By Don Simpson | January 14, 2013
Director: Craig Elrod
Writers: Craig Elrod, Jason Newman
Starring: Jason Newman, Lee Eddy, Alan Metoskie, Chris Doubek, Kelli Bland, John Merriman, Sam Eidson, Macon Blair, Byron Brown, Will Elliott, Kirk C. Johnson, Jonna Juul-Hansen, Nicholas Saenz, Jessie Tilton, Vincent Van Horn, Jason Vines
After watching Craig Elrod’s The Man from Orlando, I have determined that all comedies should be bookended by over-the-top white trash caricatures spewing nonsensically offensive bile about their affinity for a certain woman’s “mouse ear.” In the case of Elrod’s irreverent-yet-touching comedy, that character is One-Eyed Don (Byron Brown). Okay, maybe I like him because we share the same first name — or maybe I should be incredibly offended by his naming? No matter, One-Eyed Don sets the bar quite high in terms of its outlandish shock and awe factor, therefore allowing the remainder of The Man from Orlando to seem quite family friendly in comparison. Best of all, what seems like an incredibly random character actually ends up tying the entire room — I mean, narrative — together. I must say, that is a well played bit of writing, sirs.
The other 85-or-so minutes of the One-Eyed Don sandwich focuses on Orlando (Jason Newman), who is not actually from Orlando, but is on the run from a gang of evil…lifeguards? Yes, lifeguards. The gang leader — or head lifeguard — is Kip (Alan Metoskie), and Kip really wants to bring Orlando back into his fold. Orlando assumes that Kip will never find him if he relocates to Priddy, Texas and moves in with his brother Romeo (Chris Doubek) and sister-in-law Terri (Jonna Juul-Hansen).
While The Man from Orlando does feature a nicely constructed narrative arc that revolves around Orlando, it truly excels as a just-wacky-enough ensemble piece that showcases stand-out performances by several of Austin’s best comedic actors: Chris Doubek, Kelli Bland, John Merriman, and Sam Eidson. And while I had no idea who Alan Metoskie was before seeing The Man from Orlando, his performance as Kip will forever be emblazoned as a shit-eating grin on my face. Oh, and let us not forget one of my personal favorites, Macon Blair as the bartender who refuses to serve beer to Orlando. This leaves Jason Newman and Lee Eddy — who have done most of their work on the stage — to play the proverbial straight parts, which they do so quite admirably.
Sure, you might chalk up a lot of my praise to this film’s home field advantage — maybe I am a bit too immersed in the Austin film community to be completely unbiased? I will say that I am usually pretty hard on comedies, but The Man from Orlando is one of my favorites of 2012. It probably does not help my case against any local favoritism or bias that two of my other favorite comedies of 2012 were also made in Austin, Cinema Six and Pictures of Superheroes; but I would argue that, if anything, I have a bias against Hollywood comedies because of their embarrassing level of simplicity. The Man from Orlando is clever and unique, the writing is quite strong, and the performances have nuance and depth — the very same can be said for Cinema Six and Pictures of Superheroes, though the three films bear very little resemblance to each other (with the exception of sharing some cast and crew). I give all three films a lot of credit for being adventurous and not simply complying to Hollywood standards. These comedies can probably only exist outside of the studio system, and for that I applaud them; unfortunately, that also means that they will probably never get the distribution deals that they truly deserve.