My Midwestern upbringing brought me into contact with Mystery Science Theater 3000 early on that spawned a love of bad movies, and despite my outwardly cynical appearance I also enjoy watching Christmas movies during the holiday season. Up until now, those two categories have rarely collided in anything worth watching as they are usually too boring or saccharine to even laugh at. The recently released Pottersville, on the other hand, succeeds in crossing those streams and making it work remarkably well.
Pottersville boasts a plethora of A-List actors but the script they have been handed is a doozy. It veers from plot point to plot point like a mall Santa that has been hitting their pocket flask all day. This movie combines absurd comedy and tepid drama into something that resembles a Hallmark Christmas film but is way too weird to be one. Oddly enough the film is still watchable for those who delight in such bizarre examples of cinema, as it takes the goofy and melodramatic parts of that Hallmark style and pushes them to the limit. I spent most of the film trying to determine whether the writer and director were aware of what they were making, but it almost doesn’t matter because, either way, it’s still pretty funny.
Michael Shannon plays the film’s… well, not hero, exactly, but he is certainly the main point of interest. He is presented as the nicest man in a failing small town who runs the local general store with the help of Judy Greer. When local hunter/tracker Ian McShane (seriously, how did they get this cast?!) stops by with some particularly juicy elk steaks, Shannon heads home early to surprise his wife (Christina Hendricks), which is where everything goes sideways. Shannon finds his wife and the town’s sheriff (Ron Perlman) fooling around while wearing full suit animal costumes, and his wife boots him out of the house demanding a separation. In his shock, he gets utterly wasted and decides the best cure for his sadness will be to put on a Gilly suit and gorilla mask and go out on the town. The next morning, he awakens with no memory but is quickly reminded by news broadcasts with interviews of local townsfolk claiming to have seen Sasquatch.
News of the Bigfoot sightings spread, and the quiet streets begin to see more traffic as tourists come along to have their own Sasquatch adventure. Seeing the potential, Shannon decides to repeat his Bigfoot wanderings, this time without the alcohol, and soon it seems the town’s worries are over as a steady stream of visitors—and their money—come to Pottersville. But when a reality TV monster hunter (Thomas Lennon) comes to town and engages Ian McShane’s hunting services to help him find the Sasquatch, Michael Shannon will have to decide if he should keep up his scheme or reveal all to the Pottersville citizens.
So much of this film is carried by the actors. Despite the ridiculous plot and hammy dialogue, every one of them seems to be invested in doing a competent job. Michael Shannon typically plays intense or at least stoic characters, but in this, he is a sweet and gentle man who is a little silly but generous to a fault with his customers. Both Judy Greer and Christina Hendricks are fun to watch but aren’t given much to do beyond their basic roles of the mean ex-wife and possible love interest. McShane is delightful as the gruff old woodsman and at times it almost becomes a parody with how far he pushes the role.
Pottersville is an undeniably bad movie; regardless of whether its script is a self-aware or how good the acting is, it’s an outlandish story that finds resolution by cribbing heavily from It’s A Wonderful Life. It can’t decide if it wants to make fun of the idea of furries or use their outcast status to make a vague point about acceptance. For the first hour it manages to combine all its parts into something that is so weird it almost becomes surreal, but as it stumbles along to its conclusion it unravels into a disappointing and trite ending. Because of all that, it will never be anything but a curious mistake to be cackled over by bad movie fans, but thankfully I am one and, hopefully, so are you.