DIRECTED BY ADAM BERNSTEIN/1994
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: OCTOBER 16, 2018/KINO LORBER STUDIO CLASSICS
The bare-bones, one-note “Pat” skits, a running staple on the early-90s iteration of Saturday Night Live, required writer-performer Julia Sweeney to concoct scenarios that forced the question of her character’s gender. There’d be a look of quietly-disturbed confusion on the part of those interacting with Pat, then a glint of hope as they at last felt they had definitive, boy-or-girl-confirming context clues, only to be denied by some frustrating reversal that returned the question to the table. By three or four of these moments, the skit would be over, its thin promises fulfilled. The 1994 cash grab, It’s Pat: The Movie, is seventy-seven minutes of those moments. The short length, merciful as it is, yet stretches the premise beyond the breaking point, suffocating the movie – and the viewer – of anything resembling enjoyment.
The discomfort is three-fold. First, the jokes, and the characters who purvey them, are unambiguously unfunny. Sweeney, along with co-writers Jim Emerson and Stephen Hibbert (they need to be called out), haven’t so much crafted jokes as dogpiled the very first ideas that popped into their brains, then presented them in the most obvious, flaccid ways – a litany of cringing moments that stink of the flotsam of any given SNL episode’s last five-minute time filler. And the characters who surround Pat are generally given zero time to find comic footing before they become deeply annoying or useless in varying degrees – especially poor Charles Rocket’s neighbor character, one who becomes so fascinated by the question of Pat’s gender that he falls into a sexual obsession that wrecks his marriage and makes him a quaking, sputtering idiot. We don’t expect a broad comedy to have a serious point, but we need it to become something more than an excuse to make someone’s genuine passion into a raving lunacy at the expense of someone else’s humanity.
Second, Sweeney’s Pat has been reworked from a harmless, naïve whiner, always seemingly game for ready chatter (even the intrusively belittling kind), and into more of a lethally obnoxious screw-up whose assertive confidence is married to a lack of social grace and an abject refusal to know when to quit. I could have just described the same year’s Ace Ventura (obnoxious was “in” in ’94!), but Jim Carrey’s character, another radical misfit, is frame-by-frame embued with Carrey’s high octane energy which, perhaps inadvertently, brims with a sort of twisted affirmation of life. Sweeney’s Pat is never less than a toxic boor.
Third, and what makes this a curio for only the less faint-of-heart today, is the perverse thrill of watching a movie that was already tone-deaf a quarter of a century ago slam hard, scene after scene, against the broad, tall wall of modern militant common sense and decency. You don’t have to be a woke social justice warrior to sink-squirm while the movie revels in the gleeful ridicule of an entire sexual category. As an example, the hopefully inadvertent titular use of the pronoun “it” to cudgel us against the need for specificity is today a pejorative in the family of, though not necessarily at the triggering level of, other gender and racial epithets.
One character bemoans the “sphinx-like riddle posed by the very existence of Pat” – but in the face of modern standards of mutual cultural respect, Kino Lorber’s issuing of this grotesque misfire is a mystery in its own right. The lack of any trace of a supplemental extra on the disc at once denies us a needed primer on the bizarro context, but also relieves us of even the passive need to wallow further into the muck of so radical a series of mistakes.
Images courtesy of ffffilm.com.