This soot black comedy finds some serious themes, almost as if by accident, as the actors stumble through its impossibly dark sets. It is the story of an accursed anti-hero whose struggle with dejection seems futile. As a comment on the absence of chances for the disenfranchised poor it is uncompromising.
Francis is an unremarkable man in his twenties, notable only for a speech impediment, a prominent birth mark, and an attendant lack of confidence. He works in a seedy one-hour photo lab and comic book store with a colleague who continually plays threadbare death metal. Each day Francis returns to a dingy low-rent apartment in order to care for a disabled relative, and engage in "solitary pursuits". Apart from going to confession in an equally gloomy church, this is the tedious orbit of his dismal existence. Even the priest tires of his mundane admissions, and suggests he needs to have something worth listening to.
On taking the trash out one evening Francis falls down some stairs at the rear of his tenement. The vibrations of this dislodge a plug in the wooden planks of the building's shell. The corresponding hole overlooks the windows of a neighboring apartment block, and presents the opportunity to spy on an attractive female neighbor.
While Francis may have a predilection to do this, he is not prepared for what develops after intervening to prevent the same neighbor, Gloria, from being mugged one evening. She demonstrates her gratitude by inviting him to dinner. Reluctantly accepting, he eventually also develops the self-esteem to accept her advances.
The relationship is in sharp contrast to the repugnance of his ordinary life, and leads Francis to hallucinate as he continues to watch her through the aperture. He cannot accept his good fortune, and his perceptions become distorted.
His progressive slide into madness is accelerated by events where he lives, and by his belief that a customer has abducted a child who he has seen in both the customer's snaps and on a milk carton. Francis tries to cope with the unbelievable despair of his circumstances and the opposing hope Gloria offers. He uses the excuse of his caring role to avoid her while trying to collect evidence that she is just something else within his experience that is bad.
He tells Gloria that his relative has a fistula, an ailment Francis describes to Gloria as an infected hole. This could be a symbol for the Buddy Boy microcosm or alternatively a metaphor for a universe that, from a dehumanized perspective, is a dust and waste filled bubble in what is otherwise empty perfection. Matter could be entertainment that a sublimely dispassionate God might ignore or observe according to caprice. His subjects are suspended between bipolar extremes: dark and light, good and bad, right and wrong, over-privilege and destitution. It is a dichotomous scheme in which Francis can discern neither logic nor the remotest suggestion of natural justice. He is at the nadir of the social order where things seldom change for the better. He feels godforsaken, and reacts against his growing awareness violently. He can no longer manage the incremental horror of his life, and his situation cannot be saved by either God or trickle-down economics. In fact, the combination of religion and ascriptive inequality keeps him exactly where he is.
The fact he innately tries to do right as occasion demands tends to suggest Francis represents the average man, doing his best in good faith, as far as practicable. Gloria can see his virtue and can relate to him. She too is struggling as a conscientious vegan and epileptic. Together the pair exemplifies a minority who must persist in face of what seems an overwhelmingly unfair judgment.
The shock value of Buddy Boy may arise less from the action than in an acknowledgement, albeit perhaps a veiled one, that households something like that Francis occupies may actually exist. Maybe more extreme examples could be unearthed in reality. From time to time they surface in the media, but mostly they remain submerged. Places in the dimly lit back streets of city areas the majority tacitly fear they ever have to pass through. The film is a portrait of the alienation, injustice, and fear that comes with the territory.
Directed by Mark Hanlon
Copyright © Spine Film 2016
Image credit: Australian Aid Photolibrary