Photo: Oscilloscope
Before We Vanish by Daniel Gorman Film

VHYes | Jack Henry Robbins

January 25, 2020

VHYes is a wannabe absurdist curiosity but is instead an interminable viewing experience.

Jack Henry Robbins’ VHYes is the kitschy, post-ironic, pseudo-found footage 80’s pastiche the world didn’t need. A mix between documentary and sketch comedy modes, VHYes follows Ralph, a young boy who has been gifted a video camera and begins filming everything in sight. This includes not only his own antics, but also any random late night nonsense on the television. Ralph has accidentally started recording all of this on a VHS cassette that also contains his parents wedding ceremony, so we are bombarded with snippets of this old wedding footage, boys goofing around, and longer segments of basic-cable and late night infomercial parodies. The whole thing is interminable, as Robbins flits from fragment to fragment to fragment, with no sense of flow or rhythm, just increasing oddity that amounts to little more than diminishing returns. There’s a hint of a narrative here, as Ralph inadvertently begins documenting his parents dissolving marriage, but there’s just not enough of it to mean anything. Robbins stacks the cast with overqualified ringers, including Thomas Lennon, Mark Proksch, Kerri Kenney, and Charlyne Yi, but the comedy is aimless, counting not one but two porn parodies, a silly hardcore punk band performance, and yet another spoof of a Bob Ross-type hippie-dippy painter.

VHYes is very obviously striving for an Adult Swim brand of absurdity, but there’s a reason most of those shows are 15 minutes long.  Indeed, one of the few iron clad rules of criticism is that the critic must watch the entire film in question before proffering their critique. But even 30 minutes of VHYes tested this critic’s resolve, and watching the remaining 40 minutes did nothing to disabuse me of the notion that the film need not be viewed at all, by anyone, at any time. Typically, a 70-minute run time would be mercifully short, but life is too brief to waste it on such a frivolous, useless object. VHYes is a vanity project, a product of Hollywood nepotism masquerading as a found art object, its existence based entirely upon the fact that director Robbins just happens to be the offspring of certified famous people Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon (a fact that would not necessarily demand to be pointed out except that young Jack parades his parents out in cameos and again over the end credits, while also giving mommy a producing credit). A paraphrase of Frederic Jameson seems an apt summation: ‘imagine… a face on your television screen accompanied by an incomprehensible and never-ending stream of keenings and mutterings… it is an experience to which you might be willing to submit out of curiosity for a few minutes. When, however, you… discover that this particular videotext is twenty-one minutes long, then panic overcomes the mind and almost anything else seems preferable.’

Published as part of January 2020’s Before We Vanish.