Fantasia 2023 Review: BOOGER, A Quirky Exploration of Grief... With Hairballs
There is no one way to correctly grieve a loss. For some, the only way to pass through the hardest parts of this emotion is to throw themselves into work; for others, it’s impossible to move on without feeling each individual pang of loss acutely and dealing with them one by one; and for others, dealing with grief can mean not dealing with anything at all. In Mary Dauterman’s debut feature Booger, Anna (Grace Glowicki) mostly falls into the latter category.
When her best friend dies suddenly, Anna is lost. Izzy (Sofia Dobrushin) was her best friend and roommate, and when she is killed through a tragic accident, Anna can’t quite figure out how to exist in the world anymore. She ignores her job, stops paying her rent and bills, and just generally fizzles out. When combined with the pair’s runaway cat, Booger, the loss becomes too much and Anna starts to act out in increasingly bizarre ways.
Increasingly hostile to those around her, Anna seems stuck in the depression stage of the classic grief cycle. At first, her acting out materializes as curt conversations with her boss, then moves on to arguments about nothing in particular with her incredibly patient boyfriend, but it quickly becomes something stranger.
As Anna spirals, she seems to take on the personality of Booger, the lost cat. First in subtle ways that could easily be mistaken for nervous tics, but as her disassociation from her reality grows, she falls deeper into these disturbing behaviors. The disappearance of Booger is her breaking point; the cat was one of the last living things that connected her and Izzy, and its loss feels like an abandonment that Anna just can’t take. So, she takes on Booger’s cat-tributes (sorry) and it gets really weird and frequently gross.
Grief is not new territory for narrative film, but Booger manages to put a unique spin on the kind of things people hold on to when they are suffering. It isn’t always the most obvious things about a person that we miss; Dauterman understands this and plays with the idea that loss changes a person. We are who we are, not only because of our choices, but also because of the influence of those around us. Remove a piece of that ecosystem and the balance goes off. Anna’s balance is off, she is changed by Izzy’s loss, but what Booger explores is whether Anna will be able to survive the catastrophic loss and linger in the pain, or find a way through to the other side and honor the way that Izzy changed her, even though she’s no longer there.
There’s no doubt that this is the indiest of indie comedies. The quirky New York characters, the awkward gross-out moments thrown into this very dark comedy, and the incredibly game cast of supporting characters all contribute to a certain feeling that will be familiar to fans of the style. What sets Booger apart are Dauterman’s unique perspective and Glowicki’s amazing performance as a woman teetering on the edge of sanity – and occasionally toppling over.
It is not common for a film dealing with such universal and well-trodden ground to find something new to say, but Booger manages this quite effectively. There are endless films and stories about grief, but none of them are like this one, and I have to assume that very few feature this number of graphic scenes of a human woman coughing up hairballs. In a world where the cinema status quo seems to be finding a formula and beating it to death, it’s refreshing to have a new perspective, and Booger is exactly that.
The film enjoys its world premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival.