It’s no secret that if you scratch an open-mic comedian, a Beckettian epic of beaten, wretched perseverance is bound to fall out (see: Muck, which we featured on this site last year, or Richard Pryor’s autobiopic Jo Jo Dancer Your Life is Calling, or whatever Louis C.K. is cooking up as I write this). In his new short, NoBudge award winner Joey Izzo (My Daughter’s Boyfriend, 2015) takes this evergreen setup and reduces it to a brutally sharp pinpoint. The result is not the redemption story of a plucky stand-up comic, but the saga of a single, terrible joke that keeps on failing, never gets any better, and yet refuses to die.
Jay Weingarten (whose thoroughly vaporwave website you can visit here) stars as the delivery mechanism for that joke, its human host. And “host” seems to be the key word; he’s infected and possessed by it, unable to drop a bit that amounts to little more than a series of rote, spatially confusing descriptions of the eponymous cafe, stuffed with tortured phrasings and nervous “actually”s. His afternoon of doomed preparation consists of jumpy, Howard Hughes-esque repetitions of the joke’s clunky phrases, and crash-lands into an open-mic whose game audience may or may not be in on the joke.
For a film that clocks in at just about 9 minutes, and leisurely guides us through only a handful of scenes, Cafe Tangerine is packed with significances, all of which seem to wrap around the dark side of self-actualization. Without ever quite dipping into easy cynicism, Izzo invites us into any would-be artist’s deepest fears: that believing in yourself can be the highest form of self-sabotage. That the only thing standing in the way of your dreams is that you’re the one having them. -Jonathan Kieran.
Directed by Joey Izzo. Starring Jay Weingarten.