only a film, that there are so many judgmental people out there who are so sad and unsatisfied in their own lives that they have to be nasty and ugly to others because they see them as different, but God made us all different for a reason. He gave us compassion to use it. Some people say manners don’t cost anything. Well, neither does compassion or love. Use it.” Xxxx Kate Brit Flag xxxxx.
Jeff:
Okay. There is a lot going on. I don’t even know where to start.
Erika:
I strongly suspect that Kate Pearson had a role in creating this film.
Jeff:
Interesting. This is a hot take. Tell me more.
Erika:
I am hearing themes of the film that none of the other, let’s say “objective reviewers” have picked up on. The idea that the world is such a cruel place, which again, I am baffled that none of the other reviews picked up on this because that was probably the most striking feature of this film for me.
Jeff:
Should, absolutely, yes, absolutely.
Erika:
As we will unpack ourselves shortly, there really seems to be a description in this review from Kate about the way that disabled people are different in a very good, trust me, listen to me, honestly, I swear, very good way, but different, and that’s kind of what I was getting from the film as well.
Jeff:
Now, what do you think about the desire to have a child, the idea that almost like this has pet vibes to me, where it’s like, “Oh, I’ve always wanted a Corgi dog and I’ve always wanted a Down syndrome child.”
Erika:
Yup. I mean, right on brand for this kind of peculiar objectification that we see come through in this film. A bit of out of alignment with a message that came straight from the dialogue of the film where it is stated that disabled people, no matter how much people are willing to care for them, are actually extreme burdens on society.
Jeff:
Right. Yeah and what is perhaps the best eulogy of all time. I find that this really leans into this idea that people down syndrome are these sharabic, angelic, loving in all ways, simple people that see the best in life, which strikes me as the belief of someone who doesn’t actually have any sort of interactions with people without Down syndrome, which isn’t to say that they are monsters, but that people with Down syndrome are complex people because they’re people.
Erika:
Yeah. As I read this review, I think like, “Oh, I’ve heard this before. I’ve seen this represented before.” It’s not what I got from the film. It’s not what I get from real life, but I’ve definitely heard this narrative before.
Jeff:
Yeah. It feels like it comes from the Special Needs Mom “branded” TM. This idea that, it’s like this desire to make them valuable. Well, they’re not valuable in all the ways that we see other people valuable. Maybe they’re good spirited nature, that could be the way that they’re valuable and there’s a productive value in that because it helps us to be better people and to see the world through their eyes.
There was a lot of that, I think, in a lot of the other reviews as well. This idea of wanting to see the world in the way that Grace sees the world, which I find particularly bizarre in this film, where Grace doesn’t actually have that much of a role in the film other than being a friend, eventually being a date, talking about wanting to tell her to preach, to give her testimony as to her relationship with God and then dying. That’s Grace’s arc. I don’t really actually understand what people are learning from Grace in this film.
Erika:
No. I don’t think that Grace is a character, a properly developed character in this film. Grace is, I spent this whole film just wanting to know more about Grace and this film does not deliver on that in any way.
Jeff:
Hot take, hot counter argument, I thought the other character with Down syndrome, Ben, the brother of Brandon, I actually felt the kind of opposite. Ben actually kind of felt like what people were saying Grace is like. Ben was kind of loving and happy go lucky and was living his best life as a rocker. He was sort of doing all these things, but the movie is not Touched by Ben. It’s Touched by Grace. I wonder, because I think Touched by Ben is probably a very different Christian film probably.
Erika:
Whew. Yup. Yup. Just to yank us back on track here. I would agree with you fully, not all aspects, but I did overall really enjoy the Ben plot line character representation. I mean, what is that? What is that? What is it that the supporting actor has no depth of character and then this random side plot character has so much?
Jeff:
Yeah, it’s a huge question. Maybe this is just about actors, actor ability. Maybe Ben was just a better actor than Grace, but if you think about what we know about Ben, there’s actually a pretty good list of stuff, of things that we know about Ben, whereas Grace, we know that she is obsessed with a butterfly metaphor. This idea of the ugly caterpillar becoming a beautiful butterfly that is core to her personality. She appears to American Idol and she dies. She has many medical conditions, apparently.
Erika:
Yes, extremely ill despite appearing fine all of the time.
Jeff:
She has a bad heart. That’s like the most distinct of the medical problems that were given is that she has a bad heart and maybe asthma, but that’s never actually described. I’m not really sure. This movie was a train wreck, but it is time for us, I think, to get a little bit more analytical. To start our journey through this film, let’s play that old fun game of name that trope. Erika, what was a great disability trope that you found in this film?
Erika:
One of the clearest messages coming out of this portrayal is that the world is overtly hostile towards disabled people in the most extreme and dramatic ways. I don’t think in representation or in real life, have I ever seen more abject disablism.
Jeff:
Yeah.
Erika:
Including, I mean, this film also flashed me back to elementary school when I think some 20 to 30 years ago, the sort of public imagination about disability was maybe a little bit less educated, a little less PC and eight-year-olds were using the R word and certain hand gestures and of mocked slurred speech to make fun of each other. I really did not expect to see that from teenagers in a, what was this, 2014 production.
Jeff:
This was not an old movie, correct. Yes.
Erika:
Yes and not just teenagers, but the mother, the mother of the…
Jeff:
The mother-
Erika:
The protagonist mother has, just to the point that she sees disabled people walk into a restaurant and says, “We need to leave immediately.”
Jeff:
Yeah. She’s like, “What is this, a Special Olympics?” There was three disabled people. We’re not even talking, it was a small group of friends.
Erika:
She’s just appalled to find out that her daughter’s new friend has Down syndrome.
Jeff:
Horrified.
Erika:
How could you? How could you?
Jeff:
A shame on the family.
Erika:
Yeah.
Jeff:
Oh, 100%. The mother was hands down my favorite character in this film because her discrimination was both so kind of real, but also so extreme. This was cranked up to 13. No one would be able to watch this and not be like, “That was a horrible thing for you to do or say.” I’m like in equal parts honored and impressed by, but also kind of horrified by.
The level that this film decided to go at like stereotypes and discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities, because some of it is like, yeah, it’s dead on, but it’s always taken to the most extreme level, a level that I’m like, I actually don’t think, I mean, it’s bad up there for disabled people everywhere, yes, but I don’t think it’s ever this overtly and randomly and casually terrible.
Erika:
To the point that the actors, at some point, seem visibly uncomfortable with their character portrayals.
Jeff:
Okay. We have to address this great scene, my favorite scene, the scene that I paused the movie afterwards and immediately texted Erika, Skyler and Quinn start to do a pantomime and in a very brilliant way, I would argue. First, Quinn does what a century sounds like somebody with hearing loss or a deaf person trying to talk, sort of the slurred speech and Skyler is like, “No. You idiot. She’s not deaf. She’s this.” Then, does the Donald Trump cerebral palsy sort of hand beat it on the chest, this slurred version of the R word? If you look in these two actor’s eyes during the scene, you can see the exact moment they realize they’re going to hell.
Erika:
Which, I think that’s a beautiful segue into trope two, because I think that’s actually part of the point of this film, is using disability to find God, to find a path to redemption, and these mean girls that you were just describing, they’re the non-religious crew. This is kind of a clear setup in this film where we have the non-religious folks are extremely and overtly prejudiced towards disability. Then, the religious folks are extremely compassionate and caring.
Jeff:
Yeah. I mean, you kind of know what you’re getting into when you start a movie and it’s called Touched by Grace, we’re all about to be touched by this disabled person. Yes, but I think you’ve made a really interesting point though here too, that there’s actually two roles being played here. It’s not just about how is disabled person going to teach us how to be better people, but there seems to also be some clear instruction about the role that nondisabled people need to play in the lives of disabled people.
Erika:
Yeah. I was getting this strong able bodied saviorism where we have these non-disabled or non-apparently disabled main characters. Brandon is the dreamy, far too old to be in high school.
Jeff:
Easily 45 years old. That guy has a 401(k).
Erika:
Yeah. I mean, the mom knows this because the mom starts to hit on him immediately and then sort of realizes, “Oh shoot, are you a high school senior? I should be setting you up with my daughter, actually.”
Jeff:
Yeah. Phenomenal pivot there.
Erika:
Yeah. This is in the smoothie shop where Brandon works. We have, and Brandon, you mentioned the second character with Down syndrome is Ben, who it turns out to be Brandon’s brother. Brandon is the brother to men with Down syndrome and he knows Grace from the smoothie shop or from school, oh, I guess, from youth group.
Jeff:
It’s probably from youth group, yeah.
Erika:
Right. They’re all kind of connected. Brandon is just so impressed with the, I can’t remember his words exactly, but how naturally Cara is able to treat disabled people like equals. She assures him that it’s not…
Jeff:
Well, not-
Erika:
… natural at all for her and she’s trying very hard.
Jeff:
Which to be fair, I would also be impressed if my first introduction to you was your mother being like, “We have to leave this place. There’s a disabled person here.”
Erika:
Right. We watched this arc. I think really this is what the film is about. The arc of the main, the primary arc of this film is watching Cara’s evolution as a human away from this fat shaming bully to secular, fat shaming, bully to this found, saved, caring person, and we sort of rely on Grace in the film to help, to be able to see this evolution in Cara from sort of an ignorant hatred to this care, albeit a pity-laced care. There’s always sort of I’m doing it because I care for her, not because I actually see her as my equal, but because I understand that the good thing to do is to treat her as an equal.
Jeff:
That there’s value, because I will also get access to this understanding of a different way of seeing the world, but I will see this beauty, once you stop paying attention to the, and they say more than once, disgusting, hairy caterpillar into the beautiful butterfly…
Erika:
Yeah.
Jeff:
… which is maybe a puberty. Is this a puberty text? Is the hairy, disgusting caterpillar like puberty?
Erika:
I mean, okay, I think at face value, it seems that this butterfly metaphor, and for anyone who might not have watched the film yet, the only thing we know about Grace is that she really loves butterflies and is actively…
Jeff:
Harvesting.
Erika:
… fostering these caterpillars in their process of metamorphosis. On the surface, you have this noble message that it’s what’s on the inside that counts, but, I mean, ultimately it’s not really about inner beauty because it’s not like you have the beautiful thing that stays on the inside. It’s really about metamorphosis. It’s really about shedding this ugly interior and letting your inner beauty shine or as I read it, finding God.
Jeff:
Becoming sort of a beautiful, better person in the life of the Lord.
Erika:
I assume this is the direction that you were going in when you called this trope the disabled as patron saint.
Jeff:
Right. Yeah. Not quite spirit guide, exactly, but this totem that symbolizes or evokes or maybe materializes these deeper teachings, these deeper teachings of care and compassion and seeing the best in people and caring for people. I think looking at this through the lens of metamorphosis, kind of does explain this awkward moment at the very beginning of the film when Cara meets Grace for the first time and she sort of like doesn’t want to be friends with her, and then Grace mentions that she’s friends with Brandon and that she can help set Cara up with Brandon. Now, all of a sudden Cara’s like, “Yes, I will be your friend.”
Erika:
Okay. That’s just really interesting to juxtapose with Ben being the, how does he self-describe as the?
Jeff:
The doctor of love.
Erika:
The doctor of love. They’re both this sort of conduit to relationship or to love.
Jeff:
Yeah. They facilitate the relationships, despite the fact that central in the movie is Grace’s anxiety, literal to the point that she has some sort of medical attack that requires a puffer after she gets sprayed with a milkshake, but this anxiety that she will not find love and that no one will ever ask her to prom. Then, Brandon’s like, “Well, I do have someone who can ask you to prom,” but really it’s because now I’m able to ask Cara to prom.
It’s like I really do wonder how the Ben-Grace relationship acts as this way of sanitizing the life’s sexual desire of Cara and Brandon. Cara and Brandon want to pork, but you can’t because this is a Christian film. Instead, they’re going to go on this innocent date with Ben and Grace, because it’s obviously innocent. They have Down syndrome. They’re not sexual beings. Therefore, Brandon and Cara can also then go on this date and it’s safe and it’s not sexual because they’re all just friends in the Lord, but they would’ve porked probably if Grace hadn’t died.
Erika:
Yeah. That was the curve ball that no one saw coming. I mean, okay, looking back, the film is full of this gratuitous medicalization. The foreshadowing was 100% there. It just seemed so illogical. Yeah, we heard that she needs her meds, she needs her meds, she needs her meds…
Jeff:
And a new heart.
Erika:
… and a new heart. Her mom sort of shamefully draws attention to the medical equipment in her bedroom. “Oh, don’t look at that,” but do.
Jeff:
Which is sitting beside her butterflies.
Erika:
Oh.
Jeff:
Currently these are gross, hairy caterpillars, and that’s where the medical equipment is sitting.
Erika:
To be totally fair, the foreshadowing was there, but I think literally as we were watching it, we were saying, “No. No. They’re not. They’re not. They wouldn’t.” Then, flash forward, and you’re clearly at a funeral.
Jeff:
Yeah. This, I honestly, I’m going to go out on a limb here, this is one of the most shocking disability deaths at the end of a film, which we should have seen it coming, but the way the film is going and the tone of the film, you would never imagine that they were just going to slaughter this girl at the end. It felt like she would have trouble and she would make a recovery because of her faith in God, there was going to be this Christic pure movie. That’s really what it really felt like.
I really felt like all this, she’s sick and she’s sick and dying, felt like it was more setting up that, and then they were just like, “No. Rug pulled out. She dead.” I was thrilled, thrilled. I had cheered. I was so excited. I couldn’t believe it. I was like, I didn’t think I was going to get this, but once again, the disabled character must die.
Erika:
I don’t think I had time to be thrilled. I mean, I can’t say I would’ve been thrilled, but I don’t think I had time to before we launched straight into the eulogy to end all disabled eulogies.
Jeff:
We have to play this clip. We have to just let people hear it because it is the most beautiful eulogy that has ever been given for a disabled person. I have to tell you, I almost Graced at the end of this eulogy. I literally almost died watching this. If you’re driving right now, please pull over, just in case you also die.
Speaker 3:
Internationally renowned nurse and journalist, Claire Rayner, once stated that, “The hard facts are that it is costly in terms of human effort, compassion, energy, and finite resources such as money to care for individuals with handicaps. People who are not yet parents should ask themselves if they have the right to inflict such burdens on others; however, willing they are, themselves to take their share of the burden in the beginning.”
This philosophy has been echoed throughout most so-called advanced civilizations. In fact, because of this philosophy, over 90% of Down syndrome babies are aborted before they ever have a chance to take a breath, but we are here today because we believe in the words of First Corinthians 1:27, that God shows the foolish things of this world to shame the wise.
God shows the weak things of this world to shame the strong. We are here because one of the weak things, one of the least in this world, Grace Elizabeth Young touched our lives with the brightness of her strength and changed our lives forever with the light of Jesus shining in her smile. Let’s pray.
Erika:
He quotes a nurse, a nurse who says it’s expensive and requires a lot of human resources to care for people with handicaps and that those who are not yet parents should ask themselves whether they really have the right to inflict such burden on others.
Jeff:
Yeah, which then connects to the horrifying stat that we are regularly aborting people with Down syndrome. Then, he pivots again to repeatedly assure us that Grace is a weak, despicable person who is there to shame and humble the strong and intelligent, and that she did. She was a successful vessel for the message being sent by the Lord through this person. Then, it ends, and that’s all we get at the funeral.
Erika:
That was the point at which I went, “Oh, this is a pro-life propaganda film?” Now, I see, the whole time I’m wondering, but why disability? Why was disability in this film? Then, it was just like, “Oh, there’s the convergence.”
Jeff:
Yeah, but funny enough though, it’s like it’s dropped in there, but then it also isn’t really touched again really after either? I thought it was about to get really preachy after this, but it kind of doesn’t. I wonder, I’m starting to wonder if this was a funding thing. If in order to get this film that they wanted to tell this story about bullying and acceptance, but they also needed money to make this thing work to be able to do it.
I honestly wonder if they were, they applied to some point grant that was if money for pro-life propaganda films, and they were like, “Okay, well, we’ll just put this scene in there.” Why do you think that at no point did they decide that the eulogy should be complimentary of this person?
Erika:
Again, because I think in this film, Grace was never a person. Grace was always an object. What do you have to say about an object at its funeral? Only praise for what it did for the human people around it.
Jeff:
I know, I think this is interesting because in some ways then the film itself serve, there’s this meta thing happening in the film in which the film objectifies Grace in order to tell two different sort of, one sort of religiously motivated and one sort of more propaganda ideology motivated sort of lesson, that there’s these two lessons that are happening here, which is like pro-life, yes and beauty and compassion is the Christic way.
Then, if you step back even further, then you have this meta metaphor of Down syndrome becoming this useful tool in the arsenal of pro-life campaigners that Grace becomes this symbol of the problem with abortion, that we’re going to kill all these people, which again, the stats do say is actually fairly accurate, that people do actively choose to abort fetuses of disabled people, but yet the film never actually gives us any real understanding about why Grace’s life is valuable outside of how she is useful to showing people the way to God, basically.
This is like double objectification that’s happening of disabled people both within the text, beside the text, outside the text. It’s just like, it’s like a nesting doll of objectification.
Erika:
All right, why don’t we move on to our next segment, I’m sorry, can we talk about?
Jeff:
Yeah. I have a hot, a scorching hot take. After now, we have spent most of this podcast kind of pilfering this truly horrendous film, I have a hot take, and my hot take is that this film, I wonder, does this film perhaps almost certainly unintentionally provide a [inaudible 00:38:39] critique of the electing of disabled people as prom king or queen within high schools?
Many of you probably know it. If you don’t know, there’s this viral trend, right, where teenagers will elect often the person with Down syndrome, but not always, sometimes it’s other various disabilities, elect them as prom king, prom queen, and then it makes the news about how great it is that these local non-disabled children have given of themselves and seeing the inner beauty of these disabled people and made them prom king.
This movie, though, presents this inversion in which not only do they make them prom king and prom queen, but then they mock them to death at the end. Grace starts singing and everyone in the auditorium is dying of laughter. This is the funniest thing they have ever seen, and in some ways, I wonder, is this the perfect critique, the perfect critique of these prom king things where it’s never about the person with Down syndrome. It’s not about Ben being the doctor of love and loving rock and roll or Grace wanting to see the inner beauty or being a good singer, it’s all about the emotional enjoyment of the viewing audience and the voting audience.
Erika:
Jeff, I have a gift for you.
Jeff:
Oh, I cannot wait.
Erika:
I don’t know if this throws a wrench into your theory or helps it along, but when I looked on IMDB and I couldn’t find any information about Amber House, the actor who plays Grace, I did a little bit of poking around the web and you will not believe what I found. What I found was a headline, “Dream come true for family after daughter with Down syndrome is asked to the prom.”
Jeff:
What?
Erika:
Covered on both the dailymail.co.uk and Huffington Post.
Jeff:
What?
Erika:
It turns out…
Jeff:
No?
Erika:
… that according to Huffington Post, Amber’s mom actually ran a campaign. Amber’s mom desperately wanted Amber to be asked to the prom and felt that no one would ask her, and she just really wanted her to have that life experience. It was unsuccessful, but it turned out that unrelated to that, a choir friend had actually invited Grace to prom already.
Jeff:
Whoa! Wait a minute.
Erika:
Yes. It was a little hard, unfortunately, in my viewing area. I could not actually watch the live news clip. I just was able to read the article, which is a real shame because I really wanted to see the interview with the promposer. Interestingly, in the Huffington Post article, the articles about Amber and someone else who also got promposed and then was elected Queen, the prom queen. I just, I got the feeling reading this, did they find Amber as an actor through this media story?
Jeff:
Which came first? Did the movie come before the promposal?
Erika:
The promposal came first.
Jeff:
What? Okay, wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. These people saw this article and were like, “We should get this girl to be in our movie in which she gets elected prom queen and dies.”
Erika:
Yes, I believe that’s what happened.
Jeff:
This is the weirdest film of all time.
Erika:
Okay. The other little fun piece of trivia that I picked up on while researching actors was that the actor that played Ben, Frank Stephens is actually a fairly active advocate, including, conflict, I think he’s had some communication with Obama or was critiquing Ann Coulter about her use of slurs against mentally disabled people when referring to Obama.
Jeff:
What?
Erika:
I just found this really fascinating because I know in our first season when we sort of noticed some trends where when there were disabled actors involved in the film, there seemed to be some better representation we suspected because the actors were lending some critique to the film. I wondered, just given that the Ben/Frank actor is a seasoned advocate, if perhaps that’s how his character got to be, have a little more depth and be a bit of a cooler character where it seems that Amber’s not an experienced actor and perhaps maybe not as much experience in this kind of setting and not having say, the confidence to push back on the filmmakers to shape her character at all?
Jeff:
Unbelievable.
Erika:
I’m really sorry for hijacking your, I’m sorry, can we talk about, but-
Jeff:
No. I want to talk more about this. Okay, wait a minute. Okay. I’m sorry. I’m just processing this. I need to go back for half a second. Did you say that she had a date for the prom, but her mom was like, “No. She needs a better date for the prom?”
Erika:
No. No. Her mom, no, no, no, no, no. Her mom did not, okay, before, I guess before the household prom conversation comes up, because that’s a totally normal thing, before that came up, Mom actually led a campaign to try and find her daughter a date. To me, this just aligned miraculously with when we were talking earlier in the film about how that parent trope of my child is broken, but I to have to try and give this, redeem the value of my broken child.
According to the Huffington Post article, although, her parents said she never had a problem making friends, they were concerned she would have difficulty finding a date. Peggy’s mom started a campaign for a prom date a few months ahead. That was unsuccessful, but meanwhile, Amber already had a date and her mom just didn’t know about it yet.
Jeff:
That’s even better than my original suspicion…
Erika:
Yes.
Jeff:
… in some ways. I also like, what would you have done, Erika, if you’d found out that your mom had been running a campaign to find you a prom date when you were in high school? Would you have been touched by grace?
Erika:
I mean, I guess it might have been nice to have a prom date, but I just wanted to round that participation from mom out and actually, I want to just contrast in this Huffington Post article. Matt was the promoser. He said, “Grace was my number one choice. I know her from choir. I really like her. She’s awesome. She’s fun, great to hang out with.”
Mom said she was amazed. This is a quote, “I started crying. I’m just so proud of the young man who would step up and take her and that she’s able to do this and have that experience with all of her friends.” Whether my mom went out of her way to try and find me a prom date or not, I think the part that wouldn’t sit so well with me if my mom said that she was just so proud of the person who would step up and take me.
Jeff:
I’m pretty sad right now, actually, that during at my wedding that my parents didn’t get up during their speech and say how proud they were of my partner stepping up and taking me off their hands. Incredible. I find it, this is so tough because the response to this, we’re sort of laughing and cackling at this, and the response to this is always kind of the same, which is, “Well, you don’t get how hard it is. We do. We live it every day. We see what they go through,” which I’m not going to deny.
At the same time, I honestly really wonder, are these utterances really the deep, deep, genuine belief of these parents or are these parents merely playing out this script, the script that you have to play out if you’re going to get the coverage, which you want for reasons, reasons that actually probably actually translated into their daughter being at film in which she’s killed at prom. I really wonder that though.
I wonder how authentic are these or is it just people playing the part, playing the part that they’ve seen so far, playing the part of the hell has no fury, the special needs mom, or because that was a big thing in a movie that we’re going to hear from a little later this season in our Valentine’s special coming in several months or this trope right about, “Oh, my poor child is such the least of us.”
Erika:
I suspect most parents, probably their imagination of what a good life is relates to their own life experiences. If they want their child to have what they had, and the teen years are sort of a difficult, they’re their transitional point in life where life is directed largely by parents until the young person is getting to that point in their life where they’re able to lead their own life and really kind of center their own life around their own personality.
I wonder if this is sort a teenage, a bit of a teenage issue as well, or whether, I guess, it might be constrained a bit too by parental or societal perceptions of what’s appropriate for people at different ages, different life stages, or even different abilities.
We have done our deep dive into the themes. We’ve heard from the critics. Now, it’s time to get trivial. Let’s look at some fun facts about the film. Jeff, you want to kick us off?
Jeff:
Yeah. Our first little segment is, you might remember me from such films as, and if you were watching this film and thinking, “I feel like this Cara girl looks a little familiar.” This is, of course, our actor, Stacey Bradshaw, probably the most “famous in this film,” predominantly because of her appearances in several anti-choice films, including playing the lead in the understatement of the year, controversial film called Unplanned, which you may have heard of before.
Stacey has also been in other films that are anti-choice, such as a short film, which I’m trying to get my hands on, called Wheelchair. Stacey is not the star in this, but she does appear in it. This is a short film about a mother of a three-year-old who temporarily needs to use a wheelchair and is allegedly a “pro-life” mini film, which I have no idea what is going on there.
Erika:
Then, we also have Sara Cicilian, a former scout perhaps who plays mean girlfriend, Quinn, who interestingly enough is listed as Drunk Girl number one in The Dark Tower and was in a Fall Out Boy music video.
Jeff:
Two very different career paths for these two women.
Erika:
We didn’t get the actor’s name on this list, but character Skyler may or may not stunt double for Blake Lively.
Jeff:
Yeah, they definitely were looking for the great life brand, Blake Lively, for that character. Absolutely.
Erika:
Now, I know this is one of your favorite segments, the equipment facts, no wheelchairs to speak of in this film, so no quickie identifiers here, but we did have a couple of devices on Grace’s bedside table. What were they? Research and speculation can only get us so far.
Jeff:
I have no idea what these two things are. There is this gray device with a giant butterfly sticker on it, and I’m guessing that that butterfly sticker is covering the brand name, which means I could have probably figured it out, but they covered it. Then, there’s this tube thing, with a tube thing, with a tube, with a nipple on it and I just have no idea. I have never seen this device. I’m wondering if it’s a feeding device maybe, or if anybody knows what the heck these two devices are, please email us because I just have no idea.
Erika:
Yeah, I’m guessing that since Grace’s medical condition was entirely fabricated, the medical equipment on her bedside table was whatever the heck we could get our hands on that looks like it helps her breathe.
Jeff:
Sort of, yeah. It was sort of gestured as medicine and breathing apparatus. The gray device might be a suction device of some variety, but it does not look like any of the types of suction devices I’ve ever seen. I haven’t seen all of them. I’m not like a suction device aficionado. I mean, I have one, but I use, because I do have breathing problems and these are not the devices I would’ve seen.
Then, Grace also uses a puffer, which is also, I don’t understand because they say that she has problems breathing, that she has heart problems. Maybe they’re saying she has asthma. I’m not sure.
Erika:
Yeah. Is that the two times that she has unclear whether it’s an asthma attack or an anxiety attack and…
Jeff:
Or a heart attack.
Erika:
… it’s like, me, “Get her, her medicine. Where are your meds? Where are your meds?” It’s unclear what meds.
Jeff:
It’s a puffer, which, yeah. I don’t know what is happening in this whole situation. I also find it hard to believe that somebody who has “heart problems” wouldn’t have an EKG or some sort of heart monitoring device beside the bed.
Erika:
Yeah. Onto production facts, we have Donald Leow, producer, director of such Christian hits as For the Glory and Badge of Faith.
Jeff:
I really want to watch Badge of Faith. There are prop guns in Badge of Faith. I want to see it.
Erika:
Yeah. Well-
Jeff:
No disabled people that I know of.
Erika:
Yeah, that on your own time, I guess.
Jeff:
That one’s just for me, my private viewing.
Erika:
Then, we have, we really don’t have anything for production facts for this film. We know written by Chris and Katherine Craddock, who as far as research can tell us, have basically done nothing else.
Jeff:
Yeah. There is a reference throughout the text about a Christian youth group that seems to be very active in the United States. There are divisions of this youth group in Canada, but shockingly, none in our hometown in London, Ontario. We had no means of trying to find out anything really more about these people. I have no idea if they paid to be involved or if they paid to make the film maybe, but I will say I think every actor in this film had strong Sunday School, Christian Youth Group vibes, every single one of them, even like the adults. Would you say that’s fair, Erika?
Erika:
Yeah. Even the mean girls who notably were not wearing crosses around their necks, if they weren’t acting mean girl and were wearing crosses around their neck, they fit in well with the rest of the cast.
Jeff:
I wouldn’t be shocked if most of the people in this film are all a part of the same youth group.
Erika:
Yeah. Well, how else would they have multiple T-shirts in the film that have the youth group name on them.
Jeff:
It is that time, our favorite time of every episode where it is time for us to rate this film. For those of you who have not listened to the show before, we have our very own Invalid Culture scale, which measures the quality of film based on four scientifically designed questions. He puts his tongue firmly in cheek. The way this game works is like golf, the lower the score for the film, the better the film is.
Let’s start out with question number one. Question number one, Erika, on a scale of one to five, with five being the least accurate, how accurate does this film portray disability?
Erika:
I’m really torn on this one, but I think I’m going to go with a four out five. I am giving mercy for Ben because I thought Ben was a pretty decently portrayed character. I also thought that, although overblown, the ableism was in the direction of reality.
Jeff:
Yeah, I also gave it a four.
Erika:
Okay.
Jeff:
I took off marks for a different reason. I took off marks because the biomedical of this film was just complete nonsense. I mean, yes, people with Down syndrome do have chronic heart conditions. Typically, people with Down syndrome could have problems breathing. All of those things are accurate, but the way that it was just smashed together in this jambalaya of medicalism, I felt was, definitely should have removed a mark. I agree. I think the ableism, although, on steroids, I think was kind of accurate to the ways that people think about intellectual disability at times.
Erika:
Onto the next question, with five being the hardest, how hard was it to get through this film?
Jeff:
I always struggle with this question, always, but it’s because I am a weirdo who loves terrible films, but I gave this one a four. It wasn’t the hardest thing I’ve ever watched. There were some trying moments, but I think the thing about this film is that it takes very seriously that old school like filmmaker’s motto, which is that every scene should increase the drama from the previous scene, but this movie starts with a fat shaming of a teenager whose parents come outside and scream, “Why do you hate our daughter?” It has to go up from there.
This thing just ratchets every scene is just more extreme and unbelievable than the last. That kept me hooked. I’m giving it a four. Sorry. I guess, I shot the other way around, I’m giving this a two, a two out of five. I felt that it was actually very easy to get through this film.
Erika:
Wow. I gave this one a four because I did find it cringe factor alone made it hard to get through this film. I was physically uncomfortable watch. I was so distracted by just the silliest little things, like why are they selling popcorn in a smoothie shop and why are there clearly no drinks in the drink until it gets spilled? There were just so many, they’re not even disability related bits, but just the film production had so many cringy and then it’s just, oh gosh, I can’t, that’s a separate episode. We’ll just leave it at a four.
Jeff:
Yeah. I mean the production of this film was fairly bad. This was YouTube quality film making. I’m so sorry everyone involved, but actually I’m kind of not sorry. All right. Question number three, scale of one to five, with five being the maximum, how often did you laugh at things that were not supposed to be funny?
Erika:
I think that’s a five for me. I laughed…
Jeff:
Easy five.
Erika:
… constantly at this film.
Jeff:
Easy Five. This movie was unintentionally hilarious. Even the things that were trying to be funny, were hilarious because they were so cringy.
Erika:
Yup. I’m with you there.
Jeff:
Easy five.
Erika:
Yeah. Our last category, how many steps back has this film put disabled people with five being the most?
Jeff:
I gave this a 3.5. I don’t think it set us back a lot. There were definitely some questions. I think the preacher’s sermon alone set us back at least one step. I’m going to give it a 3.5.
Erika:
I’m going to have to give this one a generous four for well-intentioned because although, I don’t think it hit the mark by any means, I do think that there was some well-intentioned here.
Jeff:
Okay. Drum roll please. That means this has achieved our third award. Our third rate a crime may have been committed. I think that’s fair because that scene of the two girls definitely felt like something that would be shown at the UN.
Erika:
Yeah, I had a feeling of being violated at some points in this film.
Jeff:
Absolutely. I definitely gagged at least once while watching this film. This concludes another episode of Invalid Culture. Thank you for joining us. I hope you enjoyed it or not. Did you have a film you would like for us to cover on the pod or even better? Do you want to be a victim on Invalid Culture? Head a word to our website, invalidculture.com and submit. We would love to hear from you. That’s it for this episode. Catch you next month and until then, stay Invalid.
[Outro verse from the chorus of “Arguing with Strangers” by Mvll Crimes]

