Calgary Underground 2023 Review: CASH COW, Educational Deadpan with a Dash of Self Absorption
Is there such a thing as charming narcissism? Inclusive self-absorption?
Apparently, yes, it can be a thing. Matt Barats’ one-man-show pandemic documentary, where he draws parallels between his situation to the prophet of Mormonism, is a black swan.
The film opens with a text scrawl declaring that Covid was hard on the world, but no category of people suffered more than struggling actors. Text as deadpan.
Matt, a struggling actor, decides to retreat upstate to camp out with his comedy pal, and get creative. When his friend bails on the trip at the last minute, it leaves Matt sitting by the campfire by himself, staring into the flames while eating cold pineapple rings out of a tin.
Now this is hardly the melo-romantic stuff of Wong Kar-Wai films, and Matt has a back-up plan. One that involves doing nothing until the royalty cheques from a Domino’s commercial he starred in goes national. If the commercial does not air, he does not get paid.
He shoots ‘tourism diary’ segments in front of the autumn Vermont foliage until one day he discovers the town nearby, Sheron, V.T., is ground zero for rise of Joseph Smith, and the distinctly American take on Christianity. Thus begins his detailed historical account of the nascent New England Mormonism by hitting ‘all the sites’ while waiting for his pizza money to come in. Sacred cows (and cash cows) are slyly skewered.
In between desperate calls to his agent about if the Domino’s spot has aired, he gets calls from his buddy who bailed on him, who passive-aggressively regales Matt with his success in doing lip synching videos on YouTube to make ends meet. Matt is desperate now, and starts funding his quest to learn everything about the early Mormons by working as a Domino’s delivery guy, the very thing he played in the commercial for which he is not getting paid. The irony is noted, if not delicious.
The pleasures of Cash Cow are many. The small talk is set against big landscape cinematography. The humour builds through repetition; something that may come off as weird or awkward is knee slapping on the fourth or fifth run at it.
Barats’ self-deprecation and self-flagellation is endearing, as is the measured and specific cadence of his delivery. The plucking banjo score helps where it can, even if his commitment to ride this quiet absurdity to the very end runs on a bit too long.
He pulls it off with the ending, when he gets this, which is a joy. Apropos of nothing, Cash Cow is a bizzaro doppleganger of Trevor Juras' The Interior. They would make a weird double bill.
As pandemic-coping films go, this Cash Cow is a unique beast. It is inside-laugh kind of stuff where, along the way, you might learn a thing or two, about the ad business, religious apostates, and the quest for comedy inspiration (and secret success) during a period of writers block.
- Matt Barats
- Matt Barats
- Matt Barats
- Ana Fabrega
- Brad Howe