Hey you guys
Last week I finally got around to watching Frank Whaley's The Jimmy Show. Like Man Push Cart, it's one of those almost comically depressing indie downers about a hapless sad sack who begins the film with next to nothing, then proceeds to lose even that. It's hopelessly melodramatic and badly acted in parts and boasts a climax at once stirring and unforgivably, unabashedly cheesy. Yet it's eminently watchable all the same, thanks to Whaley's queasily intense, uncompromising lead performance and a bracing willingness to take its pitch-black subject matter into dark and horrifying places.
In it, Whaley plays a desperate, bitter loser who vents his frustrations over a lifetime of failure in stand-up comedy performances that begin as a creepy form of free therapy and devolve steadily into a sort of open-ended suicide note to an unfeeling world. In The Jimmy Show stand-up comedy is less about entertaining people or finding humor in humanity's foibles than unleashing decades of rejection and bitterness on unsuspecting crowds. Jimmy charts Whaley's fall from suicidal despair to super-duper-double suicidal despair with a side order of abject misery.
After watching the film I checked out its trailer and was both amused and horrified to find that it essentially tried to sell the film as a zany comedy about a lovable, wisecracking loser and his underdog dream to make it as a stand-up comedian. The background music suggested a generic knock-off of "Walking On Sunshine". At one point it even employs the needle-scratching-wackily-on-a-record-player sound effect, that universal signal that some seriously in-your-face tomfoolery is about to go down. Melancholy flashbacks are posited as climactic zaniness and Whaley's sad, pathetic attempts at humor are depicted as the successful zingers of one funny dude.
The narrator at one point acknowledges that the film is "bitter-sweet" which is true only if by "bitter-sweet" they mean "unrelentingly grim". Watching this grotesque mischaracterization of a punishingly bleak character study I realized that the trailer was selling a movie that simply didn't exist. Sure it featured scenes and lines from the movie but they were edited together to suggest a movie that not only doesn't exist but is also the exact opposite of the real Jimmy Show in tone and content.
The trailer editor obviously felt that audiences were more likely to see this fictional wacky-comedy alternate universe version of the film than Whaley's stone-cold bummer. Did it work? Well, let's just say that I was moved to rent The Jimmy Show in part because it popped up in an Entertainment Weekly piece about the worst-grossing theatrically released movies of the decade. According to IMDB it grossed a grand total of 703 dollars playing on a single screen.
The really strange part is that The Jimmy Show has a lot of legitimate commercial hooks. Maybe not "Frank Whaley gazing in rapt awe at the mind-blowing splendor of Jennifer Connelly's cleavage"-level commercial but the film isn't without potential hooks. The trailer could have played up having a relatively popular and prolific character actor write, or at least adapt, Jonathan Marc Sherman's play, and direct himself in his most challenging and accomplished performance to date. They could have played up the film's strong echoes of King Of Comedy or Ethan Hawke and Carla Gugino's prominent supporting roles. They could have piggybacked on the critical acclaim of Whaley's little-seen but well-regarded directorial debut, Joe The King. Instead the trailer employed the old bait-and-switch and fell flat on its ass.
The trailer wasn't terribly dissimilar from the Youtube-fueled craze for wacky revisionist trailers positing, say, The Shining as an About A Boy-like dramedy or The Ten Commandments as a teen comedy except that those fan creations are intended as comedy while The Jimmy Show trailer at least purports to be an accurate reflection of the film's content.
The Jimmy Show trailer isn't even particularly unique in its fundamental dishonesty. Trailer editors often misrepresent films to play up what they consider a film's most commercial aspects, transforming brooding, sophisticated dramas into turgid action-packed thrillers and quiet films into genre mush.
So here is my question for you, dear reader. What's your favorite misleading trailer? Are there any particularly dishonest trailers that stand out in your mind?