 

"Swept Up By Christmas" dvd cover, featuring characters Gwen and Reed standing together before a festive backdrop

Just in time for Hanukkah, a special guest joins Invalid Culture!

In an IC first, Erika and Jeff are joined on our December episode by Paralympic wheelchair racer and budding movie star Josh Cassidy. Together we’ll chat about working in the television/film industry as a disabled person and unpack his recent Hallmark holiday film Swept Up By Christmas. Will Josh’s character find love? Is love the friends we make along the way? Find out in this very special episode!

Listen at…

Podcast Transcript

[Intro song: sleigh bells leading into folk punk song “War on Christmas” by Ramshackle Glory. Lead singer sings “Take down the lights, I don’t do Christmas. Religion is fine, I just hate Christmas.”]

Erika:

Welcome to Invalid Culture, a podcast dedicated to excavating the strangest, most baffling and worst representations of disability in popular culture. Unlike other podcasts that review films you’ve probably heard of, Invalid Culture is all about looking into the abyss of pop culture-adjacent representations that just never quite broke through because, well, they’re awful. I’m your co-host, Erika.

Jeff:

And I am your other co-host, Jeff. And in light of the holiday season, and as proud soldiers in the war against Christmas, this month’s episode is going to be a little different. Today we are joined by a real life Paralympic athlete turned disabled actor, who starred as the wheelchair-using vet, Mike, in a recent Hallmark film, Swept Up by Christmas. That’s right, we are joined by Burgoyne’s most famous son, all-around Bruce County beefcake, Josh Cassidy. Josh, welcome, as our first ever guest ever on this show.

Josh:

(laughing) Thank you.

Jeff:

You’re it.

