Relaxer: Screening as part of Fantasia 2018’s brilliantly diverse line-up is slacker comedy fantasy, a film about one man and his sofa.
Relaxer review by Kat Hughes.
It’s the year 1999 and Abbie (Joshua Burge) is going nowhere with his life. He has a fondness for doing crazy endurance challenges, but an inability to finish them. This is a source of great frustration for his brother Cam (David Dastmalchian), that is until he challenges his brother to the ultimate challenge – beat the high score on Pac-Man by playing the perfect game and completing the fabled level 256. The rules of the challenge are simple – Abbie must complete the game in one sitting and is not allowed to leave his sofa spot for any reason, be that to grab a drink or snack, or even to answer a call of nature. Abbie accepts, but soon finds himself in a desperate bid for survival, worse still, level 256 of Pac-Man has a glitch and is rumoured to be impossible to beat, can Abbie achieve the unbelievable? Will he even last long enough to reach the Holy level?
Relaxer plays upon the single situation set-up that we’ve become familiar with. Abbie isn’t being physically forced to stay in his sofa spot, in fact for most of the film it’s just him in the apartment sat on the sofa in his pants playing the game. There’s no nefarious trick keeping him there, it’s all down to his own will-power and determination to succeed for once in his life. The lack of restraint makes it a little hard to believe why someone would sink to the levels that Abbie does, but then maybe that’s just this writer’s lack of patience speaking.
It’s not all just one man in his pants though, as Abbie gets visited by various people throughout the challenge. These interactions call up feelings of early Kevin Smith, with some definite Clerks vibes filtering through. When visited by a friend (who has come with a food drop-off) we take a nostalgic trip back to the late nineties as the likes of Jerry Maguire, Baywatch‘s C.J Parker, Carmen Electra and Professor X, are all discussed at length. The apartment too, what little we see, also embraces the beloved but now forgotten technology of the nineties; the apartment littered with a SNES, VHS player and an old-school portable TV.
Joshua Burge should be commended for his turn as Abbie. For one, he spends the entire film in his pants, which is no small task for an actor, and two, he’s literally in every frame of the movie, three, the film veers into some very peculiar places and he manages to hold it together. Relaxer revolves around Abbie and the little bubble of world that he has created for himself, so it’s important that the lead is strong and Burge is. His slow metamorphosis is handled delicately and Burge manages to elicit some genuine concern from the audience watching him pretty much waste away in front of their eyes.
Relaxer deals with themes of desperation, determination, and imbalances of power. Abbie seems to have spent his life under the control of Cam, unable to say no to anything he asks of him. The main strand of Relaxer sees his struggle to gain autonomy and push back against his domineering brother. It’s an interesting concept told through a very unique setting, but for this writer there was something lacking. Maybe it’s that the pace is very slow, or that the camera is predominately locked on Abbie on the couch, or that there’s just a whole lot of talking and not much action, but something just didn’t click for me. So much so that, when the film’s fantasy element starts to form (no spoilers from us about this), I was left feeling more than a little confused.
A mix of Clerks and Beavis and Butthead, Relaxer takes the viewer on a surreal, but nostalgic, trip back to the nineties. It’s just a little too odd to fully connect with everyone.
Relaxer review by Kat Hughes, July 2018.
Relaxer screened as part of Fantasia International Film Festival‘s 2018 line-up.