Dispatches From Direct-To-DVD Purgatory is a periodic check-in on what’s going on in the world of movies that didn’t make it to theaters.
People often talk about the life-changing properties of becoming a parent for the first time. Hell, first-time parents often discuss that phenomenon so extensively, effusively, and unselfconsciously that non-parents are sometimes tempted to blurt, “Shut the fuck up about your goddamned kid already! We get it. Little Timmy is a living miracle that fills every moment with hope and has injected your life with fresh meaning. Now pipe the fuck down and pass me a beer!”
I’ve found, however, that people don’t talk about the transformative, life-changing experience of becoming a pet owner nearly enough, and I am just saying that because I recently experienced the transformative, life-changing experience of becoming a dog owner for the first time, and I cannot shut the fuck up about it. Also because it’s true, but mainly because I love my new little guy so much.
It’s remarkable how profoundly owning an animal can change your outlook on life. Before I got a Yorkshire terrier puppy named Ghostface about a month ago, my wife recoiled at the notion that anyone could mourn the death of a cat or dog the way they would a human. Now, I suspect that my wife would mourn the passing of Ghostface more than she would my own death. (Though that will never happen, as little Ghostface will live forever and grow more special and beautiful and sacred with each passing day.) A woman who could not understand people’s emotional attachment to animals now hand-feeds our dog because she insists he prefers it that way.
We’re not the only folks transformed by the presence of Ghostface, whom I feel I should probably mention here is a living miracle who has filled every moment of my life with hope and has injected it with fresh meaning. It’s adorable seeing the expressions on the sour-faced teenagers in my neighborhood change once they see little Ghostface running around our yard. Adorable animals tend to bring out the best in everyone. They have the ability to break past the drudgery and boredom that constitutes so much of everyday life and put people in touch with their jubilant inner child.
That said, Revenge For Jolly! tells the story of a hard-living, bleary-eyed hustler and small-time criminal played by Brian Petsos (who also wrote the surprisingly sharp screenplay) who treasures one thing above all else in his shadowy and drunken existence: the love and companionship of Jolly, a wonderful dog he treats with a heartrending tenderness that belies the hardscrabble nature of the rest of his life. Jolly is just about the only thing Petsos has in the world beyond a drinking problem and a history of terrible mistakes he was too blacked out to remember. So his world is ripped asunder when he comes home to discover that Jolly has been killed by an unknown perpetrator.
Petsos isn’t just upset. He’s destroyed in a way that never abates over the course of the film. His anger, grief, and sense that nothing can ever be right ever again consume and define him. Petsos’ rage takes on an almost physical presence; he carries it around with him, as a big black cloud that follows him everywhere, like Pigpen’s trail of dust.
To its credit, Revenge For Jolly! takes Petsos’ despair seriously. It grounds the film in real, palpable human emotion before it quickly takes a turn into pitch-black comedy. Petsos recruits his equally fucked-up drinking buddy and cousin (Oscar Isaac) on an epic mission of revenge on the motherfuckers who killed Jolly, which quickly elevates into a bloodbath.
The drunken, despondent duo’s first trip is to visit bartender Elijah Wood, one of a number of high-profile guest stars Petsos and Isaac kill in their quest for vengeance. In an indication of what’s to come, Petsos guns down Wood for downplaying the nature of the tragedy because it’s “only a dog,” which I think we can all agree is a tad excessive, but wholly understandable given the circumstances.
Early in the quest, Petsos relates to Isaac a perfect evening he spent with Jolly, where he put together a jigsaw puzzle of the Eiffel Tower, drank beer, and fed Jolly a bologna sandwich. It’s a poignant scene that beautifully captures the transformative power of being a pet owner and the intense emotional connection people feel with animals. A pet owner’s life is made up of thousands of those perfect little moments of connection and bliss, which collectively compose the big love between an animal and its human companion.
Yet this is but a quick breather from the main crusade, as Petsos and Isaac continue their bloody mission of vengeance, a casualty-strewn path that takes them in the direction of a dead-eyed hooker played by Gillian Jacobs, a pair of ponytail-sporting asshole lawyers played by Adam Brody and Bobby Moynihan, and a wedding where Kevin Corrigan drunkenly and indecently spills out a whole lot of weird family backstory while delivering a toast to the union of Kristen Wiig and Garret Dillahunt.
Revenge For Jolly! has a brilliant sick joke in one suffering man’s grief over an adorable dog leading to a full-on massacre of human beings, most of whom have nothing to do with Jolly’s death. The film is powered by an intense fatalism, as two men with nothing left to lose burn themselves out fighting one last doomed cause. It suggests an exciting new subgenre in canine noir, darkly comic thrillers dedicated to chronicling the spiritual bond between man and man’s best friend in the most dark, cynical, violent manner imaginable.
Revenge For Jolly! is often corrosively dark and incredibly bloody, but there’s a powerful sincerity at its core. It is, without a doubt, the most unexpectedly poignant movie ever made about a silly little dog—and I’m not just saying that because recent circumstances have rendered me susceptible to its grubby, gritty, canine-loving charms.
Just how bad is it? It’s actually quite good, especially for those who love dogs.