Josh:

It’s an honor. Number one. That’s what I strive to be.

Jeff:

Number one in my heart. So, Josh, why don’t you tell us a little bit about who are you? Why should people care about Josh Cassidy?

Josh:

Oh my gosh. I don’t know why they should.

Erika:

So, what I’ve got so far is small town, perhaps, actor, Paralympic athlete, and long-term childhood friend of Jeff Preston. And I understand there’s a little bit of a story about how you and Jeff first met, so would you care to share a little bit more about that?

Josh:

Sure, yeah. We met, probably, I must have been nine or 10 years old. My dad was in the military, so we had moved all across Canada nine times… or, eight times in the first nine years of my life. And then, he left the military. We settled in Bruce County, going to elementary school in Port Elgin. Jeff’s dad, who is a police officer, came and spoke to the school, and after the presentation was done and we go back to our classrooms, and there was a knock on the door and he was at the door, and he asked the teacher if I could come out and he could talk to me. So as a nine year old, curious, slightly scared, did I do something wrong? I’m sure entered my mind at some point.

Josh:

But Jeff’s dad is just the most chill, soft spoken guy, and was just super kind, knowing I was just new to the area, and asked if I wanted to meet his son who happened to use a wheelchair as well. And yeah, that’s how our first, I don’t know, playdate or whatever you would call it at that age… I don’t even know what we did the first time, now that I think about it. But I mean, our early childhood was a lot of mini sticks, and video games, and video games, and reading, and Star Wars, and adventures in the… What would you call it? There was a name for the woods behind the town.

Jeff:

Beiner’s Forest.

Josh:

Yeah. So anyways, lots of awesome childhood memories.

Jeff:

I think it’s important to note that you said that our early childhood consisted of those things. I also think our teenager years and our adult years, that it didn’t actually change. We never grew up.

Josh:

It happened until we both left the town. We just lost the town and each other, that was all.

Jeff:

That’s it. That’s it. But as I said, there’s always that open… The invite is always open. If you want to come over for a sleepover, we can get back out on the road and play some hockey again.

Josh:

That would be great.

Erika:

So, how did you end up from small town, Bruce… Is it Bruce County?

Josh:

Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Erika:

To the big screen, the Olympic stage.

Josh:

So, I always loved sports as a kid, and as I just mentioned, hockey was a big passion of mine, as it was Jeff’s growing up. And one of the challenges in school was being able to partake in extracurricular sports, and I always found a way to figure out how to adapt, and the schools, especially in that area, Port Elgin and Owen Sound where I grew up at that stage, there was really great teachers that, helped navigate through. But extracurricular, there was more bumps, as health and safety had a lot more restrictions and concerns about other kids getting injured if they knock into your chair or whatnot.

Josh:

So, wheelchair racing was something that was introduced to me as a possibility for track and field in high school, and around the same time as the Sydney Paralympic games. Watched our Canadian, Jeff Adams, power away to medals, and I just was super intrigued by it and thought it looked fun. And so, that’s how I got started.

Josh:

Ironically, in our hometown, I had a chance meeting with a Paralympic coach that was there on business, and he got me connected as well, and that sort of was the beginning of my journey from the small town. I mean, in the small town too, I mean, I had the local track club that was great, but so much of my training throughout most of my career was on my own. And yeah, eventually I went to Sheridan College for illustration, and continued training there, and made my first national team, and yeah, the journey continued.

Erika:

And then, so how long have you been, I guess, doing elite athletics?

Josh:

I started competing around 2000, so 21 years, and my first national team was 2005. I believe it was 2005-6. So yeah, quite a while, now.

Erika:

And how long have you been into acting?

Josh:

Well, the first television commercial stuff that I did was most as an athlete, as myself, or as a wheelchair racer. So that’s how I first got some commercial gigs, and then that progressed to just taking some casting calls for other commercials, which another one was a BMO one, and Suicide Squad, which I was an extra in. And both of those was also some kind of, a little bit of consulting on the disability aspect. And then, yeah, this Swept Up by Christmas.

Josh:

I think they saw, I think the agency saw an audition I did for another show, where I actually played someone pretty much the opposite of my character in Swept Up by Christmas. He was a pretty chip on his shoulder, angry, I think war vet as well, but much different. But anyways, had an audition, and it was really after the fact for most of these that, oh, you’re an athlete as well? And that came about. So, yeah, it’s fun.

Jeff:

Yeah. I noticed that you said you were in Suicide Squad. How did that come together, what was your role, and would the movie have been better if you were the main character, and not Jared Leto?

Josh:

First of all, how did it come about? Oh, well, my mind is on Jared Leto right now.

Jeff:

Who isn’t?

Erika:

You speak for all of us when you say…

Josh:

I was thinking like, honestly, everything I have seen him in, he is fantastic. I have the understanding that there is way more that was shot that was cut. Obviously, that doesn’t change the take on the character, which wasn’t totally his, but it would be interesting to get a full take of what it was.

Josh:

So, I mean, it was crazy. I always, obviously I’ve been into comic books. I mentioned, I went to this school at Sheridan for illustration, and that was really derived from a very early love of superheroes, comic books and drawing, ever since I was a little kid. And so, obviously superhero movies and wanting to take a shot at acting at some point, it was always something just, I thought that would be fun.

Josh:

And I guess I put it out into the universe, and I got this random call the day before flying back from Australia from a training camp, and it was someone who had recommended me, gave me my number for a production that was going on in Toronto for a Warner Brothers movie, that sounded like a superhero movie, all tightlipped, whatever. And of course, I’m a comic book fan, nerd, so I know everything that’s going on and shooting. I’m like, oh my God, I’ve heard these rumors about Suicide Squad. This has got to be what it is.

Josh:

So, I had some conversations, because they’re looking for amputees, contortionists. They wouldn’t give much info beyond that. And would I be interested in having some discussions? So, when I got back, had meetings, and went on set, and they were rehearsing it at that point. And by then, I had figured it out, and they knew that I had figured it out, but they really weren’t allowed to say either. But will Smith was training in the next room for his dead shot rolls, and went into the room where Margot Robbie does her, where the very first opening scene where she’s like in a cage, tension area, right, as Harley Quinn. So, seeing that set up go, and man, just the scale of this thing is like, these big productions, that was just eye opening for me.

Josh:

So, the character was to be, well, it was going to be what eventually to me was probably the worst part of the movie, which was the basically sort of zombified. I don’t even remember. They’re like, yeah, zombified kind of super soldiers, these sort of black things that just you could kill, chop and arm a leg off, they’d keep fighting, type of thing. For me, even though I’m in a wheelchair, it was like, we need some double A gams, people that are athletic, that could maybe do some stunt work. So for me, I played goalie, as Jeff knows, on my knees in road hockey, and so my legs can bend all over. So basically, I had to strap my legs up as if they were amputated. The intention was for the shot was like, I would have, I would be basically blown apart and then keep on fighting from the ground.

Josh:

So then, I also helped with them consulting, bringing some other athletes that I knew that were amputees, and try to help recruit a team of these soldiers that would be blown to bits, but then keep on fighting. And rehearsed for one or two big scenes, and the one scene was shot during the national championships, which I was contracted to do, so I missed that one. And then, the other scene was literally on the last day of filming, and it was an all night film shoot. It was a week before the Pan Am games in Toronto.

Josh:

And yeah, again, just the scale was just incredible. It was like, it’s this massive lot, and it just really hit home. When you watch a movie, at the end, all of the credits that scroll, and all of those people, those are all humans with faces and lives that play a huge role, each and every single one, to make this whole thing come together. And then, when you’re on such a big production, you see all these faces and all this stuff that goes in, and the organization and network. It’s incredible.

Josh:

So anyways, long story short, my scene in the end, the ones that I rehearsed for, I didn’t shoot. The ones that I did were, it’s sort of the scene, and I think it’s even in the trailer, where Will Smith’s on this car. All these like zombie super soldier, black Uzi things are coming at him. And, do you want me to tell you the story of what I shot?

Jeff:

I was just going to say, did Will Smith kill you?

Josh:

So, unfortunately, Will Smith was shooting on that same day, because they were doing all these last minute reshoots, so it was a stunt actor that did, that shot me.

Jeff:

So, you were killed by the symbolic Will Smith?

Josh:

Yes, the fake one. They recreated this street, and everything is on fire, and they recreated part of the gardener that was crashed and down on this lot. And basically, they’re all just rushing towards this car that will Smith is on to attack him. And it’s basically like a football charge, rush the quarterback scenario.

Josh:

But for me it’s like, my legs are blown off, so I’m not in that first part. I’m after he starts unleashing. And they’re like, okay, so what we’re doing here is, they’re all going to be rushing. We need you to hide under this car, okay? Now, they’re going to be rushing. I want you to look at me. We’re going to count down the steamboats. One steamboat, two steamboat. They’re going to rush, and then you crawl, but you don’t go earlier than that, because they’ll just run right through you. And they’re like all parkouring through cars and everything, right? But don’t be late, because we’re blowing up this car that you’re under, so you want to get out of there.

Josh:

So, I’m crawling, and this is like a week before the Pan American Games, and my national team would have killed me if they knew. I was nervous myself. Oh shit, what did I do? And yeah, you’re crawling over broken glass and there’s fire and explosions going on. And anyways, they sort of like, kills everyone, and I’m one of the last ones, and I go back to shoot him again, and there’s this sort of 300 scene that’s filmed from the stop where there’s just all these dead soldiers, and I go to try and pop one more in him and he shoots me.

Josh:

But anyways, so much of that film is cut. I don’t… I can point out myself if I saw it. It’s a blink of an eye. So much of that film, from what I understand, like David Ayer a has done so many grounded movies, like End of Watch and Fury. And so, the take that it went, you can tell where the studio went in and was like, ooh, I think zombie soldiers and the Enchantress character… And I don’t know whose was whose idea, but there was just a disconnect from such a grounded thing that was happening, and something else. But anyway, that’s my Suicide Squad story.

Jeff:

And probably bad if you had died under that car in real life, we should say.

Josh:

Yeah.

Jeff:

That’s good. That’s good that you weren’t late.

Josh:

The stories that these stunt actors just casually tell was just crazy, the stuff. Oh yeah, hey, check out this one. This is where I was driving this F-1 car and I had to, the car, the wheel blows, so then I have to drive into this semi-truck. And it’s like, this is a car accident where people get killed and it’s like, this is their day job. It’s nuts. Yeah.

Erika:

You’re hitting some interesting themes that have come up in past episodes.

Josh:

Oh, yeah?

Erika:

Yeah. We’ve talked a bit about stunting, or I guess, who’s this stunt work, but also consulting. So, the first movie, the very first episode that did when we were researching a bit about the film, we found out that there was actually a hired disability consultant. And then, our more recent, Mac and Me, we learned that the disabled actor who was hired for the lead role, we learned through the audio commentary that he had consulted a lot on the film. So was that, is that… I’m just curious about your experience with consulting and what that was like.

Josh:

Yeah. I think all three, it was like I was hired as an actor or a stunt, and those bigger ones that I had mentioned. But I mean, all were extremely, let us know. What do we need to do? What’s right? What’s wrong? What can we do to make things easier, help? So, they were all very receptive and took some initiative on some fronts to try and do things, and on other fronts were like, oh yeah, we totally failed here. Please tell us what to do. So the way I was approached, I really appreciated it a lot.

Josh:

And the BMO commercial, that was one as well where it was like, waitlists, and so there was some messaging there that kind of conflicted with me, that I think they were pretty appreciative of, because basically in the commercial it’s like this. You put in your wish, and so the commercial’s like, my wife wishes that I can basically not be confined to my wheelchair, right? And it wasn’t those words exactly, but it was very much that was the vibe.

Josh:

And I was like, listen, I don’t wish that I wasn’t in a wheelchair. I mean, it would be great and cool to walk and run and jump and do all these things, but this is who I am, and it’s brought me so many good things, and I’ve accepted that. So, it wouldn’t be my wish, so if it was her wish, that would be kind of weird. But it was more like, you know what I wish? I’m like, I actually wish I could fly. So, why don’t we change this messaging to just being like, I wish that I could fly, and my wife wishes to see me be able to have the freedom of flight kind of thing. So kind of, the sentiment is there, but it’s a total different angle on the whole thing, right?

Jeff:

Yeah. I’ve got to say, when I first saw you on commercial, at the start of it, from the music, and you’re up in the plane, and I was like, oh hamburgers, here we go, right? This is going to be that classic thing about oh, if only I had one wish, I wish he was cured.

Josh:

Yeah.

Jeff:

But then you get this like actual, nice inversion at the end, where it’s like, yeah, no, the wish wasn’t liberation from the chair, the wish was to do something wild. It was…

Josh:

That everyone would love to do, right? Yeah.

Jeff:

Yeah. Now, I have a theory. You’ve been in a couple BMO commercials, and so I now call it the BMO-verse.

Josh:

I’m pretty sure it’s called the BMO effect, isn’t it?

Jeff:

The BMO effect? Maybe. Yeah. That’s true. So, I’ve noticed in the BMO-verse, you have a wife in the wishes, but you are definitely out with another woman during a solar eclipse, or a lunar eclipse.

Josh:

Here is the confusion, okay?

Jeff:

Okay.

Josh:

It wasn’t me in both of them. I mean, it was me as an actor, but in the BMO-verse, right? Me with my wife was one character. It was actually Mike from Swept Up by Christmas, that’s in the background having a latte with that other woman. So, it’s really Mike that’s… I don’t know in the BMO-verse if that’s before or after he met his Swept Up by Christmas… Vanessa, was her name.

Jeff:

Vanessa, yeah.

Josh:

I’m just trying to remember her name.

Jeff:

You don’t remember the love of your life?

Josh:

Yeah.

Jeff:

Wait, are you saying you are not with Vanessa on the west coast right now?

Josh:

Listen, I don’t know where the BMO-verse version of Mike slipped into that dimension and stream, so I don’t know if it was before or after Vanessa, so I can’t comment. Mike might be a closet sleazebag, like oh yeah, another latte, with another woman, kind of thing.

Jeff:

Let’s go out with the solar eclipse.

Josh:

Yeah.

Jeff:

Lose your sight, but I’ll take care of you, baby.

Josh:

Yeah.

Erika:

So, two things here from me. One, and I don’t know if this question’s out of bounds, but…

Josh:

No.

Erika:

Are BMO and Hallmark the same thing?

Josh:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Erika:

They have overlapping universe?

Josh:

Oh, there’s a question.

Jeff:

I’ll say, nothing says Christmas like a bank. I think we can all agree on that, right?

Erika:

Now, I’m just thinking of, they have Interact commercials now where you can use your internet cards the way people used to drop coins into the charity tins. Now they have Interact commercials for that.

Jeff:

This is all coming together, guys. I feel like, I think this podcast is done. We sorted it out.

Erika:

Wait, wait, wait. We don’t know anything about the film yet. It’s time to get into Swept Up by Christmas.

Jeff:

Oh yeah, we should talk about that.

Josh:

Right, right.

Erika:

Josh, please, can you tell us, for listeners who haven’t seen the film, tell us a little bit about that film.

Jeff:

Basically, a Hallmark movie, Christmas movie. There’s a guy and a girl, and someone’s not in the Christmas spirit. Someone gets them in the Christmas spirit, and then they live happily ever after right at the end.

Josh:

Oh, was I in this one?

Jeff:

So, who are you? And who are you in all this?

Josh:

So, Swept Up by Christmas is basically, she’s an antique dealer, and the main character, lead male is a war vet who has a cleaning business. They meet on the sale of this estate, and yes, it’s about her bringing him back into the Christmas spirit. I am the main lead’s friend and business partner, named Mike, who is also a war vet. And yeah, basically they have this little business that helps war vets adjust to civilian life, and their cleaning business is their little passion thing, and then there’s a little side romance interest for Mike in the movie.

Erika:

And it’s the aforementioned Vanessa?

Josh:

Oui. C’est vrai. This is a bilingual podcast.

Jeff:

Yeah, it is. It is now. So, one thing that we love to do on this podcast is, we love to see what others have to say about the film. And so, we went out. There were not a lot of reviews, I have to say. Fans of the show, you are not doing your job. There were not a lot of reviews about this movie. But there was one really interesting thing that I learned. Actually, there were two interesting things. Thing number one, I learned there a lot of people writing reviews of every single Hallmark Christmas movie. It is like a whole community, and that is a thing that I didn’t know I needed to know, but I know it now, and I feel better.

Jeff:

But there were two reviews that really caught my eye. A lot of the reviews of this film felt that maybe the main romance was a little flat in nature. However, both on a website called Jamie’s Two Cents, and as well, a website called Lifetime Uncorked, two different reviewers said that they would have preferred if the story instead had been focused on Mike and Vanessa. An Amazon reviewer even went on to say, quote, “I gave this an extra star, four out of five stars to Hallmark, for adding the storyline featuring someone in a physically challenging role. And yes, it’s a formula movie, but I have to admit, I’m a fan of Hallmark’s Christmas movies.”

Jeff:

Now, I’m assuming that was a typo, and they meant physically challenged, but I will allow you to respond to movie guy on Amazon. Would you say your role was physically challenging?

