Mother Schmuckers is sub-John Waters more-busting that fails to understand the essential appeal of its inspirational touchstone.
American audiences encountering the Belgian gross-out comedy Mother Schmuckers can be forgiven for thinking that perhaps something is lost in translation. It would be easy to assume that the central pair at the heart of the film, actors Maxi Delmelle and Harpo Guit, are some sort of social media sensations or long-standing comedy duo who have a huge cult following in their homeland; it would at least explain why they were given the opportunity to make such a dire film in the first place. Alas, research reveals that this is indeed their first collaboration, and the directorial debut of real-life brothers Lenny Guit and star Harpo. Thus, any would-be leeway is mercilessly revoked, and all that is left is a brutally unfunny film that tries hard to shock but does nothing more than exhaust. There’s a hint of John Waters in the film’s DNA, the story of two incredibly stupid and obnoxious brothers, Issachar and Zabulon, who search frantically for their mother’s missing dog over the course of 12 insane hours, getting into all sorts of wacky adventures along the way. That this film opens with one of the duo eating dog shit seems like an obvious reference and perhaps a challenge to Waters’ cult classic Pink Flamingos, which (in)famously finds star Divine eating a fresh coil on camera at film’s end. The strategic logic of Mother Schmuckers, then, seems to be: what if we started with this nauseating act?
The movie certainly tries to top itself with each successive scene, introducing bestiality, necrophilia, homophobia, abuse of the homeless, the dangers of nut allergies stemming from the deep-throating of a peanut butter-covered pistol, and dick removal by the jaws of a dog. Waters is also channeled in the film’s grungy aesthetic, which combines traditional digital photography with cell phone footage, videotape, and 16mm film stock. Every camera angle imaginable is utilized, while specialized techniques such as speed ramping and freeze frames — and freeze frames within freeze frames! — abound. What the Guit brothers seem to have forgotten is that, for all of the gross-out and sometimes deplorable actions enacted by his characters, Waters’ kinship with them was palpable, an innate likeability and, ironically, innocence present within each one. His films were nothing if not a portrait of outsiders desperately trying to find their place in the world, even if it meant destroying its mores in the process. Issachar and Zabulon are merely grating and mean-spirited, driven by literal hunger and nothing more. The difference is as stark as the one that exists between Dumb and Dumber one and two, the former another clear aspirational touchstone here. Trust me, then, when I say nothing has been lost in translation; unfunny transcends any and all language and cultural barriers. This film can go schmuck itself.
Originally published as part of Sundance Film Festival 2021 — Dispatch 2.