50 Movies for 50 States Part Two: The `80s — #13 – Illinois, Film – The Party Animal

#13 – Illinois, The Party Animal

The Party Animal (1985), produced by Moviestore Entertainment and Pan-Canadian Video Presentations, directed by David Beaird and Harvey Hart, with Matthew Causey, Timothy Carhart, Jerry Jones, Robin Harlan and Lucy Roucis, written by David Beaird and Alan C. Fox (story), cinematography by Bryan England, edited by Susan Jenkins, filmed at the former Shimer College campus in Mount Carrol, Illinois

The plot – Pondo Sinatra really wants to get laid. This is a tall order for a man who literally came into town on the back of a turnip truck.

A turnip truck?

Yes, a turnip truck.

And that’s just how The Party Animal begins, with the film’s hero Pondo Sinatra cruising into town a top a truck bed full of turnips, snacking on a turnip to the sweet sound of The Buzzcocks “Can I Touch It?” What a way to open a movie. I think Fellini may have began one of his films the same way.

Speaking of prestigious Italian filmmakers, either The Party Animal is a film with a major case of attention deficit disorder or it’s a Felliniesque tribute to the late-night comic sex romp. From the moment that Mr. Sinatra makes his grand entrance, The Party Animal refuses to sit still, bouncing from one hilariously failed seduction attempt by Pondo to the next like a toddler zonked out on pixie sticks and Jolt Cola. What kind of person gives a toddler pixie sticks and Jolt Cola? What kind of person gives a movie camera to David Beaird, the director of The Party Animal, based on a concept – I assume some type of script – so plain in concept and without any sort of real “story” to serve as a framework. Here’s how the story goes: Dude really wants to get laid. Dude can’t get laid. The whole movie plays like a series of skits. Was there even a script? Were they just making it up as they went? Even when a series of events transforms Pondo into The Party Animal, that plot development doesn’t occur until the last 15 minutes of the film.

Maybe the point is really not to tell a story in a traditional sense. Maybe the point is to paint a portrait of what it’s like to be trapped inside the mind of a man barreling full speed into his 30s (Pondo is described by his best friend, the appropriately-named ‘Studly’, as a 4th-year senior), beset on all sides by nubile young women and their muscle-bound testosterone-jacked mates, wondering to himself, “Can a person die of blue balls?” (Never once does The Party Animal suggest that Pondo masturbates to relieve his sexual tension and since Pondo seems to have no real grasp of the mechanics of sex, I suppose it’s entirely possible that he doesn’t know how to masturbate.)

Either the later scenario is correct, that The Party Animal is some type of deconstructionist take on the sex comedy, or The Party Animal is one of the worst paced movies ever.

For me, I’d rather pretend that The Party Animal is an absurd little fairy tale about the perils of coming-of-age a decade too late. That’s right. I’d rather throw everything I know about “good” film-making out of a window, knowing full well that, although The Party Animal – in terms of all-around form – is one of the sloppiest films I’ve ever seen outside of some of the direct-to-video schlock I’ve reviewed since beginning this project, it’s a fucking blast.

I can’t help but wonder: Could The Party Animal be the greatest sex comedy … excuse me … “romp” ever made in terms of “delivering the goods”?

Let’s start with the hero, Pondo Sinatra. An amazing name, to say the least. You have “Pondo”, with “The Pondo” being a South African ethnic group, as well as a possible variation on “Mondo”, as in “mondo” movies, a genre of documentary popularized in the late 1960s specializing in showing odd and unusual practices and events from around the globe. (Incidentally, when searching for “Pondo” on Google, The Party Animal‘s Wikipedia entry comes up third in the results. Also, as an aside, wrestling fans familiar with the wrestler Mad Man Pondo might be interested to know that this movie is where Pondo took his moniker.)

Then you have Sinatra, for many, the epitome of cool – basically, everything that Pondo Sinatra is not.

Not only is Pondo Sinatra a great name, but it foreshadows the dichotomy between Pondo Sinatra before and after he becomes The Party Animal. The film fails by only teasing us with that transformation. As the focus of the movie is mostly on Pondo Sinatra’s status as the loser to trump all losers, it’s really up to the actor playing the role to make us believe that Pondo Sinatra is the most failing of human failures.

Enter Matthew Causey.

Causey puts on the performance of a lifetime as Pondo Sinatra – literally, he only has one or two other screen acting credits to his name. It makes since that Causey gave up his acting career to receive a PhD from Stanford and be – of all things – a senior lecturer of drama at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. Causey is Pondo Sinatra, at least within the film realm. In real life, according to the Trinity College’s Web site “Dr. Causey is directing a series of performances for ATRL translating Samuel Beckett’s late television plays for technologized and mediated performance environments emphasizing hybrid, networked and virtual modes of communication.” Roughly translated into plain-speak, that means that Matthew Causey is trying to distance himself as far away from the role of Mondo Sinatra as humanly possible.

Regardless of how Matthew Causey feels about his brief film career, he is hilarious as Pondo Sinatra and, even in the crudest and most basic of comedy set-ups, his mannerisms and delivery of some of the most ridiculous of dialogue is laugh-out-loud funny. While “bearded clam” is a funny enough phrase on its own, spoken from the mouth of a classically-trained actor, it becomes comic gold.

How does The Party Animal deliver? Is it funny? Yes. Yes, it is.

Does it have endless rampant nudity? Yes. (From both sexes, actually. There’s a male stripper scene that contains so much barely-concealed dong that I had images of penises burned into my mind for days.) But mostly it’s just boobs. (See Hard Ticket To Hawaii.)

Drugs? Yes sir. All kinds.

A scene in a sex shop with a Marlon Brando impersonator who gives a monologue on the arms race between the United States and Russia using dildos as visual aids? Yep.

Speaking of which, does it contain homages to On The Waterfront, The Elephant Man and Faust? It does.

What about the music?

The Party Animal has an amazing soundtrack filled with tunes from punk and post-punk bands like The Buzzkills, The Fleshtones and more.

Despite its many faults, there’s too much here to like for me not to fall in love with The Party Animal. It’s every bit as good as good as a more popular sex comedies like Porky’s – perhaps better because of Causey’s over-the-top portrayal of Pondo and an outstanding soundtrack. See it with a friend and a few beers and you’ll be entertained, right up until its odd, anti-climactic conclusion. You’ll also take away from it the very important life lesson: “Never sell your soul to the devil for a piece of ass.” Some say “Carpe Diem” is an inspirational motto, but I find The Party Animal‘s message much more practical.

From the soundtrack: “Why Can’t I Touch It” by The Buzzcocks

From the soundtrack: “She’s Just A Girl” by The Convertibles

 Next week: Indiana


50 Movies for 50 States Contest Scoreboard

@iceybloop – 2

@ZeekZombieMan – 1

@DraconicVerses – 2

@VicarOfVHS – 2

@ghwalters – 4

@lowdudgeon – 2

@unclegeeky – 2

@LCosgrove – 4

@GCDB – 2

Every Tuesday, a new screenshot. Guess the movie, win 2 points. Remember: Only dirty cheaters use IMDb to play the 50 Movies for 50 States guessing game. If you’re a cheater, I will find you out and scold you.

Want to play? Follow Matt on Twitter at @CM_MattDunn.

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