Josh:

Oh, I don’t care.

Erika:

I mean, relative to the other work you described, that sounded like very physically challenging work.

Josh:

You know what, it was long days. The physically challenged… Suicide Squad was pretty physically challenging. And actually, the BMO was a stunt commercial as well. But you know what, it was a really great experience learning-wise for me, and lines and a whole role, and the long days and weeks that all went into that, and the process. Yeah, I mean, obviously Mike is in a wheelchair, so on the consulting side for this, they were more just really open, like what do you need on set?

Josh:

For the script itself, I had one or two kind of adjustments or amendments that I kind of put forward. I can’t remember the first one. The second one… I mean, there was definitely the one, I think it was, when he’s talking about his disability, and how it crushed his, I think it was C4 or something, right? Well, so I am partially paralyzed from L4 down, L3, L4. So I said, if this is integral to the story, I would have to change my level of ability and what I can do to represent if that’s important. If it’s not important, we change the script so that this is where I was injured, so that it’s accurate. So, I had to go through Hallmark and their writers, and their writers, and their writers, and it all got approved, and of course, move ahead, and yeah.

Jeff:

And I’ve got to say, that is something that is always, I’ve found, so strange about films, is that it’s like disability is this throwaway. Like, they don’t actually care if the definition or diagnosis is at all even close, right? They’re just like, I don’t know, C1, maybe. Oh, it looks like muscular dystrophy, I don’t know. And yet, the person is fully walking around with like a little limp.

Josh:

Oh, here’s the thing, though, here’s the thing. To be fair to them, if I’m thinking about these writers, and they’re churning these things out, it’s like, get the script written, throw something in. Let them hire someone else to do… Let’s check our disability accuracy facts here and consult someone that knows what’s going on. But yes, there isn’t always those people in place to catch these types of things, and agreed, it’s kind of thrown in at times. And I was super grateful for this role and this opportunity, and of course, there has to be something that ties in. For me, okay, that’s the reality, and like the other auditions I’ve done, somehow their physical disability is a part of their character. I mean, it’s a part of everyone’s life who has a disability.

Josh:

But at the same time, I mean, I’m not going off on some acting career crusade. I would love to do something with a lot more depth or whatever. But I’d also love to do something where it’s like, the disability part doesn’t even come up, too. Like, I would just, I’d like to take the Rock’s role in some action movie and try and do a better acting job, and bring something that’s great without actually having to delve too deeply.

Josh:

At the same time, I know all stories and drama are about going through challenges and heartbreak and an emotional component, and most people who have a disability have gone through that at some stage, so that’s a real part that people with a disability can connect with to portray that more realistically, too. So, I also appreciate that they’re seeking out more often people with disabilities, rather than trying to have an actor portray them.

Josh:

And again, on the flip side, because I’m both, I just, to bring full perspective, I don’t think there’s anything totally immoral about somebody who doesn’t have a disability playing someone with a disability completely, myself. Acting is roleplaying and diving into a character, and that might be someone of a different ability or a disability, or gender, or culture, whatever it is, however, with Hollywood and the way it is. It’s just like, okay, we’ve had enough of white mainstream playing other cultures and disabilities and whatever. It’s like, we have a huge demographic here that is not represented, and it’s time to kind of bring them into the fold. So, at least it feels like there’s that progression.

Jeff:

Yeah. I think honestly, Hallmark, I think, gets a lot of kudos for this film, and other films as well. I think Hallmark has actually kind of latched on to disability in a way I think others haven’t. But having said that, Erika and I have some questions. We have some questions for you about this film.

Josh:

I thought you were going to go on the LGBTQ, how there isn’t representation there.

Erika:

Oh, and that’s funny. It’s funny, that’s not how I would have phrased that. I wouldn’t have phrased it that way. I was just going to say, this is the most remarkably cis-heteronormative story I have seen ever in my life. And I want to say, this was also my first ever Hallmark Christmas movie.

Josh:

Same.

Erika:

Okay. Okay. And that just really stood out for me.

Josh:

I hear it all the same. I am only aware of this because I was involved in one, so then I was reading all the headlines of backlash, of there is no other kind of alternative storylines with representation. And so, anyways. I mean, we joked on set when we were reading this, like hey, I think we should actually really put a plot twist in there, and just be like, hey, Mike and his best friend, I forget what his name is already, Justin Bruening’s character, we’re actually lovers the whole time. Because we actually showed up to the party with the same sweater and the same pants. So we were like, maybe I slept over and I took something from his closet, and that’s literally our coming out of the closet together. And we just helped Hallmark take care of another area. Maybe they’re doing one this year. I don’t know. I don’t know. There’s probably 12 new ones.

Jeff:

Erika, I will say…

Erika:

This is a hard flash forward to a question I had, which is, will we get a sequel, perhaps titled Moved by Hanukkah? And then, you know, at the time, I think we were curious about maybe exploring your budding relationship on the west coast, but I really like where you’re taking this.

Jeff:

I fully agree.

Josh:

Maybe that’s the big plot twist. I go out with Vanessa to the west coast, and it’s like, no. I miss Reed. That was his name. And yeah, we really explore a lot more things out west.

Jeff:

I’ve got to say, your scenes together, I felt, were electric. I feel like there was something there. I fully do.

Josh:

It was fun.

Jeff:

So, I endorse it.

Josh:

He was, it was great to work with other people, both… I mean, Vanessa’s character, she has a big stage background, but both of the leads have been in lots of shows and movies and have a full acting career, so it was actually really great to feed off of them and their experience, and how relaxed they were, and also their approach, too. Like here, I’m looking at the script like, man, what do I do with this? And realizing that was the same for everyone. It’s like, okay, these movies are cheesy cardboard cutter, similar plotlines. People love them. That’s why they keep making them. But then it’s like, how do we try and bring something that feels real and authentic somehow to this? Anyways, it was good to experience that.

Erika:

I would just comment, you did not stand out as a lesser caliber actor. In fact, a decent part of the way through, I think I said you are by far my favorite character in this film.

Josh:

Oh, thank you. Well, thanks. Thank you.

Jeff:

I was biased. Erika was not.

Erika:

No!

Jeff:

So, that’s an authentic take.

Erika:

Yeah. So, recruiters out there, you have got some serious potential here in Josh Cassidy.

Josh:

Oh, thank you.

Jeff:

Absolutely.

Josh:

Thank you. I’d love to do something else again.

Jeff:

Now, I do have a bone to pick with you, though.

Josh:

Go for it.

Jeff:

So, throughout the film, your character seems to have this object fixation. In almost every scene, you are holding something, whether it’s a coffee cup, or a champagne glass, or a pen, or a pot. Your hands are always occupied.

Josh:

Interesting.

Jeff:

What’s the backstory on Mike’s need to have his hands occupied?

Josh:

Well, really, my hands were actually separately contracted. They are their own actors.

Jeff:

Right. It was in their rider.

Josh:

So, they have their own rules, their own contracts. Like, he’s playing the writer, he’s playing the champagne glass holder. And so, they had their own things that they had to do. One of them had to have a makeover, because the one is tattooed. So, my wonderful makeup artist did an amazing job covering it up. So, maybe that’s not equal representation. Maybe there’s something that isn’t fully exposed in its authentic nature there. But you know what? There’s a role to play. My hands were down. They signed the line, and they did their job.

Jeff:

Yeah, I was trying to think back into our past, if you often had things in your hands when we were friends.

Josh:

No. I mean…

Jeff:

I feel like you do have an average, you’re an average thing in hand person, I would say.

Erika:

Yeah, that’s it.

Josh:

I don’t think I’m over the top. It’s like, the marker, I’m drawing on the board, so I’ve got to have it. The mug, I’m taste testing, so hey, I have to be interacting. The champagne glass just got shoved to me, like hold this, you’re drinking champagne, it’s a party. But you know what, maybe it’s just that my hands were such great actors, it was like, you’re just drawn to them, like oh my god, those are their own roles happening on this film. So, you know what, I’d like to see what roles they have in the future.

Jeff:

It’s true. Yeah. You can’t question the artist, right?

Josh:

No, that’s right.

Jeff:

The artist just knows what to do.

Josh:

Yeah.

Erika:

You mentioned sampling drinks, and correct me if I’m wrong, but was this from the scene with barista Vanessa, and there was a bit of a remarkable moment there, or a memorable moment there. The conversation takes a little bit of a detour.

Josh:

Right. I know what you’re talking about.

 

[Clip begins from “Swept Up By Christmas”]

Mike:

Maybe a little travel thrown in for good measure.

Vanessa:

I haven’t had the chance for that yet, but I mean, I’d love to. I started working when I was 16.

Mike:

I joined the army young, too.

Vanessa:

But you got to travel a lot?

Mike:

Not as much as I would have liked. I was quartermaster in Afghanistan, and I went out on a supply run. An RPG overturned my transport and crushed my L4. So, travel plans were postponed. I came home to Windale, and a year later met Reed at the VA, and like so many, we needed a do-over. So, let’s get to the good stuff. Yuletide first, right?

 

[Clip ends]

Erika:

I’m sharing Jeff’s observation here, that your character comes a little bit out of left field with this disability origin story.

Josh:

Yes.

Erika:

So, can you tell us, was that intended? Was that something that you asked for, or had questions about?

Josh:

It was in the script. That was a part that was changed a bit, because I had the disability part. The other line part was changed in there, and I don’t remember what it was off the top of my head. But I had a lot of conversations with the director, Philippe, who was just awesome, and it was like, okay, this is Mike’s kind of moment. He tells his story, and it’s obviously, it feels shoved in, but it actually, if it holds weight, then it can be an emotional hook or whatever, to give him some depth into understanding who he is a bit. Okay, obviously it’s a bit forced, and all of the sudden in the background, but it’s about traveling, and okay. He also closes it with sort of, I’m getting sidetracked here.

Josh:

So, on one hand, it was sort of like, okay, he just got sidetracked going off into a story. On the other hand, that’s totally what it was, was how do we put this in here to give some weight. So, I mean, it was… you know what, I didn’t have a big problem with it. It was fun, and it was challenging, because in this one, all of the sudden, line-for-line, and then I got a monologue with this little story, and you go through all in one take. One sentence is happy, then it’s expressing good memories, then it’s like, I lost my legs, but hey, everything is okay. And it’s like this sort of way that I had to try and…

Josh:

I think what was on, there wasn’t anything left on the cutting room floor, but the take, I liked the take much better, and I remember that I finished a full take, and they said cut, and everyone who was on set kind of applauded it. So, I know I did a good job with it because it was taking on this whole thing. But yeah, I also didn’t want it to just end like, oh, nevermind that, too. I kind of wished that it could have gone on longer, but I’m like, you know what, that’s what a supporting character is, is trying to inject a little something, but it’s not really about you, too. So, I don’t know.

Jeff:

Contrary to the reviewer’s desire.

Josh:

Right. Yeah. They did do one Hallmark last year. I can’t remember her name. Maybe you know here. She was like, she won an Emmy, from Oklahoma.

Jeff:

I do. Ally.

Josh:

Yeah.

Jeff:

Yep.

Josh:

Did you see that one? Because I never saw it.

Jeff:

I have not. I wanted to come to your film as a purist, so I actually am never going to watch another hallmark movie ever again.

Erika:

Save it.

Jeff:

Not because they’re bad, but because I’m a Josh Cassidy purist. So, Hallmark, if you want my money, you need more Josh Cassidy. That’s the deal.

Josh:

I mean, exactly.

Jeff:

Yeah. The Josh-verse, in the Hallmark world. Yeah, I think that Lennard Davis talks a lot about how, as soon as disability is in the film, there’s this mandatory explanation of it. Like, that disability can’t just exist. It has to be grounded, it has to be situated, and that tends to come in these sort of origin stories. And so, obviously your character gets an origin story, but we don’t really get an origin story from Reed. Was it… The only way we know that Reed is a soldier is because he uses soldier talk at the end of sentences sometimes.

Josh:

Like, I’m supposed to be… Those feel forced to me, these little soldier talk force-ins. And I’m like, I grew up in the military. I know people in the military, and there’s some things that are naturally a part of it, and there are other things that feel kind of forced. But agreed, there is backstory with him, but you’re trying to work it out through the whole film and piece it together. Because as a supporting actor to him and his best friend, I’m trying to piece together, oh, this line. So, this means he had a past relationship, and oh, he left the military at this stage. So it’s like, after it you kind of piece together who he is, rather than just getting it, right?

Jeff:

It’s a slower burn. Yeah, it’s a much slower burn.

Josh:

But I wanted to, yeah. I mean, what was your feeling on it, though? On me…

Erika:

We had a, definitely I think we had the experience. We watched the films together. And we definitely had the experience of trying to piece together the backstory of that character, and we had a theory running for a while that there was a plot coming with him having PTSD. And because we, against the backdrop of these hyper gender roles, he was showing a little more emotionality than might have been expected.

Josh:

Yeah, yeah.

Erika:

And so, we thought maybe that’s where that was going to foreshadow. And you know, maybe that was there. Maybe, I don’t know if you can…

Josh:

I mean, I feel like it was, but at the same time, that’s probably why they fell flat too. Like, oh no, Justin’s this perfectly chiseled, good-looking guy. But I mean, that would have made it more interesting if they actually side plotted a little bit to more like PTSD, because that’s what he was trying to show and put through a little bit, obviously, from these little tics and attitude and all of that, right?

Erika:

That’s the future Hollywood film though, right? That busts out of the Hallmark universe.

Josh:

Right, yeah. That’s too far. And also why the brush off at the end of my store. Like, yeah, my back got crushed, but anyways, back to our Christmas story, you know? This is emotional. Don’t get too emotional. We got it.

Jeff:

It was a really, yeah. I felt like, I was like, whoa, things just got hyper serious for a split second, and then was like, back on with the program. And I’m like, I get it. This is supposed to be a movie about love and romance, and kind of softcore, in some ways. You have this titillating dialogue back and forth, right?

Josh:

Yeah, agreed. It is kind of, it is rushed, but you just try and do what you can with it. I got… I mean, maybe it’s also just in our position, because I did get messages from other people that were like, this part, that was so good, or that was really convincing, and whatever, whatever. So, yeah, I know that we’re probably so much more hyperaware of it, too, in our positions.

Jeff:

Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the moral of the story is, if you’re on a date and the partner brings up travel, your best bet is to follow it up with how, on the last time you were traveling, your spine was crushed after an IED attack. Love is in the air. Now, I’ve got to know, was your character always intended to be a wheelchair user?

Josh:

Yes.

Jeff:

Or did you get the role, and they were like, oh, wheelchair user?

Josh:

No, no. It was intended, yeah.

Jeff:

Cool.

Josh:

And I mean, what I appreciated about the director too was, he’s telling me about one of his friends who also uses a wheelchair, and was describing him and who he is and mindset, and all that kind of stuff. And it was one of the early discussions that we had. I’m like, how recent did Mike get paralyzed? Because that changes how I would portray the character, as well. Like, is he still working through this? Is he whatever? And he’s like, no, no, this is done with. He’s dealt with it. He’s happy. He’s good. What you kind of brought just naturally in our first talk interview before even reading the script is the type of energy and mindset that I want to give this character. So, it wasn’t too much diving crazy. It was more of accentuating certain things for myself to try to bring to it, then. But yeah, so I mean, conversations like that, I appreciated, because that changes totally a character’s perception or how they’re portrayed.

Erika:

So, I don’t know if you guys are familiar with the Fries test?

Josh:

No.

Erika:

Jeff most likely is, but for Josh, for the audience, and Jeff, correct me if I’ve got this wrong, but as I understand, the Fries test is testing essentially the quality of disability representation in media.

Jeff:

Yeah.

Erika:

So, it’s based on, I believe it’s based on a gender test.

Jeff:

Yeah, the Bechdel test.

Erika:

Bechdel test, okay, which the questions are basically like, does the work have, in the gender test, does the work have at least two women in it? Do they talk to each other? And if they talk to each other, do they talk about something other than a man?

Josh:

Right, right, right.

Erika:

Right? And so, the fries test, which I presume is named for Kenny Fries?

Jeff:

Kenny Fries, yeah.

Erika:

Asks, does the work have more than one disabled character? Do the disabled characters have their own narrative purpose, other than the profit of a non-disabled character? And is the character’s disability not eradicated by curing or killing? And this is why I would…

Jeff:

And this movie passes!!!

Erika:

It does! That’s where I was going with the PTSD trope, was that I think it’s implied enough that Reed has PTSD that we could say that we have two disabled characters, who are interacting, who have their own narrative purpose, and neither of them is cured or killed.

Josh:

Right. Wow.

Jeff:

Exactly. Absolutely. I honestly, like I said, from the very beginning, hat tip to Hallmark, I think, on this test.

Josh:

Yeah.

Jeff:

I mean, say what you will about Christmas movies, but I think this was a really progressive film, when it comes to disability representation. Not where I thought I would find it, but here we are.

Josh:

Yeah. No, it’s great. It’s great. Especially a company like that, that does so many movies and has so much pull, and is so mainstream. Like, I didn’t even realized how much it was playing in other countries until this year when it came out. So, it’s great, and I hope that, I know they’ll make another dozen or two dozen this year, so I hope they’re doing more that are continuing that trend and with other minorities, as well.

