6 March 2013 | StevePulaski
No rubbing or wishing required
Ramaa Mosley's The Brass Teapot is yet another film that exercises its unalienable right to be an enthusiastically quirky gem of an indie film. My definition of "enthusiastically quirky" will likely be different than yours, as mine concerns a premise that needed to take a considerable amount of time to develop and an even larger amount of work in order to sustain feature-length. The quintessential example that comes to mind is last year's black comedy Bernie, by notorious indie director Richard Linklater, concerning the gentle town funeral director who did the unthinkable by killing a verbally abusive older woman whose husband had recently passed. It was a terrific motion picture in terms of tone, character development, and setting, but also, took on the challenge of humanizing a rather genial character doing the truly despicable. What made it "enthusiastically quirky" was just the overall way it was conducted, with characters with enigma and personality, and a storyline that you wouldn't believe would be interesting after fifty minutes. I guess what I'm trying to say here is, when you see enthusiastically quirky, you'll know enthusiastically quirky.
But I digress. The Brass Teapot revolves around John and Alice (Michael Angarano and Juno Temple , respectively), a lower middle class couple struggling to make ends meet in such unforgiving times. He is a telemarketer selling needless Television warranties. She is a woman unable to accept an entry-level position and start straight at the top, with an arts history major under her belt.
One day, they stumble upon an antique shop run by an older woman, and when she finds herself in an "I desperately want this phase," Alice steals a brass teapot out of the blue. Not long after stealing it, Alice and John discover that the teapot, which is beautifully welded and meticulously crafted, actually possesses a strange power; if the owner of it inflicts pain on themselves or someone else they will be rewarded with money, often in the hundreds. This causes Alice and John to resort to drastic measures to obtain cash, with methods including a full-Brazilian wax and dental surgery without any Novocaine. They soon learn that their newfound treasure and only source of income is a highly desired piece by not only violent Orthodox Jews but a mysterious Asian man, who claims that everyone who has come in contact with that pot has emerged forever changed and not for the better.
Of course, Alice and John do not listen and play by the teapot's obscure rules, which seem to change at anytime. For example, after a while the pot seems to stop providing so much cash for physical pain and resorts to mental pain, which Alice and John decide to inflict on each other and their closest friends. The comic possibilities are endless, and writer Tim Macy (Who also wrote the 2007-short of the same name) exposes them all with blackly funny results and a zealous energy.
However, perhaps one-hundred and one minutes devoted to a story of a teapot that can produce money at the expense of pain may be a bit lengthy. I can see some tiring after twenty minutes and some wanting more from this story. For me, this was around perfect length; it exercises all or most possibilities that can be done with the story, it keeps things fast-paced and entertaining, and, for the most part, we resonate with the characters' dilemmas and see them as more as story archetypes. This is a better alternative than melodramatic indie fare, to say the least.
I've been victim to stupidity when it comes to picking films based on their actors and not totally thinking the premise over, but The Brass Teapot was a fine gamble. It has heart, wit, intelligence, and humor almost bursting from its seams. Mark it down as yet another quirky film for the year of 2013, but put it in the category of quirky films that work efficiently.
Starring: Michael Angarano and Juno Temple. Directed by: Ramaa Mosley.