Pottersville (2017)

We meant to get to this back when it came out, but for whatever reason missed it in its first year - most likely a combination of negative reviews and high rental price convinced us to hold off and catch it on streaming. But this thing kind of disappeared into the ether immediately afterwards, and we forgot it ever existed until we stumbled across it on Netflix. And now that we've seen it... well... we found out why it disappeared into that ether.

Pottersville is pretty bad. Actually, that might be overly generous: the movie is a train wreck on a scale rarely seen with a cast this impressive. The movie's lead is Michael Shannon, with Judy Greer, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, and Ian McShane all playing major roles. That's a hell of a cast for a low-budget holiday satire. Assuming this is satire. Honestly, it's difficult to identify what exactly they were going for, because - whatever it was - it missed the mark by light-years.

I'll get to the plot, I promise, but first I need to address the other sasquatch in the room: the movie's title and setting. Because there's at least another movie's worth of premise in that alone. As a reminder, Pottersville is the name of the town in the tangent timeline shown to George Bailey in the 1946 film, It's a Wonderful Life. It's the town that would have existed if he'd never been born. Setting a holiday movie essentially amounts to a promise to explore that idea. The title is literally telling us the film is taking place in the darkest timeline.

And, for what it's worth, they find ways to mirror the look and feel of Bedford Falls/Pottersville. It does feel like this is set in that town seven decades later, though the same could probably be said of any similar town in America (which is likely half the point). That's the subtext here.

And only the subtext, because the actual plot of Pottersville is about a guy accidentally dressing up as a yeti, attracting media attention, and being hunted by a television cryptozoologist.

The man in question is Maynard (Shannon), a shop owner who's dedicated his life to helping his customers get through hard times. One day he comes home early from work and finds his wife (Hendricks) in a state of dress with another man.

That's not a typo: they are most definitely not naked; quite the opposite. See, it turns out his wife is secretly a furry. She tells Maynard they should spend some time apart. That night, he gets drunk, cobbles together a fursuit of his own, and wanders through the town in a daze. The people who spot him believe he's a sasquatch. He sees how excited the town is and decides to keep the hoax going, and of course it spirals out of control. He's eventually captured just before Christmas and unmasked, seemingly opening the town to a lawsuit from the TV star, which... I'll give them a pass on that, because movies never bother making legal stuff make sense.

In the aftermath, it seems like he'll have to sell his family's store, but his sole employee and love interest (played by Greer) reveals the binder containing the tabs for everyone in town is and has always been blank: Maynard has just been gifting them groceries when they've been going through hard times. No clue how he's still in business, but whatever. So, in a sequence mirroring the end of It's a Wonderful Life, they all show up and pay him back. Ron Perlman even delivers the "richest man in town" line.

Aside from some wrap-up, that's the gist. If you're wondering how that got stretched into a full movie, the answer is it's padded with a lot of comedic shtick, much of it from the men hunting Maynard. It's not particularly funny, but damned if they don't keep trying.

Astonishingly, I haven't really gotten to why this doesn't work yet. The problem with Pottersville is less that it's not funny or touching and more that it isn't satisfied being weird. With the right score and editor, this could have felt like a quirky film in the vein of Jim Jarmusch (though still not nearly as good).

But that just wasn't meant to be. Instead they scored this like a comedy from the mid-90s. Nothing sucks the humor out of a movie faster than music highlighting the moments you're supposed to find funny. They might as well have used a laugh track.

On second thought, a laugh track in a modern movie would have registered as bizarre and quirky: this was much worse. I can't imagine this was the original intent: the directing and performances feel like they were reaching for something offbeat and interesting.

Maybe I'm giving them too much credit, though. The movie's antagonist is played for comedic relief, as are several sequences. You could improve this substantially by changing the score, but it still wouldn't be close to good. I do think it might have had a chance to pick up a cult following, though.

And even in its actual form, I can't bring myself to hate it. It's an awful film and a failed experiment, but in an ocean of Christmas movies following the same three or four blueprints, this is definitely different. There are also the hints of an interesting idea in that title, in how rural America is shown, and in parallels between Maynard and George Bailey, and the cast here is obviously great (Shannon in particular is so much better than this material, it's astonishing he's even trying). But at the end of the day, bad is bad, and there's no reason anyone other than us should bother watching this mess.