Erika:

I think you’ve already spoken to this a bit, but just to name the question and hear an answer, what do you think this film got right?

Josh:

Hmm. Okay. Well, on the production side, everyone was just fantastic. They did their best to accommodate, whether it was putting in ramps or figuring things out for accessibility, and where there wasn’t, they just constantly were like, if you need anything, let us know. If we’re doing something wrong, or you need something better or different, let us know. And then, the amendments with the script. They took my feedback. They amended that to keep accuracy. And I can’t remember what the other point was on sensitivity, so you know what, it was a great experience from that perspective.

Josh:

And then, yeah, from the film, I mean, I don’t know. People love it. It’s your typical Hallmark Christmas, light. I mean, that’s what it is. That’s what it’s supposed to be. That’s why people watch them so much. We’re in a time where there’s so much stress and so many weird, crazy, horrible things going on, and people turn this on to just have something that’s a feel-good movie. So, they obviously got that right, and had some good emotional little hooks and things that made it a cute little story. So, yeah, it was a good experience, and great to have that opportunity to be a part of.

Jeff:

Well, what would you say is something that you would hope that other productions could learn from this film? Were there any innovations in the way the you filmed it using the wheelchair, or things that you learned in the production process that you’re like, yeah, I hope that filmmakers actually carry this forward?

Josh:

You know, the same parallels to my childhood and school and gym class, with teachers that got it right, as they did with this work experience. It’s basically just people asking questions, what do you need? And being receptive and listening, and just trying to do whatever is possible to make things accessible, and just feel normal and smooth without any barriers. So, taking the initiative on the first part is appreciated, even if it’s gotten wrong. If there’s an intention and effort, that’s always appreciated. And it’s being receptive and checking in. Often, they checked in more than enough with me with things. It definitely makes you feel comfortable. You never have to really worry about anything, and that’s what’s fantastic.

Josh:

Some of the harder things are what’s in advance, a set to prove, and they haven’t quite thought of, oh, jeez, this is on the third flight of stairs, and we had to overcome something like that. But you also realize the position too, and things are going to be missed, because it’s not all about the supporting character per se either. So, when it comes up and it’s realized, what action do you take, and how do you adapt and try to amend it? So, as long as that’s the approach, I don’t think you can ever go wrong or be at really any fault.

Erika:

And maybe lastly, thinking back on some of your experiences and this move from athletics towards the big screen, do you have any advice for young disabled actors who are maybe trying to break into that industry?

Josh:

Jeez, I don’t know. I don’t really actively pursue too much. Like, I see casting calls, things come my way. I respond to them. Obviously, all these things about accessibility, I don’t think you need to go over again. Just voice if you need something. I think the general narrative for actors with disabilities is how they’re represented, and speaking up if there’s something that you feel is better changed. And otherwise, it’s just doing what you do. You don’t have to do anything different, just making sure that you’re being treated yourself with the role that you feel you should play.

Josh:

And I mean, hopefully I would just like to, like I said, see more where you know that obviously there’s going to be a lot of stories. I want to see stories more too where there’s people that go through some challenge or injury or disability with a hook, and that doesn’t just have to be a full, lifetime thing. That could be a like a sports injury. Those are stories about overcoming adversity and resiliency, but my life day to day every day isn’t constantly some of those major hurdles and challenges at this stage, either. I just want to go have fun and play a role with the character depth that’s obviously formed at its base from some experience, but there’s a lot more layers and a lot more things to be explored, where… I’m looking forward to the day where, yeah, we see some people in roles where there doesn’t actually have to be anything about their disability that needs to even be talked about, because there’s enough other depth there that’s brought to the character’s story.

Jeff:

Yeah. I think that’s so true. But unfortunately, on this podcast, you are not going to find those movies. That is not what we are in the business of, my friend.

Josh:

Yeah.

Jeff:

We’re here for the filth.

Josh:

Yeah, the filth. Yeah, I’m sorry I didn’t have too much dirt to dish. I mean, the hiccups that happened were so minor, and so I’m grateful for my experience and the people I was with. But it’s obviously things like this podcast which helps bring light to it, and which has brought like to these things, which made my experience better. And there’s still a lot more out there where I hear of other experiences that are not the same. So, great to bring awareness, for sure.

Jeff:

Yeah. Shout out to Hallmark. We’re going to carry your water. I might actually watch another Hallmark Christmas movie in your honor.

Erika:

And I’m waiting for the Hallmark Hanukkah.

Josh:

Yes.

Jeff:

I will gladly watch a Hanukkah movie. Let’s do it, Hallmark.

Josh:

Good luck with that.

Jeff:

I mean…

Erika:

Why, Hallmark? Why are you allowing Adam Sandler to own this niche?

Josh:

Yeah.

[Outro music: folky punk riff with horns and guitars from Ramshackle Glory’s “War on Christmas”]

Jeff:

And thus concludes the first half of season one of Invalid Culture. I hope you have been enjoying your time with us. We have certainly enjoyed watching and talking about some horrible films. If you like us and you want to give us a little Christmas present, why don’t you head on down, give us a little like or a comment on Apple music, or wherever it is you get your podcasts. But perhaps most importantly, a heartfelt and legitimate happy holidays, best of luck, and just a moment of peace and quiet to all of you over the winter break. We will see you all back in the new year, January, with another great episode of Invalid Culture. Take care, and we will talk to you soon.

 

 

Movie poster of "Mac and Me" featuring a star light night sky in blue with Mac and Eric's faces superimposed on the moon. The text reads "Eric's new in the neighborhood. Mac's new on the planet."

When you order ET on Wish.com…

This month on Invalid Culture we break our “no popular film” rule in order to take a journey deep into Erika’s childhood to watch Stewart Raffill’s baffling 1988 alien buddy film Mac & Me. Set in California, Mac & Me follows young Eric Cruise as he attempts to catch, befriend and eventually save a disturbing looking alien child who is addicted to Coca Cola. A movie that is almost universally hated by critics, how will Mac & Me fair when looked at through the lens of disability?

Listen Now!

 

Grading the Film

As always, this film is reviewed with scores recorded in four main categories, with 1 being the best and 5 being the worst. Like the game of golf, the lower the score the better.

How accurate is the representation?

Jeff – 1 / 5

Erika – 1 / 5

Total – 2 / 10

How difficult was it to watch the movie?

Erika – 3 / 5

Jeff – 4 / 5

Total – 7 / 10

How often were things unintentionally funny?

Erika – 3 / 5

Jeff – 3 / 5

Total – 6 / 10

How far back has it put disabled people?

Jeff – 1 / 5

Erika – 2 / 5

Total – 3 / 10

The Verdict

Mistakes Have Been Made

Podcast Transcript

Jeff [doing a voice]:

Have you ever had one of those days, out slurping cola from below the surface of Mars when, out of nowhere, NASA comes and kidnaps your entire family? No? Ever wonder what it would be like?

Join disturbing google-eyed alien Mac as he product placements his shapely little booty around California, befriending a young disabled boy with a death wish and eventually having a sick dance party at a totally real McDonalds.

Was ET a little too mainstream for you? Real cinephiles know the best alien/child friendship adventure is Stewart Raffill’s Mac & Me.

[Intro song: “Twinkle Lights” by The Sonder Bombs, featuring a punky rock riff]

Erika:

Welcome to Invalid Culture, a podcast dedicated to excavating the strangest and most baffling representations of disability in popular culture. Unlike other podcasts that review of films you’ve probably heard of, Invalid Culture is all about the abyss of pop culture adjacent media that just never quite broke through because well, they’re just awful. I’m your host, Erika and as always, I’m joined today by my co-host Jeff.

Jeff:

How you doing Erika?

Erika:

Oh, I am good. I am so ready to get going on this one.

Jeff:

Are you regretting doing this podcast yet? It’s episode three. How are you feeling?

Erika:

Oh I am more committed than ever. And I mean that in all possible interpretations of the word.

Jeff:

So this is a very special episode of Invalid Culture because this film comes to us, not just from the realms of popular culture but also from Erika’s past. Erika, what can you tell us about your childhood and the film Mac and Me?

Erika:

All right. Well, I wasn’t aware, I think until you brought up the possibility of doing an episode on Mac and Me that people knew about this film, it’s one of those films that I associate with my childhood. I mean, I remember E.T. but Mac and Me was something, it was something else. I remember the purple box. I remember the V-shaped whistle amplification that the aliens do with their hands. I remember the windmills, there are windmills. And I think I live in a, I come from a geographic area in which windmills became very PO popular in the last few years. And as I saw those windmills come up, I was reminded of my childhood and this film, this film about an alien and that’s really all I had to go with. I remembered the windmills. I remembered the alien. I did not remember that the main character used a wheelchair.

Jeff:

So you wouldn’t say that this film inceptioned you into becoming a disability studies professor.

Erika:

I mean, I’m rethinking everything now. It is, it’s possible that actually my life path was altered by my childhood love for this film that I now understand is a bit of a cult classic

Jeff:

Divisive. We’ll, it’s a divisive film for sure. Lovers and haters both. The film we are going to be talking about today is of course the 1980s classic Mac and Me, if you want to know what the movie Mac and Me is about, basically watch the movie E.T. and then imagine if E.T. was placed in a microwave. And what came out was the movie Mac and Me. Mac and me essentially tells the story of a young boy moving from the rough and tumble world of Illinois to greener pastures or I guess desert pastors of California. Our main character, Eric arrives in California only to discover that an alien from another planet has arrived in this town.

Jeff:

They then become friends and go through some hi jinks. And eventually our alien friend Mac is reunited with his parents. All of course, under the watchful gaze of the government who is trying to capture this alien perhaps to send them back home. Is this text an immigration text? I would say yes, definitely it is because it ends with our alien friends being naturalized as American citizens at what is perhaps the strangest citizenship ceremony I have ever seen. Is that a pretty accurate description would you say of the film?

Erika:

Yeah. I mean, a few details here and there but we’re going to fill those in as we get going.

Jeff:

So why did we decide to do this film? I mean, obviously there’s a boy in a wheelchair but why this film?

Erika:

I mean, for me personally, it was really about revisiting my childhood and just the disbelief that this was a disability film.

Jeff:

This film also has some pop culture credentials, perhaps that goes beyond what we intended for Invalid Culture, we’re breaking the rules a little bit. You may actually recognize a scene from this film, even if you have not seen it because an actor by the name of Paul Rudd for years has been using an infamous scene from this film every time goes on Conan, let’s hear actually a quick little clip explaining what in the world is going on with Paul Rudd and Mac and Me.

Paul Rudd:

I never really imagined 20 years ago. That here we would be.

Conan:

Yeah. Well, someone obviously on the internet put together, they didn’t even do all of them but you can and see, I mean, you don’t age but you see me go from a, here’s Paul Rudd to like, just this rotting pumpkin head and you see it happen over a period of years and it’s absolutely stunning, it’s this crazy performance art that lasts forever.

Paull Rudd:

I just remember the very first time thinking it’s so artificial to come on and sell your wears and show a clip from your movie. And what if I just show a clip from another movie?

Conan:

Right, right.

Paul Rudd:

We’ve never talked about this really but I thought, what if I show a clip from this movie that I saw a long time ago, that is just really strange. And there’s one scene in particular but I was waffling because there is another movie that I was obsessed with at the time that was equally like, who was this made for? Called Baby Geniuses.

Conan:

Baby Geniuses. Does anyone know baby, oh okay-

Jeff:

So this film essentially is known for being bizarre, strange, over the top, ridiculous and has had this life that I think has been extended beyond the original release as essentially a joke for an absurd film. But as people find out, I think there’s more than perhaps meets the eye when it comes to representations of disability in this film. Perhaps disability is the only thing that’s not ridiculous in this film. So where does this film come from? Well, it was written and directed by Stewart Raffill and Steve Feke and Stewart Raffill you may recognize, he has done some movies. Things like Ice Pirates was one of his, also was a big animal tamer and Wrangler through many Hollywood films and then eventually got into the writing and then directing. As we watched this film, unlike other films on Invalid Culture, we decided to watch it with the commentary enabled. Most of the films we’ve watched don’t have commentary. This film, however, was released as a collector’s edition Blue-Ray. Yes, we watched this in 1080P as God intended. And we listened to the audio commentary and it was actually really informative.

Erika:

And everything that we learned here is verified in a thrillist.com article, so definitely know that this is legitimate information we are working with here. So the director Stewart Raffill, really begins the audio commentary by explaining that this film was created in a rush, I believe he said five weeks, five weeks in total. He talks about how they were developing the costumes for the alien while writing the script with actors already on payroll and were under direction to just get it done. Why the rush unclear. We also learned that the producer R.J. Louis had spent several years negotiating brand rights with McDonald’s. And so this film came about presumably at, the deal was passed, we went into production.

Erika:

A little more on why the deal was passed. So Louis had a history with the Ronald McDonald charity and actually wanted to create this film in order to raise funds for the charity, for the Ronald McDonald charity. And so something that you can’t help, but notice when watching the film, that there is some brand placement, product placement, like next level going on in this film, riding on the coattails of E.T. there’s some Reese’s Pieces,, here we’ve got Coke. We’ve got McDonald’s. We questioned whether maybe Porsche was involved, perhaps also the Quickie wheelchair brand, although unconfirmed on the latter couple. But really what we learned in this audio commentary right off the bat was that this film was created to raise money for the Ronald McDonald charity.

Jeff:

Yeah. And a lot of investment financially by McDonald’s to get this made. McDonald’s was actually quite involved in some ways with the production of this film. But on the other hand, as we learned on the audio commentary, McDonald’s didn’t actually seem to have a whole lot of say about what happened. And this wasn’t quite like other product placements where the brand comes in and says, “Well, we want to be represented in these ways.” With the duration of the speed at which it was produced, it sounds like they just got this money and made something because I would really wonder, I would love to know what did McDonald’s think about this film after it came out? Were they happy with their investment? I don’t exactly know but let’s talk more about the Ronald McDonald charity a little bit later because I have some theories about what might be happening but let’s instead look at some critical response because we are not the only ones who have opinions about this film. So Erika, what did some of the major critics have to say when Mac and Me was released in, I believe 1988.

Erika:

Well, let’s start with a Richard Harrington from the Washington Post who said.

Jeff [doing a voice]:

So why is it so hard to light this fiddle? Having that scene done much better by Spielberg doesn’t help of course.

Jeff:

Right. Fantastic. Fantastic. I think it was Richard Harrington as well that mentions just casually that RJ Louis, the producer of the film. It turns out that they were an account executive for an ad firm that handled McDonald’s. So RJ Louis had a past relationship as an adman for McDonald’s and Richard just wanted us to know, just throwing it out there. Now, what else did we find?

Erika:

Well, we’ve got Steven Ray from the Philadelphia Inquirer who says.

Jeff [doing a voice]:

Everything about Mac and Me not at least the fact that it is fairly well made and involving, smacks of crass calculation, the filmmakers even have the gold in the movie’s part and shock to announce a sequel.

Erika:

Yes, that’s right. This film ends with a still and a cartoon text for unknown reasons. Announcing what is it, see you soon?

Jeff:

We’ll be back.

Erika:

We’ll be back.

Jeff:

We’ll be back.

Erika:

Hey, didn’t another movie pick that up another time, that we’ll be back?

Jeff:

Yeah, I believe so. I’m still waiting for Mac and Me to be back, frankly.

Erika:

I have a pet theory that it’s coming.

Jeff:

If honestly, if any of our listeners are interested, we will start a GoFundMe and we will film Mac and Me two.

Erika:

Should we just start-

Jeff:

If you want it.

Erika:

On me.

Jeff:

If you want it, we will do it. I am fully admitted because apparently copyright doesn’t matter. Apparently you can just tell whatever stories you want, E.T. E.T. ish.

Erika:

So next we had Chris Dafoe from the Globe and Mail.

Jeff [doing a voice]:

While worse films have, no, don’t touch the heart of the general public. Mac and Me is not only crass, it’s boring and insulted to children’s intelligences.

Erika:

And I want to say, I took issue with this. Funny that we got crass again. But I just, I took issue with this a little bit because watching this film, this is actually a film that is almost entirely showcasing children. And I think children’s intelligence, specifically their autonomy. We hardly see, the adults in this film are secondary roles. This is a film that is led by children and an alien.

Jeff:

It really does seem to be more about children living as this agentic operators. And I think it really stood out to me in the commentary when they’re talking about how he realized that children want to see themselves on screen. I don’t feel like this movie is trying to trick children. I think it’s trying to be fun and funny. And I would argue that it fails miserably at doing that, 100% fails but I don’t think they’re trying to trick us. I don’t think.

Erika:

No, I don’t think so either. And I really, I think that’s a really astute observation about children wanting to see themselves represented and maybe not unrelated to the fact that we have here, our first disabled actor in a disabled role. Maybe this team, maybe a film production wasn’t their forte. It was just the medium.

