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Idiosyncratic Sweaty Betty is a documentary-cum-nonfiction of odd variety. Consisting of six scenes and six cuts and using a cast composed entirely of non-actors, it represents a new-age, inner city twist on the undiluted realism of Richard Linklater or Curtis Snow's disconcertingly realistic Snow on Tha Bluff. Tactically less intellectual than Linklater and yet more restrained and tender than Snow, Sweaty Betty shows the 21st century promise of plopping a camera in a foreign landscape to eye-opening effect, even if said landscape is on American soil.
The two dueling narratives of Sweaty Betty frame a somewhat askew relationship between man and beast. Issues of domestication, profitability and, gasp, love swirl into and out of the pocket of Joe Frank and Zack Reed's film but there's never an attempt to pinpoint exactly what it is they're attempting to communicate beyond slamming the camera in the middle of the action and letting it roll.
Events play out as a series of fast-talking closed captioned conversations and thank the gods for that. The characters, particularly the loquacious Scobby, are such hasty-gabbing windbags that they make Seinfeld's Jackie Chiles look like a traveling orator for senior centers. Without the visual aid of superimposed text, their Maryland motormouths might be garbled streaks of sound. Assisted by phonetic subtitles, their slang is hypnotic and strangely exciting - some of Scooby's colorful verbiage is the equivalent of ghetto Shakespeare - and since directing duo Frank and Reed are themselves products of this Cheverly community, their spotlighting of this particular lexicon couldn't feel less exploitative. Rather, the product itself boils down to the direcor's intention to put their experience on the screen as it might play out in real life, "From a directing and editing standpoint, we wanted to show life in real time. We wanted to show two great real-life stories unfold, but just as important, we wanted to show the pace at which these real-life stories unfold."
One of said story lines features best friends and young single dads Rico and Scooby as they come into owning a "cocaine white" pit bull puppy whose adorable levels are squeal-worthy. The other thread drops in on the Rich family and their 1000-pound pig as they half-assedly attempt to transform their beloved porker Mrs. Charlotte (whether the name choice is intentionally ironic or not is never certain) into the official mascot for the Washington Redskins. How perfectly suitable for a NFL brand that has largely associated itself with pigheadedness.
But where another film might be intentionally making this association, this is not the least bit the goal of Reed and Frank, nor the true-to-life Rich family. Rather, the Rich clan are of preternaturally earnest stock. The genuine purpose that patriarch Floyd and his folk garnish from their possession and neighborhood propagation of said swine is their soul's foodstuffs. It's bacon to feed their dreams. Their quiet aspirations to have their over-sized pig represent an NFL franchise is borderline heartbreaking. When legal interests interject to alter the pig's status within the Rich family, there is an immeasurable sense of loss, as if all they had to live for has been snatched with the scoop of a greedy carnival claw.
Told that they could not just pick up a camera and start filming, directing team Frank and Reed did exactly that. Their Best Buy Nikon d5100 came out of its packaging and immediately turned its gaze into the midst of this pair of real-life events. The narrative itself isn't meant to shake the earth, nor is it in itself a sensational mountain of intrigue, but their feature is nonetheless massively effective at dropping us into a place swirling with low-key issues symbolically representative of the specific cultural zeitgeist at large.
A few horrid musical cues - Luther Vandross' melodramatic "Dance With My Father" overstays its welcome within seconds - arrive aggressively on the nose. But even with such shameless grabs at our heartstrings, the sentiment behind such ideas are pure, even though obviously emotionally manipulative. It's their ability to succeed even in the face of commonplace platitudes that make Frank and Reed such a promising duo and Sweaty Betty such an unexpected accomplishment. See it for Scooby's delectable diatribes alone, yung.
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