With his blocky features and dorky glasses, Jemaine Clement reminds me of my Grade Eleven Physics teacher, Mr. Prokopetz (Y’know, the one that had a nervous breakdown midway through the term.) And yet, this most unlikely of media personalities has carved out a career with the most. um, unlikely kind of material. Mr. Clement swam into the North American pop cultural consciousness as one-half of the half-witted musical duo “Flight of the Conchords” (The other half – played with masterly composure – was fellow New Zealander Bret Mackenzie.)
I watched Season I on cable and Season 2 of the HBO series on a DVD I got from the library. Rhys Darby is poker-face perfect as the duo’s woefully inept but egotistical manager, Murray, and Kristin Schaal is suitably zany as their devoted fan/groupie, Mel. The series also features David Costabile – usually cast as an unsavory type – in a rare comic role as Mel’s boyfriend/husband.
The 2014 film What We Do In The Shadows teams up Mr. Clement with fellow Kiwi oddball Taiki Waititi in a deadpan goof on vampire film cliches. (Mr. Clement and Mr. Waititi share writing and directing duties.) Taiki Waititi also acts as the narrator of the Office– style mockumentary, an almost 400-year old bloodsucker named Viago. Mr. Waititi is perfect in the role with the deer-in-the-headlights look and too-broad smile of someone who has never been on camera before. Mr. Clement’s character is named Vladislav (naturally), a dour vampire with fright wig hair, mustache and goatee (and minus the glasses).
The film asks us to imagine that the two share the house with 183 year old “bad boy vampire” Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) and 8,000 year old Petyr (Ben Fransham), a double for the toothy villain in the 1920s horror classic Nosferatu. Trust me. This is not your (great) grandfather’s vampire. Dracula creator Bram Stoker may be turning over in his grave. (If, indeed, he is truly deceased.) These blood-sucking housemates wash dishes, grumble over chores. tidy up the house after a messy kill and go nightclubbing together. (Mr. Darby plays Anton, one of the werewolves who challenge the vamps to a fight.)
The film not only takes aim at familiar vampire tropes but also spoofs documentary film-making itself, with the camera going out of focus, documentary visual cliches and, even, footage of one of the characters talking while driving (a favorite of documentary film-makers.)
Some over-enthusiastic critics have called the film “an instant cult classic.” First of all, the adjective “instant” makes me edgy and only time will tell if it’s a “cult classic” (the phrases “scream with laughter” and “howl with glee” have been done to death.) However, if you appreciate the dry wit of Conchords, you should definitely rent or buy the DVD. (I got my copy at the local video store.) You don’t have to be knowledgeable about vampire flicks to appreciate it, but, if you are, this pic should be just your type. Blood type, that is. (Oops!)
Mr.Clement get to keep his unique Kiwi accent as Will, a transplanted graphic novelist living in NYC and struggling to get over the sudden collapse of his marriage in People, Places and Things.
It’s basically a family flavored rom-com but given that Mr. Clement is in the starring role (although American film-maker Jim Strouse wrote and directed ) the flick is reliably quirky. In addition to coping with his new single status, Will must also deal with taking on responsibility for his two adorable little daughters (real-life twins Aundrea and Gia Gadsby, who steal every scene they are in.)
To supplement his meagre income, Will is also an art teacher and one day one of his students (Jessica Williams, a star for the future) offers to introduce him to her divorced mom (Regina Hall, demonstrating a range not offered by her limited role as a cop on F/X’s Justified ).
Will’s misadventures as a divorced dad and possible lover form the basis of this sweet, funny film (recommended).