Jeff:

Yeah. RJ Louis allegedly had always wanted to do a film starring a disabled actor playing themselves. And in that way, this film is perhaps actually quite progressive. I think one of my favorite critiques of this film, however, came from Juan Carlos Coto from the Miami Herald, who said, quote,

Jeff [doing a voice]:

His pace is quick and the numerous chase scenes made for good fun. For sheer thrills, Mac beats Pippy and Peewee claws down.

Erika:

Oh, sorry. Just for clarification. Do we know who or what Pippy and Peewee are?

Jeff:

This is definitely referencing Peewee, Herman and Pippi Longstocking. And I would imagine anyone listening to this who have seen either of those films is deeply concerned about the mental state of Juan Carlos Coto. I don’t know how anyone can argue that this horrifying monstrosity of an alien is better than Pippi Longstocking or Peewee Herman.

Erika:

I mean, he might be wrong. He might be, we could debate that but I do think he’s probably nailed the class, the class as that belongs in.

Jeff:

Yeah, that’s actually a good point. Maybe this actually maybe does make more sense alongside a Pippi Longstocking or a Peewee Herman. That actually might be a better place to put it. Whereas E.T. is like, oh, I was about to say high film and I apologize for that. But I mean, Spielberg is in a completely different film production category, I would argue. That maybe makes some sense but the fact that it beats it claws down, Juan Carlos Coto what did they have on you? Did they have your family?

Erika:

Does Juan Carlos Coto also work for McDonald’s?

Jeff:

Everyone works for McDonald’s. But of course, film critics are not the only ones that have important opinions. In fact, some of the best opinions about movies in my humblest of opinions can be found within the Amazon Review categories. So we have curated some of our favorite Amazon Reviews of Mac and Me. And we start with a great one. This one comes to us from Sheldon five stars titled. Okay. And the text is okay. Sheldon believes, eh it’s okay. Five stars.

Erika:

Yes, we’ll give it five stars.

Jeff:

Five stars, it’s okay.

Erika:

So, S.A. Hansen, another five star titled a little more descriptively, Look for the Good, Not a Bad, with the text, I see nearly everyone dislikes this film. Everyone either gives it one or no stars. Video movie guide 2000 gave it the Turkey. After I got it, I read the positive and negative reviews. And now I’m glad I was able to enjoy it. Yes, it is a pale clone of E.T. but that is what makes it all the more better. Nothing is better or than E.T. but this is right next to it. Perhaps there won’t be a sequel because of how poorly it did with the box office but it definitely didn’t deserve worst picture.

Jeff:

I love that they say maybe a sequel won’t happen 30 years after this was released. So this is a good one. I like this one for a lot of reasons. This is from our friend, Brian. Five stars titled Inter Galactic Good Times ellipses. The text is, quote, Mac and Me is one of Hollywood’s most overlooked pieces of classic science fiction. Fun for the whole family Mac and Me will take your heart from the introduction of the film’s protagonist and cute little extraterrestrial. Don’t jump to any conclusions. This is no E.T. knockoff. Mac has a mind of his own. After a fabulously choreographed scene at McDonald’s Mac and his handicap friend bracket Me bracket, get into some hefty trouble with the law. Excellent. Pyrotechnics and special effects, a true classic.

Erika:

Is it possible that this review was written on Amazon in 1989?

Jeff:

I think there was like, this was probably shouted out on a CB radio when the film came out and this has been captured and curated for us here. I love how it equal parts, defends the movie and then it plays up other parts and then minimizes others. So for instance, I love the implication that unlike E.T. Mac is an agentic free thinker, E.T. is apparently a conformist, a slave to the system, unlike Mac who thinks for himself.

Erika:

Okay. But Brian also claims that it’s cute and I’m not sure I can agree with that.

Jeff:

That is also an extreme, an extreme, I mean the first time I saw this film, I was old, I was an adult and I was worried about nightmares after I saw this for the first time, the alien to me is terrifying. All of them are very disturbing. I would argue.

Erika:

It is not, I would not cute. And cuddly is not the vibe I get from Mac, which I think Mac is actually said to be an abbreviation for or an acronym for mysterious alien creature.

Jeff:

I think this was a rip on Alf perhaps.

Erika:

Oh, I see it.

Jeff:

I believe, I believe. I also love the statement that quote, they get into, quote, hefty trouble with the law, which is of course an abbreviation for Eric will be shot by the police by the end of this movie, he’ll be shot and killed by a police officer.

Erika:

Depending on which country you watch the film in.

Jeff:

Correct. We’ll talk about that more in a moment.

Erika:

All right. Up next, we’ve got Jason Nickert five stars titled, Jay’s Review on a Childhood Classic. See Jay and I were coming from the same place. So Jay had to say, this movie was was my all time favorite movie when I was growing up, from the first time I watched it on the old TMN movie network. This movie is a great movie with a lot fun attached to it. It was and always will be a cult classic to me. It helped me grow up and it’s tremendous grasp of a boy who falls in love for a being greater than man and shows a compassion that is lacking our day and age. I rate this movie an easy 10 but if, since I can only go to five, I will have to settle for that.

Jeff:

There is a lot to unpack here. Is this a romance movie?

Erika:

I mean, that was not my initial read but-

Jeff:

Do Mac and Eric hook up?

Erika:

I mean, no, we definitely don’t see that happen. I did not have the sense that it happened either. I mean maybe worthy of mentioned, there is a certain, there is a caring relationship, certainly that develops between them.

Jeff:

Definitely.

Erika:

I think we see them both extend care and support towards each other.

Jeff:

If you were watching What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, would you say that he fell in love with Gilbert Grape?

Erika:

No, no. This-

Jeff:

It’s the falls in love that’s very strange to me.

Erika:

Yep. Yep. I mean, what is love?

Jeff:

I also want to know, is Mac genuinely a being greater than man?

Erika:

See, yeah. I mean, I was onboard with most of this review. But that one I’m not so sure about. Certainly portrayed as an other. An other things. Yep. Greater. I mean, yeah. I don’t know about that.

Jeff:

And so his powers are essentially, he’s able to get sucked into things. He essentially has a completely malleable body. He can fit into very small spaces.

Erika:

He doesn’t rely on water.

Jeff:

Right, he lives on Coca-Cola. I don’t know if that makes him better, I’m not sure. We also got a five star review from Kim. This one was titled, Great Movie. And it says quote, I thought it was a good movie. Did you know that the kid in the wheelchair wasn’t just acting in the wheelchair? That was actually his, he has spina bifida and he did all his own stunts, like the water scene where he falls off the cliff. Now this is a good review. I brought this quote on the show because it straight up lies to us in its justification of the film, the actor does have spina bifida. The actor was using his own wheelchair. However, he did not do almost any of the stunts, including he did not do the stunt where he falls off a cliff and into the water. That was definitely not him. And it has stated repeatedly in the commentary of the film, that they were very afraid of killing this child throughout the film. They were really worried that they were going to kill him with the stunts. And that’s why they used stunt doubles. It sounds like very heavily. So Kim, the one thing you tried to sell us on, it wasn’t true

Erika:

Last up. And this is probably my favorite and I would say the most accurate of all of the reviews. So Dylan Kelly gave us a very unforgiving one star review titled, “Truly terrible” with the slightly more generous text, “God, awful, loved every minute.” So I’m just going to say, I think that actually pretty well sums it up for me. How about you, Jeff?

Jeff:

It’s so perfect.

Erika:

So I think we, we pretty much sum up the reviews there. Shall we get into a little bit of a deeper analysis of what happened here?

[Musical Interlude: “Body Terror Song” by AJJ, singing “I’m so sorry that you have to have a body, so very sorry that you have to have a body, oh yeah” over an upbeat piano and acoustic guitar]

Erika:

All right. So let’s get started some general impressions on the film. I mean, clearly we are looking at a low budget. Well, I think if we look at the numbers, it wasn’t exactly a low.

Jeff:

It was not a low budget film. There was a lot of money, but it looks like a straight to DVD film.

Erika:

Yeah. Yeah. So we’ve got what looks like a low budget film. I think that what I want to say first and foremost is I am, I was, I remain just floored at what an excellent disability representation this is. I don’t think we started this film knowing that we were looking at an actual disabled actor. I believe that this was something that we started to pick up on as we watched. Did you know going in?

Jeff:

I fully expected that this thing was going to be a gong show. I figured that this was going to be an absolute, like just paint by color or paint by number just all the worst stuff. And as we were watching this film, I had this dark sneaking suspicion that this actually might be one of the best representations of disability that we’re going to see. It might be a completely unwatchable movie, but it actually may have gotten disability right. And that’s shocking, considered all of the other problems within this film.

Erika:

Right. And so, I mean watching this, especially after the last couple of films that we really, really, I think railed for their unfortunate acting disability. It was very immediately evident that the actor was not sort of imagining disability and acting this. What an able bodied actor might imagine Spina bifida or, I mean, very unique among this film. I don’t think that his diagnosis is ever mentioned. I don’t think except for one incident we’ll get back to. He’s really not medicalized. There’s no dwelling on his leaky body. There are no kind of awkward and inconsistent arm, hand-leg movements. It’s just a kid using a chair and that’s not even, I mean, it’s not even that. It’s just a kid who happens to be using a chair. It’s never the focus. It’s never the focal point. And that is just, that is rare.

Jeff:

Yeah. I don’t know how they got this, so right. Considering everything else, like I think it is important for us to clarify here. This film is terrible. It is a terrible film, but somehow within this pile of excrement, this is like beautiful flower of representation emerged, and that is shocking.

Erika:

Yeah. I mean, I think you throughout the hypothesis that, because the film was strewed together so quickly, maybe they just didn’t have time to overthink the disability representation.

Jeff:

I think that might be it. I feel like they didn’t even think about disability because they didn’t have time. Like we hear in the commentary that at times they were literally like right and stuff. And then like looking for, see places to film the next scene and finding these locations like the night before, and then just like go in there the next day to shoot the scene. I wonder if, when you don’t have a time to think about the story and you’re literally just shooting one scene after another, then it just, it becomes like a non-factor. They were like, “Well, we don’t have the time or the capacity to actually engage with any of this stuff, because we’re trying to film a movie in like a month and a half.” And I think a lot of the stuff in this film is reflective of that philosophy.

Jeff:

It’s like, well, we’re not going to think of like an original plot line. We don’t have time for that. So we’re just going to take parts of ET and then put it in there. We’re going to take parts of Back to the Future and we’re going to put it in there. We’re basically just going to be like, “Oh, do I, Spielberg, we’re going to take a bunch of stuff from his films. We’re going to jam it together. And we’re just going to get this thing out the door. That’s what our plan is.

Erika:

Well, and that really squares with the intent for this film to essentially raise money for a charity. It wasn’t about reinventing cinema. It was about how do we use the medium to meet our end. And I think, two things related to that, that I think sort of played out. We heard on the commentary, the directors say, “We really had to take Jade’s lead because we imagined a scene would go one way. And then we got there and Jade sort of told us it needed to go another way.” And so that we saw in another film, I think it was Miracle in Lane 2 that had an onsite wheelchair consultant.

Jeff:

Yes.

Erika:

And so, I mean the director of this film and the commentary acknowledged how much they learned about disability and just sort of the mundaneness of living with disability, through working with Jade on the film.

Jeff:

Now, I’m sorry. Can we talk about the cliff scene? I think we need to talk about it. It is the elephant in the room for those of you who have not seen the film yet, Eric has decided it is finally time to capture this alien. He’s been sort of pursuing it. There’s weird things happening in his house and he follows the alien out of his house, ends up on a cliff, which his wheelchair then runs down. He tries to put on the brakes, the brakes snap off and his wheelchair then launches off the cliff. He falls for a long time into this water below at which point, typically he is to drown. And it is at this point that Mac finally reveals himself, swims out into the water and somehow rescues this man or child, pulls him to the shore. The next time we will see Eric, he’s now in his bedroom being consulted by doctors. What stood out for you in the cliff scene? Erika?

Erika:

I mean, there’s the shock, certainly. Like, who thought to launch the wheelchair kid off a cliff? Why was that? Why? Where did that come from?

Jeff:

The stakes have never been higher.

Erika:

Right. I mean, in one sense it seemed kind of realistic because I don’t think we’ve mentioned that the family had just moved into a new home. So, a kid out exploring it’s not unrealistic. It’s not that sort of trope that we’re used to seeing where a blind character sort of feeling around for things in their own home that they most likely know where to find them. Right. It’s not that kind of thing. It’s not unrealistic that he would slip down. I don’t know what to call it. A cliff.

Jeff:

Ravine, cliff side. Yeah.

Erika:

And lose control. Did that seem realistic to you?

Jeff:

Yes and no. The way he reacted to it is what actually got me. And it’s interesting because as we found, unlike what Kim, the liar would try and tell us. Jade, the actor had nothing really to do with this. It was a stunt double that was used, which I think is also incredible because I believe it looks pretty obvious that there is not a person in this wheelchair. Allegedly, it is a person. I am not super convinced on that. But one thing that I think that doesn’t speak to the reality of manual wheelchairs, I don’t know many people that go to the brakes to try and stop themselves from moving. But the brakes, when I was in a manual wheelchair, those breaks are rickety. Like they don’t really work and it’s really more so for like, when you’re doing a transfer, when you’re sitting still, right.

Jeff:

You’re like, I’ve come to a stop and I’m going to put this on so that I don’t roll down a gradual incline. When I was in a manual wheelchair, the gut instinct was, you just grab the wheels, you just full on, grab the wheel with your hands. And at the time, if you’re going at the speed that your brake will snap off, you are well beyond the point I think of stopping the chair. And I think you would just bail out. I think you would just jump out of the chair. So I think that was a little bit obviously kind of ridiculous. And it’s interesting that in the scene that doesn’t use Eric, we see kind of a different use of the wheelchair that maybe doesn’t exactly resonate. I really am surprised that they basically tried to kill him off this early in the movie. That was like a full blown. He almost died.

Erika:

Yeah. I mean he almost died and the alien quickly came to his rescue. So I mean, that’s interesting. That’s an interesting way to cue our first real meeting with the alien. Is there something to that?

Jeff:

I wonder too, like how did the alien know that he was drowning? How does this child alien from a different planet that is ostensibly a desert in which they use straws to suck Coke out of. How was the alien like, “Oh, he’s drowning. He breathes air. I need to get down in there and pull him out.” I also want to know, after the scene is done. So once he hits the water, the actor is separated from the wheelchair. And so when he is saved, he’s like dragged to the side of the water by Mac, which again, I just want to point out as well. We do see Jade with his arms exposed, in this film. And this kid was ripped because he was like borderline Paralympian.

Jeff:

He was doing like wheelchair races at the time. I have a hard time imagining that he didn’t have the physical capacity to swim, but anyways, we see him get pulled out of the water. The next time we see him, he’s in his bed, but his wheelchair is there who got his wheelchair from the bottom of the lake. Did Mac go back? Cause after he pushes the boy to the side of the water. He then goes back underwater, like Mac goes back down. Is he going down to get the wheelchair? And how is he like, this is a $6000 or $7,000 wheelchair. I need to go get that for this kid.

Erika:

The curious thing is that we see Eric flailing in the water in a way that suggests there is not a chair pulling him under the water, but then we see him lifted out of water on the chair. But yeah, the question remains. How did he get from the bottom of this valley? Back up to his home on the cliff?

Jeff:

Yeah. There’s fire. There’s fire people there. There are multiple fire trucks and multiple cop cars. And I feel like that is also a real over response to a kid who was at center. He was fine. There’s no indication that this child suffered any sort of injury from what he definitely should have probably died from.

Erika:

And see, this is where we see some good representation that I don’t think we can probably credit to Eric. Right. Because decisions were made around Eric. With Eric slash actor Jade. Decisions were made not to sort of portray his helplessness or his neediness by showing anyone, carrying him or dragging him or however it was that he got out of this situation that wasn’t shown. We didn’t sort of dwell on his fragility, this thing happened. And he was so fragile already that he just crumbled to pieces. Not at all. I mean, we did see the next scene. We do see him next in bed, but other than that, we don’t go. Those tropes weren’t sort of milked the way that we’ve seen them in other films.

Jeff:

Also, can we talk about their van? Because I do not understand how Eric, the character Eric. How he is put inside this Volkswagen van. I don’t understand what the heck is going on. Okay. So we see throughout the film, Eric is presented in several different configurations within this old school Volkswagen van. We see one scene in which his older brother, Michael grabs his wheelchair and carries the wheelchair and Eric out of the van. So the there’s not like a ramp or a power lift or anything.

Jeff:

There don’t appear to be like tie down straps. Sometimes he is basically between the front seats. Other times, he’s way in the back of his fan. He is like all over the place. And it feels like we hear on a commentary that there was a whole lot of drama around filming within the van. And the problem was not Eric himself. It was that they needed a bunch of puppeteers, also in the van with all the film crew and all the film equipment. And that there just wasn’t enough room. And so I think Eric was just getting sort of pushed around into different spots of the van in order to make it fit. But the van stuff was wild to me because there was just no consistency in how this boy was transported.

