Honestly, “The Office” ruined the “mockumentary” as a genre. There’s nothing like a long-running TV series, where everybody involved in front of and behind the camera forgets the original conceit of “We’re being candidly filmed while all this nonsense is going on,” to make one lose the thread.
Thus we get movies labeled “mockumentary” where there’s no pretext of “an unseen or little-seen crew is filming this,” utterly abandoning the sense of loony “reality” captured as it happens.
That’s “Adventures in Success,” a cult comedy that’s perfectly cultish but barely comical. More dispiriting than illuminating or amusing, it’s about this “self help” “start-up” in the heart of hippyland (Windham, NY, in the Catskills and not that far from Woodstock).
Peggy Appleyard (Lexie Mountain) is our cult leader, an “energy transformationalist” working “the fringe of self-help,” a woman with the charismatic intensity of a leader, and the fifth-rate thinking and inane, nonsensical patter of a crackpot.
Her jibberish incantations, ceremonies and double-speak masquerading as “teachings” is all about “Jilling Off,” the commune she’s set up in a big house on the edge of town where her first seven followers are led through hourglass-timed rituals aimed at “creating the greatest female orgasm in history” and denying the men in the cult that same pleasure.
“Five, six, seven eight,” they all chant, “female pleasure is truly great!”
Erica (Yaz Perea) has answered some vague ad and taken the bus north from Florida. She will become their “eighth,” and is immersed in the group meals, group lectures, group “training” and groupthink.
Peggy is a self-anointed expert in everything from sex and diet to self-defense and quasi-religious self-help cults as business “start-ups.”
Peggy teaches her followers to see everything — and I do mean everything, from cultural phenomena to sliced limes — in genital terms.
We get the joke pretty quickly, and there are a few grins at the obviously-fake-but-just-real-enough trappings of a cult and the “types” drawn into one. But the test of any one-joke film is how you incorporate that joke into a story, and where you take your one good gag.
There’s friction with the sleepy town which regards these standoffish interlopers as “the sex people” and keep them at a distance. There’s conflict within the group as the guys, hapless and devout as they may be, recognize they’re getting the short end of the sexual stick from this set-up.
And as Peggy drives them towards their big break — a “booth” at a Niagara Falls Health & Wellness Expo, her chance to get venture capital “angel investors” interested in her — even the firmest believers have to pick up on just how full of crap this nose-ringed, Doc Martened messiah actually is.
The best scenes have a free association feel. There’s an improvised dodge ball confrontation with townies. At one point, the women in the cult gather to gripe about society’s vagina “shaming” — the idealized representative of female genitalia in porn, etc.
“My vagina is a TEAMSTER…”MY vagina went through the Vietnam WAR….”MY vagina is Erin Brockovich, and she’s gonna make sure the water’s clean!”
But those moments are few and far between. I’d say there’s about 40 minutes of playful cult fun-poking here, and a movie that goes on an hour beyond that expiration point.
The rest of “Success” isn’t so much filler as repetition. There’s even a “filmmaker” in their midst, trying to DIY his own documentary within the mockumentary as hippy bookkeeping, doublespeak exposed for what it is and men denied sexual release come to a — pardon me — “head.”
Right. Sure. Fine. And?
Rating: unrated, frank sexual situations
Cast: Lexie Mountain, Yaz Perea, Khan Bayal, Asia Lee Boostani, Nell Sherman, Nina Tarr, Drew Freed, Alec Jones Trujillo.
Credits: Directed by Jay Buim, scripted by Jay Buim and Susan Juvet. A Utopia release.
Running time: 1:38