“Welcome to ‘Uncle Kent 2’…it’s the sequel to ‘Uncle Kent,'” deadpanned director Todd Rohal in introducing his latest film at SXSW, acknowledging the elephant in the room of a movie that’s existence defies logic and public taste. While one doesn’t need to know much about the first “Uncle Kent” to enjoy it’s sequel, knowing something about its director will surely help. In attempting to describe Rohal’s brand of humor to someone who was on the fence about seeing “Uncle Kent 2,” I referred to his compatriots at the North Carolina School of the Arts – Danny McBride, Jody Hill and David Gordon Green – and suggesting he was to the left of the “Eastbound and Down” branch of the North Carolina School of the Arts tree, even more esoteric and deranged in his sensibilities than the guys that brought you the profane and perverse Kenny Powers.
The fact that making a sequel to one of Joe Swanberg’s more obscure films is one of the least bizarre things about “Uncle Kent 2” should tell you something about the followup, which embraces its lack of necessity to exist as a raison d’etre. Starting out with a seemingly mundane introduction that revisits the first film that centered on the life of the real Kent Osborne – animator, stoner, bon vivant who loves his cat – the film shows not much has changed in the interim, except perhaps for a greater sense of ambition in order to make a second “Uncle Kent.” Unfortunately, the original director doesn’t want to contribute to a movie culture of sequels and reboots, nor does he spark to Osborne’s idea, a post-apocalyptic adventure that he compares to “Cast Away.” However, after those first 12 minutes (so noted in the credits as being directed by Swanberg), “Uncle Kent 2” literally busts out exclamation points to punctuate its title in an opening title sequence worthy of such enthusiasm, with the sight of Osborne’s joyful jiggling of his bare bosoms as he shakes up a box of mixed greens for dinner signaling the surreal humor ahead.
As it turns out, Kent’s problems with getting an “Uncle Kent 2” should be the least of his concerns, discovering from his doctor (Steve Little) that he may have neurological issues when he begins to see things that may or may not be there. Although Osborne himself wrote the madness ahead for his onscreen persona, the storyline fits Rohal to a tee, most notably in finding poignancy in Kent’s erratic behavior and his dream of making another movie, no matter how ridiculous an idea it is, with the director’s unabated proclivity to ridicule it keeping the film from ever becoming saccharine. When the spectre of a full-on brainmelt hangs over Kent as he attends Comic-Con to promote his comic, the more bizarre Kent’s visions become, the funnier and oddly more truthful they seem, though to analyze it deeply is well beyond the point.
True to sequel status, the film is bigger. Not only did Osborne and Rohal somehow turn the former’s real-life appearance at the convention into a performance, with Osborne actually acting on a panel, the film must’ve at least quadrupled the original’s budget, what with they paid for the rights to Swing Out Sister’s “Breakout” to play as the recurring theme of Osborne’s potential neurological issues, some convincing visual effects work, and at least one big-name cameo to accompany several others that will no doubt delight festival audiences. Of course, when making part two to a part one that few saw, that is likely the probable audience for “Uncle Kent 2,” yet it deserves a bigger one, which could likely draw upon the same crowd that watches the wee hours of Adult Swim (which as it happens is on the same network that employs Osborne full-time).
Yet even if “Uncle Kent 2” enjoys similar financial success as its predecessor (or lack thereof), it can be considered a creative one, fascinating, if for no other reason, in how it takes the premise set by one filmmaker and sees it carried somewhere far different by another, almost like Lars von Trier’s diseased dare to his filmmaking idol Jorgen Leth in “The Five Obstructions.” If Osborne wouldn’t mind putting himself in the hands of other provocateurs, I’d be up for seeing three more.
“Uncle Kent 2” does not yet have U.S. distribution. It plays SXSW twice more on March 14th at 10:15 pm at the Marchesa and March 17th at 8:45 pm at the Violet Crown.