'Turnaround' opens up the vain, but 'Slingshot' is right on target

November 18, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

Maybe it's your brother-in-law or someone in the office. Maybe it's someone in the car pool or someone who's dating your daughter. But it's someone: A person who considers him- or herself intrinsically more interesting than you, whose life is so much more fascinating than yours, whose wit so much more powerful, and who seizes every second of every day to narrate their latest adventures.

Uck. Terrible, no?

Now imagine two of them -- with a movie camera -- and you have some idea of the horrors that lurk within "My Life's in Turnaround," which is one half of the double bill at the Charles this week, and a movie so piercingly vain it makes mere narcissism seem like strength of character.

Eric Schaeffer and Donal Lardner Ward are cute and precious, a deadly combination. Unemployed off-Broadway actors, it occurred to them to make a movie about . . . making a movie about their lives. And these lives are definitely worth chronicling because they are, of course, both cute and precious.

Calling themselves Splick Featherstone and Jason Little (but why?), they've put together a formless ramble that is unified only by its intense affection for Eric Schaeffer and Donal Lardner Ward, who glory in their unprofessionalism. I loved it when they at last get an audience with a real producer and she asks them to make their pitch. The pitch is the key to a film career: You deliver your story in two minutes flat with drama and passion and maybe, just maybe, you get to the next step.

Splick and Jason have no pitch. They think that's funny. I think they ought to be sentenced to seeing "The Blue Kite" 200 straight times and learn that there are other things in the world besides Eric Schaeffer and Donal Lardner Ward.

Viewers will have far better luck with "The Slingshot," a Swedish coming-of-age film that is the other half of the theater's double bill (separate admission) this week. Based on a memoir by the inventor Roland Schutt, it's set in '20s Stockholm, where young Roland (Jesper Salen) must deal with the difficulties he's been dealt.

And they are considerable. His father owns a tobacco shop but his true passion is radical politics; he lives in the dream world where revolution is just around the corner. Roland's mom is a Russian Jew, an early feminist who expresses her liberation by advocating birth control and illegally selling condoms. Meanwhile, older brother wants to be a boxer.

Life in the Schutt household is a laugh-a-minute, including frequent visits by the police. But in spite of it all, or possibly because of it all, Roland develops into a hearty, hardy, self-reliant little guy, tough as nails, smart as a whip.

He has an entrepreneurial streak, as when he black markets slingshots of his own invention; and he has a guerrilla streak, as when he sabotages the teacher's toilet with lice and has 'em scratching in their jammies for months to come. He gets the tar whaled out of him regularly, but he always comes up with a smile and ready for some more licks.

"The Slingshot" is upbeat, amusing, continually amazing, the quintessential good time at the movies.

"The Slingshot"

Starring Jesper Salen

Directed by Ake Sandgren

Released by Sony Pictures

Unrated

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