Erika:

Yeah. So I looked into this because I was curious. How is the wheel chair getting into the van for one? And actually it turns out that the, as in character, Eric even explains to someone else. The question comes up, “Well, how do you get in the car?” And they say, “Oh, well, I can just hop in my wheelchair and sit in the back.” So he explains that himself, their van curiously not have a ramp or a lift of any sort on it. And we never see him navigating that. That the timing, the actual year, this film was 1988. Yeah. Looking into it, it turns out it was sort of in the mid seventies, that the converted van was first sort of being explored. And I think it was 87 or 88, actually. That vans really started to be adaptive. So its very likely that they wouldn’t have actually had any concept of an adapted van. It’s possible that someone in the production might have seen one or known something about them, but it might actually be that we were just in a sort of in an era of makeshift accessibility for automobiles.

Jeff:

It’s fascinating because in some ways, again, perhaps not even intentionally, this movie made the right choice because I think often when disabled characters are brought in, there’s this weird pressure, like they’re trying to figure out like, “Well, how would someone in a wheelchair use a van?” And then, well, they didn’t have the internet really in 1988, but they would’ve like called and then like, “Well, what’s up there.” And what you end up finding is that often people with disabilities in films are using the top of the line equipment that no one else actually has access to like different drummer. They’re using a piss tube, which no one else had access to that technology nor have they ever gotten access to it. And, so it’s interesting because again, by perhaps not even intentionally, I think they probably did show the reality of usable wheelchair where they’re like, “Ah, let’s just get this Volkswagen bus thing and take out the middle seat and we’ll just sort of jam the chair in there.” Because that’s kind of what families were doing at the time.

Erika:

Mac and Me nails it once again.

Jeff:

Now, while there were lots of good things, I think in this film. There were some interesting tropes that we noticed. Things that we see a lot in disability film. One of the tropes, I don’t have a lot to say about it, but I do want to fly that right off the bat. Is that similar to Miracle in Lane 2. Within this film, Eric’s brother Michael, we go into his room at one point and discover that he has tons of sport medals. And so once again, we have this idea of the disabled child and there’s simple and being hyper performative that Michael is apparently very physically successful. I don’t believe we really see any metals in Eric’s room. It didn’t stand out anyway. He mostly had toys.

Erika:

Well, and what’s interesting about that. We learned on the commentary that Jade was actually a high performing athlete.

Jeff:

Yes.

Erika:

This was very much one of those gifts from the imagination of the writers. Not from reality.

Jeff:

It’s funny too, because sport is always in the background of this film, but never actually does become in the center within both of the boys’ bedrooms. We see this cornucopia of Chicago Sports Team references, there’s posters to the Chicago Bears. There’s posters of the Cubbies. There’s all this sort of reference to Chicago sports in the infamous dance scene in the McDonald’s. There are people in full blown football uniforms, but only like two or three of them, not a team, just like a couple of guys going to McDonald’s after the game. Why is that?

Erika:

I mean, is that just a, is it an eighties sort of stereotype of the culture at the time? I think in the dance scene, we see, there are street performers, there are the athletes, there are, I think some ballet dancers?

Jeff:

There’s ballerinas. I think it maybe, it’s like, I wonder if this was a way of signifying, like reminding us that they also are fish out of water. Like the alien, obviously Mac is a fish out of water, but so too is Eric and Michael because they’re from Chicago and they’re not from California. And that division of Illinois and Chicago and California being different places with different ideas about the world is something that comes up a couple times. Like Erica and Michael are also kind of immigrants into this California world. And so I wonder if the sports teams were just like an easy way to be like, “Don’t forget, they’re not from California.”

Erika:

I want to come back to this one actually, but let’s go first to the other trope. I think we saw, even though briefly was why Eric was not injured by his fall off the cliff. Why do we next frame see him in bed with a doctor?

Jeff:

I love it. This is such a fascinating trope to me that when characters are hurt or sick, we symbolize it by putting them in bed. I mean, this kid just fell off a cliff and into the water. Is his first instinct to be like, “I should go lay down.” Or is it more this iconic image of the doctor at the bedside, caring for the patient. It

Erika:

It called to mind for me, the Frankie Muniz character in Miracle in Lane 2. How he was always about to burst. Right. 911 was on speed dial because three clicks was too many. You had to get medical help there so quickly. There’s almost some remnant of that in the doctor, get the doctor here quick. Most kids, we do, we kind of monitor the mob on the head and see if it goes down before we call the doctor. But this is sort of maybe some glimmer of that because disability is present. Medicine is always just off scene.

Jeff:

I wonder if this explains the overreaction from EMT as well. At this idea that he wasn’t just hurt. It was a wheelchair kid that fell off a cliff, not just any kid. And so you need multiple police cars, you need fire. You’re going to have the doctor’s going to visit at home. And the doctor essentially gives him like a clean bill of health. And he just, all is he does is to prescribes him a sedative. Is that how all doctors operated in the 1980s?

Erika:

We might need to bring that back if I’m being honest.

Jeff:

Right. Just prescribed sedatives. Just opiate of the masses, maybe literal opium. I think this was a really like, it’s such a cliché. And I think it’s funny in watching this film from the 1980s and looking at where American healthcare is now. I think the idea of a general practitioner coming to your bedside, that period of healthcare in America is dead. But there was no reference to HMOs who was going to pay for this medical care. There was no reference to paying for the fix on his wheelchair or any. There was no delay, even in repairing the wheelchair. It was just like, “Well, of course we care for people when they’re sick or hurt. Because that’s what our culture believes in. That actually felt really foreign watching this again in 2021.

Erika:

Yeah. Is that a relic? Is it a fantasy?

Jeff:

That’s a good question. Maybe somewhere in the middle. I think that there was maybe this desire to believe of America as the best. This movie is very much about America, right? It’s about America being the best at sort of everything. And so I think similarly, this idea that we provide the best healthcare, that I think was really important back in the ’80s in a way that now I think America, for whatever reason, has now been like, “Well, whatever, we might have great healthcare, and maybe we don’t, but you got to pay. One way or another you’re going to pay.”

Erika:

Which ironically is also the genesis of the film, right? Was that-

Jeff:

Right. Charity.

Erika:

Funding a charity. So yeah, I was going to ask, I don’t really know the historical evolution of healthcare in America from the bedside doctor to the hospital industrial complex, but we’re certainly looking at a film that was created to fund a charity that helps families of children getting medical care.

Jeff:

Now I want to flag this because we’ll come back to it again. But, I do want to point out why did he not end up in a Ronald McDonald House after this? That seems like such a clear synergy because the intention was to fund Ronald McDonald Houses.

Erika:

The thing about this film is that it is not actually a film about disability. It’s a film about all America, right? It’s a film about another, but it’s not the disabled other, despite there being a disabled character, it’s really about the alien other. Who, I think we already read into it, some kind of a, immigration text before we heard the director call it an immigration text.

Jeff:

Yes, absolutely. That is confirmed.

Erika:

Yeah. That was just, I think an unexpected trope for a disability movie that’s maybe not really a disability movie at all.

Jeff:

I think in that vein, I’d like to unpack a little bit here. This idea of disability and the other. So as we saw in both of the previous movies, so in Miracle in Lane 2 and in Different Drummer, there’s this idea that disability is bound to, or drawn to the other. In this film, it is a disabled character who gets bound to an alien. So, did Mark choose Eric, or was Eric determined to befriend the alien because of his other status?

Erika:

It’s a really good question. Literally what we see, there’s sort of this big commotion early in the movie. It’s a car crash and the alien is present and the alien and is sort of meandering around the car crash. And what we next see is Eric at home and the alien has hitched a ride or followed them home, right. So, literally what we see is that the alien chose Eric.

Jeff:

Yeah. Not just chose the car. There were many other cars. I will say, in that car crash, there was a man who was straight up on fire during that scene. This movie, the stakes have never been higher. People were on fire, in this multi-car pile up caused by the alien. But he does, he looks in the middle, he jumps in. And I think similarly, Eric and his family do not seem to be phased really, at all. That there is now this terrifying alien wandering around and destroying their house.

Erika:

Destroying their house, being pursued by the FBI. Right? They’ve got cars, they’ve got on foot officers, they are chasing this alien down.

Jeff:

There’s a brief moment of doubt. So, at first his family is like, no there is no alien. And then they’re like, oh shoot, there is an alien. Okay, well now there’s an alien. I almost wonder if this is, this notion that difference begets difference. That because they are living this different life with a son that has a disability, they’re just suddenly kind of more accepting of difference as well. They’re like, oh we need to see the value in everyone. Even if they look different or behave different or act different. They’re more accepting of that difference. And so at no point are they like, whoa, there are other intelligent species in this world that live on different planets.

Erika:

Yeah. I think the fascinating part of this for me is that, I’m not convinced that this was an intentional part of the writing of the film. I don’t think that our friend who essentially bragged about launching the wheelchair off the cliff and the genius of that writing, I don’t think that that same person wrote this deep sort of trope around the other and the openness that living with around disability might beget. I think that this is really one of those special moments where we get a very kind of subconscious trope written into the film and where this sort of bonding between others or openness compassion to others because of an othered existence. But something else that I think I felt in this dynamic was that, because disability was being portrayed as so just mundane, it was almost, the otherness of disability was really overshadowed by the otherness of the alien.

Erika:

And almost not even, overshadowed in a sense, but also sort of humanized. I think in a lot of the films that we might consider, whether they’re our preferred offbeat representations or the mainstream representations, we see disability treated as its own. It is sort of the object that carries the film. It’s the object that is analyzed and picked apart in the film. And disability wasn’t objectified in that way here. And because Mark is clearly not human, it almost creates, it almost bolsters the humanity of the disabled character.

Jeff:

Yeah. Mark becomes the obvious other, and also the problem to be solved. Which then allows Erin to A, not be a problem. And B, to be actually in closer proximity to the other human characters, and therefore marked as a human character.

Erika:

Yeah. I don’t know if this is a stretch to observe, but noticing that Eric cares for Mark in a, almost parental, in a kind of parental custodial kind of way.

Jeff:

Motherly.

Erika:

Yeah. Right.

Jeff:

Motherly way.

Erika:

Himself, sort of leaned over at the bedside, holding up his head and feeding him the Coca-Cola that he needs to survive.

Jeff:

Yeah. I was disturbed by that scene. I was waiting for the breastfeeding to happen in that moment. He’s creative with his head, and it’s like, “Have some bitty my friend.”

Erika:

Maybe we’re really getting deep into the subconscious here.

Jeff:

Is Eric Mark’s mother. An interesting question. But I honestly do not know of many other films in which the disabled character is a provider of care. The one that pops into my mind immediately, and I hate that I’m going to say this, would be I Am Sam. There is, it’s a two-way care relationship, but he does provide care for his daughter. But Eric is definitely a provider of care, throughout this film, and also the advocate. He is literally the voice for Mark.

Erika:

Who doesn’t speak just as… If you haven’t gotten around to watching the film yet Mark does not communicate using verbal language.

Jeff:

No. And also does communicate in extremely abstract hints. So for instance, what he wants to say, my family is by the windmills, he puts a flower in a straw. And that moment, when Eric is like, oh, the windmills. That’s what he is referring to. I’m like, I would’ve never made that connection. Mark would’ve never reconnected with his family, if I was Eric.

Erika:

Is that giving Eric a bit of that sort of superhuman? Is he then, we often see that either lesser or greater than human. Is…

Jeff:

She seems to have some sort of insight, but again, I wonder if that is not the nature that Eric has a unique ability. And I don’t even necessarily think it’s an idea that Mark maybe has a telepathic ability. So he’s sort of actually putting the ideas maybe into Eric. I don’t think that’s what’s happening either. I think they were like, we got to get this in done in 90 minutes. So, we’re just going to throw the stuff out there and Eric will just figure it out, and it’ll be fine.

Erika:

It’s a movie by and for the children.

Jeff:

Also, if you are an American, you should be ashamed of your government in this film. Because, the fact that they’re not able to capture these aliens is a true indictment about the incompetence of law enforcement and not the only indictment of law enforcement within this film.

Erika:

Yeah. So, our ending scene. You’ve already kind of thrown out the spoiler that our protagonist is shot at, at least by the police. So we have the, Mark is reunited with his parents and sibling. They enter a grocery store and essentially, it all just breaks loose at that point. The police are there, presumably they’ve been called to deal with the aliens in the supermarket. How does the fire start?

Jeff:

From the shooting. Cause it’s a gas station.

Erika:

And the gas station. Okay. Okay. Yeah. So, we have not only a store full of people, but we have Eric rushing in to try and help them while the police continue to shoot at the aliens, and now at Eric. We learn that in an alternate ending, not the one that we see, Eric is actually shot by police. Which is of course leading up to his being brought back to life by the aliens, how? Something that looks a bit like the seance that we practiced in, early ’90s. Did it come from, when was the craft made? Anyway, clearly another precious time capsule. But yeah, the cops are just shooting. They shoot the kids. In our American version, it’s been edited so that we don’t actually see that happen. We see sort of Eric Rush to save his friends and the explosion, and he’s sort of presumably affected by the explosion. But, the police were indeed shooting openly at the aliens and everyone else in the vicinity who happened to be at a grocery store slash gas bar.

Jeff:

My favorite part, I think about… So number one, if you have not watched The International, you could find it on YouTube. You can straight up watch the police shoot and kill a disabled child, which is a bold stance for this film to take. Hilarious. But I love, so afterwards Eric’s mother is brought to the scene, and she’s rushing and there’s a police officer. And he is like, “One of the kids was shot.” And she’s like, “Which one?” Which I think is also hilarious thing. And she’s not necessarily equally concerned based on what child has been gunned down. She’s like, well, I love my one son more than the other. And she’s like, “Which one?” And the cop is like, “I don’t know, but he uses a wheelchair.” And then there’s like, “Oh no Eric.” And she runs over and then this sort of scene happens.

Jeff:

It’s an interesting moment because, I think there’s some authenticity here. Where I think if a woman was like, “Oh, who got hurt?” And the police were like, “Well, I don’t know his name.” I don’t think they’d be like, “Oh, I don’t know. He was wearing a Patagonia jacket. Or like, “Oh, he had blonde hair.” The wheelchair is definitely going to be the defining moment. And in fact this is like the only time really, one of the rare times that he is defined by his disability. But I think it was a really authentic moment. I think that’s exactly what would happen. I fully agree. It’s like, “Oh, shoot, we killed the wheelchair one.”

Erika:

Nevermind that the mom was helicoptered in when they didn’t even know who had been shot.

Jeff:

Yeah. They knew she was related in some way. I don’t know where this helicopter got her from, I guess maybe, the seers see. So, the mom was at seers. And they have a little run through at seers, but I think that was aways earlier. So, I don’t know that they necessarily would’ve known that they were connected. But the mom meant to be there, and the child is saved. And I hate that. I wanted this movie to have the courage to kill the boy in a wheelchair.

Erika:

I just want to say, Different Drummers. We also had a death and a revival.

Jeff:

Yeah. The return. Yeah. Now that was more of a biblical revival, but the disabled kid comes back. And I think we all knew it was going to happen. I think the movie was really forecasting it.

Erika:

But I think the better question really is, and you’ve already posed this, why? Why? Why did he not end up in a Ronald McDonald House?

Jeff:

Well, that’s the thing. There are multiple times in which this child has almost died, and the film is supposedly to the benefit of, I’m assuming Ronald McDonalds House. They refer to it as the Ronald McDonald Charity, which, they do other things, but Ronald McDonald House is the main thing, as far as I understand. And yet they don’t do it. However, what we do see is that McDonald’s is the place to rock. What the heck is happening in this organized dance scene?

Erika:

Okay. Another point of great pride for the director, in the commentary. This dancing, and I thought let’s make it a musical. And so we made it a musical, what and why? I think, when we watched the movie the first time without the commentary, that was really the moment that, is this a film or is this a really drawn out commercial for McDonald’s?

Jeff:

That McDonald’s, is like exactly what a marketer wants you to think. It is like to go to a McDonald’s. The place is pumping, bopping, the jams are on, there’s a dance battle happening in the parking lot.

Erika:

So, this is another one of those, I think culturally relevant throwbacks. And maybe this is more relevant to my own childhood where I grew up, we had a McDonald’s caboose. Were those universal, or did we just happen to have one?

Jeff:

I think it was really specific. I think they did different things at most of the McDonald’s. So, like some of them had the play house type things. My McDonald’s in Port Elgin had a terrifying, torture chamber in the basement. There was a basement and it was horrifying and it smelled really bad. I went to one birthday there, and I vowed that I would never return to this dim lit, no window. What can only be described as BDSM torture chamber.

Erika:

Okay. This is fascinating. Maybe the topic for an entirely different podcast that is not our own. But in Chatham where I grew up, we had a caboose and it was the place to have your McDonald’s birthday party. So, I think yeah, maybe that was it. Maybe that was what the McDonald’s execs wanted. Was, we just, you do what you want with the film, we need to push the McDonald’s birthday party as the place to be in the late ’80s, early ’90s, for a birthday party.

