Who's Watching Oliver?
Who's watching Oliver tells the story of a mentally unstable loner lost in a life forced upon him. By night Oliver aimlessly wanders the streets and bars on what can only be described as a truly shocking and humiliating killing spree. His only savior and possible way out of a life he is desperate to escape comes in the form of the beautiful Sophia with her sweet eccentricity and naivety to the danger she has put herself in.
Russell Geoffrey Banks
Russell Geoffrey Banks
Sara Malakul Lane
The timing of things these past few days could not have been more perfect.
I just watched a film (which I reviewed) called WTF! (read that review here) and after the latest screening of a flick called Who’s Watching Oliver? – the term/abbreviation “WTF” perfectly and exquisitely sums up my reactions.
How can I best describe what I’m about to say about the film?
I recall first seeing Todd Solondz’s Happiness. And despite the absolutely perverse characters and insane scenarios contained in that film, I felt the need to immediately suggest it to select friends and family. Now, if you know that film and the weirdo s*** it’s known for, you know how tricky that might be. So I prefaced any recommendation of Happiness with a “don’t think me a total pervert with a deranged mind requiring immediate use of a straight jacket, but…”
And I feel I’m at that same crossroads after seeing Who’s Watching Oliver?, a film from director Richie Moore – because, seriously, WTF?
Let me lay it all out on the table for you. Oliver (Russell Geoffrey Banks) is a weird social outcast from the United Kingdom, living in Thailand. He spends his day hanging out at a Disney-esque theme park – always very strict with his daily schedule. At one point during the afternoon, he Skypes with his mother (Margaret Roche) back in the UK and she tells him to do things… sexual things, perverse things, violent things, murderous things. This is a way of life for them both and despite Oliver’s never having liked this arrangement, he does what a good son does… he pleases his mother. But one day at the park, Oliver meets beautiful Sophia (Sarah Malakul Lane of Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse) and this whack-job mother-son bond will be tested.
There’s not much as far as story in Who’s Watching Oliver?. I mean, sure, it’s a boy meets girls, boy falls in love with girl kind of tale, but it’s far from typical. And so that means taking center stage in this production are the three lead performances.
Right off the bat, my response to the film and its bloody subject matter – was at best, tepid. But I’ll tell you what – as the film’s events progressed and the actors continued to impress — I was hooked.
Co-writer Russell Geoffrey Banks delivers a wonderfully awkward and pained performance as the title character — which from the get-go had me thinking that he must have studied the work of Billy Bob Thornton as Carl in the Oscar-winning wonder, Sling Blade. With a similar hunched body language and a pronounced under-bite, Banks (who from all accounts appears to be a pretty handsome guy) transforms into a character who has been thrown down at every turn of his life. And once we learn his very dark history (via some drawings he shares with his unnamed cat — I loved this scene), the sympathy for this murderous and odd character begins to seep in. Eventually, you’ll come to like Oliver a great deal. And this is credit to Banks. Oliver’s not always in a great mood and so Banks offers up several sides to Oliver — portraying this character’s many emotions (heartbreak, frustration, confusion) and all to equally great effect.
As Sophia, Sarah Malakul Lane is sweet, almost angelic and is able to garner audience sympathy immediately. Her tales of woe later in the film only help to make us root for this very bizarre couple. Separately the characters are weird, but together, they work (and are of course, still weird). There’s a true chemistry between the two actors and when something happens in the third act of the film — like Oliver — you too will be heartbroken.
As Mama, Margaret Roche (who has no other acting credits on IMDb) almost feels like an amateur actor pulled up from some creepy on-line casting search. “ISO – cackling old woman with no acting experience to portray an effed-up mother – who makes Norma Bates look like Mother-of-the-Year!” And they found Roche. And she is indeed a find. As Mama, she’s fearless in her nastiness and extremely off-putting. And her line deliveries as she prods Oliver to do her bidding and then devastatingly manipulates him – well, they’ll have you uncomfortably laughing — when you’re not picking your jaw up from the floor.
While the film is definitely an actor’s piece, it also can tout a sleek production, with nice production values — which include powerful and well-done gore and great locations (that creepy as all get-out amusement park is a one-of-a-kind find). The technical pieces never distract (that’s a good thing), thus allowing the characters and the actors portraying them to shine.
For such nasty subject matter, it’s almost miraculous that you’ll feel sympathy for these people (except for Mama, of course). And with scenes not so far-removed from my arch enemy (torture-porn) these moments of caring for these folks is an even bigger achievement. There’s a moment on the amusement park bench (the regular meeting place for Oliver and Sophia) where she tells of her past — and it was that scene which had me doing an “awwww” in spite of myself. Despite all of the blood and death and rampant weirdness, you want this relationship to work.
Deeply disturbing, surprisingly endearing and certainly memorable, Who’s Watching Oliver? Is worth a watch, but it is definitely not for all audiences.
And I have a feeling that writer/director Todd Solondz would take to this oddball film like a pedophile to a little kid. I guess that sounds outright awful if you don’t know the film Happiness. Well then, educate yourself and don’t judge my movie references.
Who’s Watching Oliver? has made a name for itself at several film festivals, but no wider release information (DVD/VOD/theatrical) is currently available.