Envelope Entertainment, 2004
directed by Nancy Hower
79 minutes, not rated
Memron is a "mockumentary": that is, a fictional film which pretends to be a documentary, and which gets the correct documentary feel through the use of improvisational, unscripted dialogue. The style was made famous by Christopher Guest, some of whose works have become famous or even legendary works of comedy -- most notably his first in the form, This Is Spinal Tap. So we know that the mockumentary method is capable of working very well. But oddly, nobody else has managed to achieve much fame or success with it. What does this mean? Judging by the example of Memron, my guess is that it means that creating a successful comedy this way is quite a difficult job. In particular, if your aim is humor but your delivery is deadpan, then your situations have to be doubly hilarious to be able to get a laugh. If you are able to summon only a moderate level of hilariousness -- say, enough for a typical rom-com... then you're in trouble. And that's really my one complaint about Memron: it just doesn't have enough funny to really get itself airborne.
That said, though, it's an impressively solid little film considering that its budget may not have reached five figures, and scenes were often filmed by the director alone, balancing a camera in one hand and a microphone boom in the other.
So what's the story? Memron is the name of a bankrupt corporation -- a transparent synonym for Enron. Its disgraced and jailed CEO is "Kenneth Clay". The film shows us Clay in prison and under house arrest, speaking on whatever topic comes to mind, but mainly it depicts a group of eight or ten laid-off Memron employees who can't find work, and eventually get the idea to start a new bogus company of their own.
Pacing is an issue. The thing is only runs about an hour and a quarter, and one third of that goes by before the characters accomplish anything more than static exposition of their initial situation. This opening act left me anticipating a dull slog for the rest of the film. But once they get their enterpreneurial idea, things pick up some.
What we're hoping for, of course, is a good exposé and skewering of the culture of corporate greed. We get surprisingly little of that. We're basically just supposed to accept the points that a satire might make in that direction as already understood. Most of the real laughs in the first half just come from random bits of rather forced sexual humor that have nothing to do with the core story. (If it had a theatrical rating, it would probably be PG-13.)
As for the rest of the humor, just as in the formula perfected by Guest, most of it centers on the spontaneous behavior of characters who are laughable or pathetic in various ways. And this increases still further the need to be extra funny for it to work, because otherwise you just wince with pain at what these people do to themselves and each other just by not knowing any better. At least, I do. Exactly as Guest does, this film revels in showing the sharp contrasts between each character's self-image and the unflattering view we have of them from outside. Making that kind of scene a pleasure rather than a punishment requires some top notch humor, and Nancy Hower and her company only reach the middle notch at best. Still, that will certainly be enough for some viewers -- the sort who find more humor in human discomfort than I do. So in the end, I personally did not find all that much entertainment value in the story... and since it makes almost no real effort at social or political criticism, amusement value is about all you can look for from it.
Unfortunately for those of us with widescreen TVs, the DVD does not use anamorphic widescreen. This is apparently due to the odd aspect ratio chosen, which is somewhere between the 1.33 of traditional television and the 1.78 of widescreen TV. Memron was filmed originally for cable TV, and this in-between aspect ratio is not unusual in that arena. This meant that if they made it anamorphic, the picture on a standard screen would have a black border on all four sides. So they avoided that, and instead widescreen owners get borders on all four sides. Nothing we ain't used to, of course.
The DVD package as a whole is pretty much bare bones. Aside from two Memron trailers, the disc has no extra features whatever.
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