The mid-'90s were a strange and perilous time for Saturday Night Live movies. The historic back-to-back-to-back triumphs of A Night At The Roxbury, Superstar and Lady's Man still lurked tantalizingly on the horizon. Except for its underrated sequel Lorne Michaels was largely unable to capitalize on the runaway success of
. 1993's Coneheads resurrected characters from the show's golden age to widespread critical and commercial indifference. Harold Ramis' surprisingly sober family drama Stuart Saves His Family, meanwhile, deviated so far from the tried and true SNL movie template that it barely qualifies as comedy. Most disastrously 1994's It's Pat: The Movie gave a big-screen close-up to one of SNL most reviled fixtures, a character so shrill and obnoxious it could easily pass for a vicious parody of recurring characters.
The makers of It's Pat subsequently faced a daunting challenge. How do you make an enjoyable 75-minute movie about a character who's insufferable in five minute increments? On Saturday Night Live Julia Sweeney's androgynous human question mark hit exactly one note: the spine-shivering screech of nails on chalkboard. In her signature character's sole feature-film vehicle Sweeney hits that note over and over again for seventy-five agonizing minutes.
It's Pat is obnoxious at least partially by design. Behind the lead character's simpering, repulsive exterior lies an equally repulsive interior. The film's protagonist is ugly and socially but deep down he/she's really a selfish, callous, narcissistic jerk.
It's Pat plot borrows one of the sturdiest tropes in SNL, a grotesque, freakish recurring character meeting an equally zany doppelganger. These are the kinds of hackneyed skits that result when over-stressed writers hit a creative wall round 4:30 in the morning and start babbling the most obvious conceivable concepts: What if Mr. Velcro Guy meets Mrs. Velcro Gal? What if Air Guitar Dude hangs out with his cousin, Older Air Guitar Dude? In this case Sweeney meets and falls for Dave Foley's equally androgynous but far more likeable love interest.
Of course that's barely enough plot for a single sketch so It's Pat adds two equally inessential subplots concerning Sweeney's show-business aspirations and white bread stalker. Charles Rocket throws himself into the role of a neighbor who develops a sick psychosexual obsession with Sweeney with scary intensity. The scenes of Rocket devolving into madness and obsession feel like something out of a Todd Solondz movie, all grey and ugly and hopelessly perverted.
After a while It's Pat all but gives up on being funny and settles for being as weird and disturbing as Rocket's subplot. The filmmakers–who include respected television director Adam Bernstein and co-screenwriter Jim Emerson, who does a fine job editing Roger Ebert's website–have made much out of the film's cameos from Ween and Camile Paglia. But appearances from countercultural icons alone don't lead to quality. On the contrary, Paglia and Ween's appearances just make It's Pat terrible in a vaguely geek-chic sort of way.
On paper, at least SNL movies are a sure thing. They're cheap, they have a built-in audience and even if they bomb in theaters they can probably recoup their budgets via the lucrative and undemanding home-video market. Yet It's Pat inglorious run at the box-office (according to IMDB it grossed just under $61,000) teaches us there's no such thing as a sure thing and that in the wrong hands a can't-miss proposition can easily turn into a can't-win prospect. A lot of the films I've written about are fascinating today for many of the reasons they failed initially, but It's Pat hasn't benefited at all from age, in part because it's so claustrophobic and limited in scope. Yet the film retains a queasy kind of appeal. It's simultaneously intriguing and repulsive, a would-be cult curio not even the most indulgent cult could love.
Failure, Fiasco or Secret Success?: Failure