Thanks to the efforts of Judd Apatow and his contemporaries and cohorts, the manboy currently dominates American pop culture. Slackers, stoners, dweebs, and the like are not just “in” — they are. The dude who’s refused to accept one more iota of responsibility than he can get away with refusing is our new default protagonist. Into this climate steps Buzzard, a film about slackerdom that refuses to coddle its lazy main character. Rather, it presents him as a pathetic, almost Gollum-esque creature, a being struggling to survive in a hostile world … though not struggling too hard.
Marty Jackinstansky (Joshua Burge) is a metalhead working as a temp at a credit union. He spends his nights crafting whatever odd object strikes his creativity his days trying to bilk his employer for as much as he can. Marty’s spirit is commendable, but his follow-through can be lacking, which is evident in both his main pastimes. His big project is refashioning a Nintendo Power Glove into a Freddy Krueger knife-hand, a clumsy though still fearsome apparatus. And it doesn’t take long after he has the bright idea to swipe a mound of tax returns for him to realize that it might be too visible a scam. In a fit of paranoia, he moves into the basement of his co-worker, Derek (writer/director Joel Potrykus), where he gradually regresses into even more of a manchild than he already was.
Buzzard presents the late ‘80s / early ‘90s Michigan landscape as a cutthroat wasteland where everyone is either hustling or getting hustled — or both. All the characters Marty meets and is invariably an asshole to are living under the same economic thumb. A few bucks constitutes high stakes. One of Marty’s fellow temps is proud of getting brought on full-time for $10 an hour. He calls in the coupons on pizza boxes and risks prison over a few hundred dollars’ worth of checks. The story moves forward as Marty’s scant savings trickle away, pushing him into increasingly desperate gambits, with that razor-fingered Power Glove sitting in his backpack all the while …
It would almost be a horror movie or a grim social realist drama if it weren’t for the consistent strain of sharp humor running throughout. The movie doesn’t excuse Marty the way so many comedies do their own leads, but nor does it condemn him. Rather, it draws painful recognition from his situation, and wrings it both for laughs and cringes. This sustains much of the film’s middle section, which rarely leaves Derek’s basement. Gags like a baffling game in which Marty and Derek hurl tennis balls at one another’s faces, or a hilarious scene in which Derek is force-fed Bugles via treadmill, capture boredom-induced stupidity in all its horrible glory.
At the center of all this is Burge, who has the face of a Jeff Smith grotesque but carries humanity in his haggard eyes. Marty is the kind of listless shithead you both hate and pity. The guy’s awful, but all he wants is a warm bed and a nice plate of spaghetti. And really, anyone who’s ever been in a tough spot can relate. Buzzard’s nonjudgmental but unsparing gaze lets it be raw, tense, and funny, often at the same time.
3 stars out of 4