Jeff:

It is the coolest place. And it’s a place where the party never ends. The population within this McDonald’s is radically diverse, diverse in age, diverse in ethnicity, diverse in preferences and interests. There are, like you said earlier, ballerinas, there’s football players, there’s old people, there’s young people, there’s basically, I think every race is represented in this McDonald. And everyone’s just intermixed. Ronald McDonald is literally there making puppets and balloons for people. The people working at the front are happy and clapping. A dance sequence breaks out. This place is so much fun. The most fun. At no point, do they ever reflect the feces covered bathrooms, or the seats that were literally designed so that you couldn’t sit in them very long, so that you got the heck out of the McDonald’s, so they could bring in the next feeder to sell their burgers to. It is… And the plants, this McDonald’s is full of lush greenery. And I definitely do not remember there being any sort of plant in a McDonald’s that I ever visited.

Erika:

I think this answers our earlier question. That was, is this a relic or a fantasy? Clearly-

Jeff:

It is 100% a fantasy.

Erika:

A fantasy,

Jeff:

A big time fantasy. And one thing that I’m kind of here for, can you imagine if there was a place where you could go to where all creeds and religions and ages are all just together, dancing and partying and celebrating all the time, and there’s a clown there who will make you things. I would go there.

Erika:

Are you not describing Disneyland?

Jeff:

Actually wouldn’t go there. I… (laugh) Disney, the mouse is furious that they didn’t get in on the Mac and Me. That’d be a great theme park there, right? Come to this, fantasy McDonald’s where the party never stops. The other thing I will say, if you want to see some child actors dancing their bloody hearts out, this is the scene for you. The intensity with which these people are dancing, it is like Toddlers and Tiaras, decades before it happens.

Erika:

And, fun fact, Jennifer Anderson is in this scene.

Jeff:

I would argue without Mark and me, Friends never happens.

Erika:

Yep.

Jeff:

So, if you’re looking for a place to go where fun is happening all the time, it is time for you to go to, the Rock ‘n’ Roll McDonald’s.

[Music Interlude: “Rock ‘n Roll McDonal’s by Wesley Willis, auto-tuned singing “Rock ‘n’ Roll McDonald’s. Rock ‘n’ Roll McDonald’s. Rock ‘n’ Roll McDonald’s” over a synth beat] 

Erika:

All right. So, as we do, we have put this film through the ringer, but, some closing thoughts. To be fair, what were some things that you thought the film did well?

Jeff:

Full bloody marks, for them, casting an actor with a disability and actually listening to them actually embodying some of that advice, but maybe there were consequences to that.

Erika:

Well, I think what you’re sort of teetering on saying, something that they did well, really worked to their disadvantage. Because they wanted this movie to raise money, right? But it did not raise money. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they did not. They did not produce a stereotypical tugging at your heartstrings, trope, and that’s where they were going to get the money. So, I think, what the film did really well, ultimately shot them in the foot.

Jeff:

Absolutely. I wonder if they had leaned more into the disability tropes, if they may have gotten a bit more slack. I think one thing that’s fascinating about the commentary about this film and some of the things that the directors have talked about is the, one of the director and writer, is on record basically saying that, he’s like, “We cast a disabled kid in this film. I can’t believe people hate it.” I believe he literally says that he thought America was more charitable than that. As though that by doing this, should just gloss over, or fix, or remediate the flaws of the film, which obviously is a ridiculous thing to believe. I think it really speaks to this idea that disability can be used in films to cover over other problems within the film. And so without the crutch of disability, all of the problems were laid bare and it just couldn’t survive.

Erika:

Ooh, that is, yep. That pretty much captures it. Yep. And, maybe it didn’t make the money that they wanted to make, but maybe it really had more of an impact than they could have foreseen.

Jeff:

I would argue this film should be shown in schools that want to teach directors how to do disability. And that’s a shocking thing.

Erika:

Right. Once again, this is not to be shown for how to make a film or how to be successful.

Jeff:

No.

Erika:

Or how to win awards.

Jeff:

No.

Erika:

But it is absolutely a film that should be shown to teach people how to do disability right in a movie.

Jeff:

It’s painful to admit.

Erika:

It’s painful, but it’s just so simple. I think what we see in this film is literally what everyone is asking for all the time, can you please just cast a disabled actor in a disabled role? Can you even consider casting a disabled actor in a non-disabled role? Yep, it is going to cost more because you know what? Living with disability does cost more.

Jeff:

I think that’s another thing that really resonated with me in the commentary of this film was the way that they talked about… They acknowledged outright that they had to do things differently when they were filming with this child who uses a wheelchair. They had to find a house that was accessible for the child to actually be able to get into to do the filming. But what was great about the way he talked about it was it wasn’t like a oh geez, we had all these problems and barriers and burdens.

Jeff:

It wasn’t that at all. He literally said, he was like, “That was actually the fun part, was that we had all these problem, and we had to find solutions for it.” That I think is like exactly the mindset that you have to go into. And now maybe this commentary is recorded decades after the film was done, maybe in remembering it, if you remember it is more fun than it was at the time, but I think that’s the mindset you should be you going in with. So other than the representation piece of it, was there anything that you enjoyed about the movie, Erika?

Erika:

Hmm.

Jeff:

I know that’s a tough question.

Erika:

That is a tough question. I think I did enjoy some of what we have been able to read into the immigration metaphor. There’s some interesting gender stuff around the aliens too. It’s funny to see how we imagine aliens, what do we imagine that they’re going to look like, and a very clear projection of some heteronormative stuff onto these aliens that are… They’re sexless. I think the adult and child male and female bodies, the bodies are the same. I think the only real difference we see are the males have two bumps on their head and the females have four. I won’t say it’s something I liked. I think for me it felt like a bit of a missed opportunity, certainly a product of its time, but it got me thinking, seeing these sexless bodies got me thinking if we were thinking here more about gender than about disability and immigration, I think we could see something cool here in a more sci-fi realm or in an alien movie.

Jeff:

I love the fact that these aliens are basically like a Frankenstein’s monster of sex organs that have just been cobbled together, and yet are completely desexualized. These aliens are like nipples, boobs and butts everywhere. If you look at this thing, their elbows, their joints look like boobs and mammary-ish. They’ve got these head nipples, they’ve got booties on the back of their heads. Mac, I’m not going to say that he was dummy thick, but I will say, Mac had a little bit of a booty. He had a shapely little bum in a way that I think clocks as cute, like a baby bum situation. But these aliens, if you look at them, these are sex organs that have been compiled together with these giant eyes and these weird little butthole mouths.

Erika:

I don’t know if we want to go in this direction, but I wondered, some of that you’re reading these real human body parts into these alien costumes, and maybe it’s just a coincidence, but I wondered, thinking deeper into that, is this reinforcing that idea that these are not actually other worldly, so much as they are people from another place? And just really concretizing that immigration trope that we know was actually intentional.

Jeff:

I think you’re right on.

Erika:

We did hear in the commentary that the primary focus in designing the aliens was to not rip off ET too closely.

Jeff:

Yes, I think that was the driving emphasis of this entire movie. [crosstalk 01:14:48]

Erika:

This was mirror mantra? It was on all of their mirrors, do not rip off ET too closely.

Jeff:

Close, but not too close. I think it’s time for us then to get a little trivial. What’s some trivia from this film that we discovered? So are there any repeat offenders in this film? And the only one that I… Well, okay, let me take a step back. There were a ton of people that would go on to do some amazing things, they had big careers, but there isn’t a really clear direct line to disability. I would say maybe one of he closest, one of the people involved was also involved in the film Mask, which was definitely a disability text. And the director, Stewart Raffill, also did a movie called Mannequin: On the Move. Now this is a movie about a woman who essentially is paralyzed by magic, and she becomes a mannequin. I don’t know if you would count that as a disability text, I would, she has no control of her body because of magic.

Jeff:

That’s about the extent of it. We also, as we’ve done in previous episodes, like to talk a little bit about the equipment, some equipment facts coming at you. Throughout the film, Eric, of course, is rocking a quality chair. He is in a QUICKIE manual wheelchair, but the product placement isn’t just about McDonald’s and Coke, my friends, because also in this film we see a t-shirt for QUICKIE wheelchairs, as well as, I’m pretty sure, a hat. There’s a red hat in his room. I believe it’s a QUICKIE hat. It may also be a MAGA hat. I’m not sure. I think it’s a QUICKIE hat. I don’t think they had MAGA hats back in 1988. I don’t know. I’m pretty sure Donald Trump was a Democrat still at that point. What about some production facts, Erika? Do we have any good production facts?

Erika:

Oh, we have a couple, yeah. So we had some pretty heavy hitters working in the background on this production. And one of those was the maker of the music. Do you remember the name of that person? Does it matter? You can look it up. It’s easily available online. But the individual responsible for the score for this film was also responsible for Back to the Future, which I really want to give Jeff full credit here, because when we watched this film before we knew who this music person was, Jeff said, “Is this the Back to the Future music?” So wow. Nailed it. Absolutely. You might also find continuity into Predator or The Avengers, because our music maker for this film, the score guy, do we call him?

Jeff:

Yeah, sure.

Erika:

Okay. The score guy also worked on these absolute real success films. I do have some questions. There were moments where the music had me feeling like I was actually watching ET. So I think they may have forgotten to put the memo on his mirror.

Jeff:

There was some overlap, for sure.

Erika:

Yes. Another fun one we had, our director is a known animal wrangler. So working on films, wrangling animals in a way that I wouldn’t even understand what that meant were it not for two stellar animal wrangling scenes in Mac and Me. The first of which is a scene in which a pack of dogs, wild dogs, but not wild dogs. Very much like…

Jeff:

They’re neighborhood dogs.

Erika:

Somehow, 50 or so, would you say, 25? I don’t know. There’s a whole bunch of dogs.

Jeff:

A lot.

Erika:

A lot of dogs are out chasing Mac as he… Is he soap boxing…?

Jeff:

Yeah, no, he’s in electric car. He’s in one of those electric Jeep car things.

Erika:

Yeah. So we have the dog chase scene. And then a very, very gratuitous wild horses scene at the end. We are in a desert shore, why is there a VW camper van hurling through the desert followed by a pack of horses? I don’t have an answer for you.

Jeff:

Because nothing says the free spirit of the American West like a VW van.

Erika:

Well, that explains the horses.

Jeff:

I’m so curious about what that was all about. So curious.

Erika:

Honestly, I think maybe you’re onto something there. Maybe someone says, “But wait, it’s a Volkswagen. We need some horses.” Or maybe the animal wrangler was like, “Guys, guys, can we just put some horses though?”

Jeff:

I got all these horses, let’s do something with all these horses.

Erika:

I know a guy…

Jeff:

I rode a horse!

 

Jeff:

So there’s obviously a lot of product placement in this film. If ET is all about Reese’s Pieces, this film is all about Coke and McDonald’s. McDonald’s of course having a strong partnership with Coke. There’s a temporary use of Skittles. Skittles is temporarily in the film. It just appears for the first half and then it’s like they forgot about it, and were just like, “Well, no more Skittles in this film.” Now all of this is put off. It’s explained or justified by this charity angle. The argument made by many of the people involved in this film is that all of these things were necessary evils, because it was all about the money. Let’s raise some money for a really good cause.

Jeff:

Now I am going to question this motive deeply and seriously. I think there are numerous instances throughout this film where if the object was to talk about Ronald McDonald House or the Ronald McDonald charity, why was it never addressed in any way? Why was there never any press to tell people why it was a good charity? Why they should donate to it? There was no actual appeal within the movie. Which is probably not a bad thing, it would’ve broken the movie a little bit. I agree. But I feel like this whole Ronald McDonald charity explanation doesn’t seem to really surface until after the movie bombs. The movie is a bomb and everyone’s critiquing how product placement it is, and then suddenly you have this narrative of oh well the producer always wanted to make a movie about the disabled person, and oh, he really liked the Ronald McDonald charity, which has nothing to do with him working as an advertiser for Ronald McDonald, of course.

Jeff:

The director in the commentary literally says that they were trying to see how they could push the envelope of product placement in this film. They were like, “How far can we go with placements before the audience is turned off?” And the answer is they went too far. They went way too far. It was literally described as being crass. And so I wonder if charity is being used here to sanitize the monstrous invasion of capital within this film and the ways in which they don’t try to make a movie, they tried to make a commercial, which also maybe explains why this movie that had a multimillion dollar budget was filmed in six weeks, because the story actually didn’t have anything to do with it. This is just purely a vehicle to sell McDonald’s, to sell Coke, to sell whatever other product they could place in it. And then it didn’t work, and now there’s this revisionist history.

Erika:

Well, as usual, you have done your research and you have used that research.

Jeff:

I don’t know. I’m just saying, but this is the part of the podcast where we get sued. But I do find it a little sus, it’s a little sussy.

Erika:

I don’t disagree with you. I think it’s potentially an answer to why didn’t we get a Ronald McDonald House scene? Why didn’t we get there if this is what this was about?

Jeff:

Absolutely.

Erika:

Surely someone would have known to tug at the heartstrings if you’re trying to get the cash. Telephones were well established at this point.

Jeff:

Oh yeah. Jerry Lewis was rolling in it by 1988. In fact, several years after this film, I would make my appearance as a poster child…for muscular dystrophy.

Erika:

So I guess this is why we have our rating system, because at the end of it all, sometimes it looks like a draw.

Jeff:

Yep. It’s hard to know. And that is why, like good social scientists and humanities professors, we turn to a statistical method in order to unearth the reality of a film. Tongue firmly placed in cheek. So here at Invalid Culture we have developed a scale in order to measure our movies. It is based on four primary questions. Marking our movies on a scale of one to five, five generally being the worst. The idea being the higher a movie scores, the worse the movie was. So let’s dive in. Question number one. On a scale of one to five, with five being the least accurate, how accurate does this film portray disability?

Erika:

I gave it a one. I think it was pretty accurate.

Jeff:

I gave it a one too.

Erika:

Woo.

Jeff:

It was shockingly accurate. Okay. Question number two. On scale of one to five, with five being the hardest, how hard was it for you to get through this film?

Erika:

I’m giving this one a three, because I’m going to be honest with you, it was reasonably hard.

Jeff:

I’m going to one up to you. I gave it a four. I found it actually quite difficult to get through this movie. I feel like I was bored. It was pretty difficult. I don’t know that I would’ve soldiered through this if I was a child. I think I might have bailed.

Erika:

Well, see that’s where I think the nostalgia factor made it easier to endure, because I think that this is actually much more tolerable for a child who cannot see the glaring problems with this film.

Jeff:

Okay. On a scale of one to five, with five being the maximum, how often did you laugh at things that were not intended to be funny?

Erika:

You know what? I gave it a three. I’m rethinking that three. I think it should be higher, but I’m just going to stick with my original rating and call it a three. I laughed a reasonable bit at things that were not supposed to be funny.

Jeff:

I also put this as a strong three. I think it’s a solid three for me as well. I definitely did not laugh at most of the things that I was supposed to laugh at. I definitely laughed a lot at the dance sequence, and not in a good way, I would argue. It was pretty unintentionally funny. And last but certainly not least, perhaps the most important, on a scale of one to five, with five being the most, how many steps back has this film put disabled people?

Erika:

So I gave this a two. And I just want to qualify and say that the film on its own, I only gave it a one. This is, by a landslide, the fairest, most accurate disability representation, in my view, that we have seen so far. But I’m giving it an extra point here because, I don’t know, this whole made a film for charity purposes, I feel like there’s something a little icky behind that. So that’s where my two came from

Jeff:

I struggled with this one, but I thought about it and I realized, particularly as we looked at the reviews of this film, no one addresses disability when talking about this film. The wheelchair is not a thing. And so I think it may be a film that put filmmaking back a century. However, I think disability, by and large, got out scot free on this one. I think we emerged unscathed as a people. And so for that reason, I am going to give it a one. So if we take all of our scores and we tally them together and we place them into our scale, we see that this film as not a terrible score, this film comes in at a regrets, I have a few. Which is our second best possible rating for a film.

Erika:

I honestly thought that it was going to squeeze in under this might be an under appreciated piece of art it, but having watched the film now a couple of times, I think it would feel wrong if it fit that category.

Jeff:

Yeah. I don’t think it’s art. Even if the disability representation is strong. I cringe at the idea of this film being used for anything in the world.

Erika:

Well, there it is. Filmmakers, movie buffs, bring it on. I hope that we will. It is my absolute goal. This podcast will not stop, I dare say, until we see a low enough ranking film that we can call it an under appreciated piece of art.

Jeff:

And goal number two, that we are able to finance Mac and Me 2, the sequel.

Erika:

Oh, yeah. Also that, for sure. I think as soon as we shut down here today, I am going to go start that GoFund me up and I think all we’d have to do is get Paul Rudd’s attention and this could happen.

[Music Interlude: “Wholesale Failure” by Days N Daze, singing “and the worst part is I know that this isn’t even close to how devastatingly bad everything is going to get” over a up tempo ukulele and horn-based folk rock]

Jeff:

And so ends another episode of Invalid Culture. Are you enjoying your time with us? Do you have a good time listening? Well, why don’t you tell your friends? Tell them to check it out. Maybe to go on to Apple Music or wherever it is you find your podcasts, give us a like, give us a comment, that would be greatly appreciated. But maybe even more important, do you know of an amazingly terrible disability film that you would like to hear us talk about? Go over to our website, invalidculture.com. Submit it to us. We would love to hear. So long, and we will see you on the other side.