Toronto After Dark 2013: Motivational Growth Review
If you’ve ever channel surfed and gone around the horn perhaps a few more times than a rational thinking person really should, you may have some idea how Ian Folivor (the central character of Don Thacker’s film Motivational Growth) feels. Only some though…You see, Ian has reached the grandmaster level of couch potato-ness. He hasn’t left his apartment in over a year, pizza boxes and various dishes litter the furniture and it’s probably a tie between the floor and his beard as to which contains more food scraps. His couch is well worn in and except for the fairly regular bowel movements, he has mostly settled into a slouched zombie position as he flips constantly between stations. The mammoth remote control stays firmly in his hand as he stares at his old relic of a family TV (the old kind with tubes that came in crate sized cabinets). He’s lost his way, doesn’t know how to find it again and has pretty much given up hope of ever finding the desire to look for it. We know this because after his TV conks out on him, he confides it all straight into the camera to us. Without the TV, he’s even lost the will to keep living, so he concocts a poisonous mixture in his bathtub, breathes in the fumes and resigns himself to sweet oblivion. It’s around this point that Ian notices mold in the corner of his bathroom – mainly because it speaks to him.
Sorry, I should say “The Mold” (as it likes to be addressed). After Ian crashes down on the bathroom floor trying to seal off that damn bathroom fan that’s constantly churning (along with spiffy 8-bit computer game music – also known as chiptune – it’s the only other sound on the soundtrack), The Mold informs him that things need to change. The Mold has a plan and Ian is to follow every step. The Mold is here to help him. Ian is resistant, but after a series of encounters with people in his apartment (groceries, TV repair, landlord, etc.), he strikes a deal with the fungus. Ian begins to clean himself and his apartment up, tackles several tasks assigned to him and starts to envision an actual life. Hopefully one with that really cute woman next door that he has been peephole stalking on a daily basis.
At its core, Motivational Growth is a cautionary tale of what can happen if you don’t get off the couch. As the rapturous, almost heavenly shots of Leah standing outside show (she looks angelic bathed in bright white light), it’s borderline sinful to let your life just slip past you. Based somewhat on Thacker’s own experiences after moving to Los Angeles (a reality check that he cashed in 1991 – hence the timeframe for the movie), there’s a great deal more to the film than just its moral. There’s an abundance of religious iconography, bits of physics, a playfulness with words, the science of spores and plenty of references to film, music and video games (including some great 8-bit video game animation that might have you hoping there’s an old NES machine still working under your bed at home) to keep anyone guessing as to where the dialogue may turn next. It’s unlikely any single viewer will catch or enjoy every reference, but there’s easily enough to go around. Thacker’s lengthy Q&A showed where it all comes from – he is simply bursting with things to say, connections to make and ideas to share.
That’s the beauty and charm of the movie – it’s overall message is straightforward, but there are hundreds of other thoughts at work. Some spill from Ian’s own conversations with the camera, others from the visitors to the apartment and still many more from The Mold itself. With a tendency to call people “Jack” and the ability to instantaneously pop up different fungal derivatives throughout Ian’s place, The Mold (wonderfully and energetically voiced by Jeffrey Combs) has very firm plans for his protege. Just when you think The Mold is all about helping, though, he throws Ian into disarray or into a potentially awful situation. Does it have an overriding master plan for him or is it just an evil grey growth in the corner of the bathroom messing with his head? The Mold, by the way, is done all via puppetry and its large gaping maw was apparently synched live with voice. Add that to the single location (comprised of just two sets) and some neat interplay with early 90s fake TV show/commercials on the TV, and you have to marvel at the amount of creativity Don Thacker has squeezed out of his relatively mild budget. Better yet though, marvel at how much fun it is to be taken on this ride and how original the film is. If it comes to a theatre or festival near you, just make sure you get up off the couch to go see it.