Review: The FP, where brilliance and stupidity come to do glorious dance battle

The FP hits 26 markets this weekend, and is available to create your own screening through Tugg. Here’s my review.

Drafthouse Films released the first ten minutes of The FP online a few weeks ago, and I’d suggest watching it, but truly, nothing can prepare you for the full film. The best way I can describe it is that it’s like watching sheer genius and utter retardation tongue kiss for 82 minutes.

“The FP” is short for Frazier Park, a tiny community in the middle of the Grapevine where the Trost siblings grew up (brothers Brandon and Jason wrote and directed The FP, sister Sarah designed the costumes). It’s one of the first towns across the Kern side of the Kern/LA county border, and thus, according to them, a place where their Hollywood special effects supervisor father could legally store his explosives. (Never discount setting, especially when the movie is named after it). Their fictionalized hometown becomes the setting for a turf war, between rival gangs the 248 from the North (the good guys) and the 245 from the South, whose costumes are like wigger-ized Civil War uniforms by way of Aspen Extreme (bad guy LDubbaE rocks a grill and wears a neon ski jacket with a shiny gold confederate flag on the back). They battle for control over Dawn’s Liquor Mart not with their fists, but through a fictionalized (and copyright-suit-proof) version of Dance-Dance Revolution called “Beat-Beat Revelation,” which is not only highly competitive, but sometimes kills people for some reason. You might expect a silly sketch about guys in moonboots dance-fighting in an underground warehouse to drag under the pressure to stretch into full-length film (and it does, a tiny bit, at a couple points), but the subtext, the utter ridiculousness of the entire enterprise, is really the heart of the narrative. That’s the joke, that someone would spend this much time and money on an idea this silly, it’s so beautifully absurd

I’m sure plenty of people have gotten their buddies together to make a silly movie full of their inside jokes from high school, but never has that vision been so fully realized (it helps that Brandon is a legit Hollywood cinematographer who’s worked on Ghost Rider 2, Sarah was a contestant on Project Runway, and they’ve all been making movies practically since birth). The FP cost less than $100 grand to make and still looks expensive, meticulously building a world unto itself and a language to go with it, a vulgar, hyper-stylized, suburban rap vernacular in which characters call each other “Clam Chowder” and “Snowcone,” and say things like, “Don’t let this shit put your brain on flips, you gotta think of beat beat like it was the civil war!”

Also, “nigga” is an acronym for “Never Ignorant at Gettin Goals Accomplished.” That part seems important.

It might help to understand The FP if you grew up in the country, since lot of it feels like a quasi-dystopian vision of every high school party I went to, where white kids call each other the N-word, knuckleheads dirt wrestle, and everyone invents weird games and does bad drugs in barns and trailer parks. As beautifully realized as is the singular world of The FP, the occasional brushes the gang has with the outside world, the hints that maybe there’s a society beyond their tricked-out dance-fighting subculture and it’s carrying on completely as normal, are even better. And in a less stylized way, everyone who grew up stuck in a small town legitimately wonders that.

For the most part, the 80s Rocky hero’s journey story is just a skeleton on which to hang quirks, silly costumes, and oddball detail (the facial expressions of the extras alone are worth the price of admission). As with other joke-dense spoofs like Naked Gun, you could watch The FP 12 times and still find new ones. My recent favorite is a street sign in the background of the opening scene onto which someone has grafittied the gloriously inexplicable phrase “FOOD EATER.” Would that be the tagger’s street name, you think? As in, “Yo, this is my boy Food Eater, my other homey Air Breather, and I’m Maurice. We call ourselves ‘The Organisms.'” (The FP has so many inside jokes, you actually start creating your own).

The glue holding it all together is Art Hsu, giving a performance for the ages as KCDC, J-Tro’s manic, street-elf dance sensei. I’m totally serious about this, by the way. I guarantee playing an English monarch or a dyslexic holocaust orphan who discovers an abandoned cello or the usual crap actors get celebrated for is a lot easier than staying fully committed to the source while wearing a denim high-water onesie and delivering lines like “Dayum! That shit’s DELUXE! Yo kicks got smiles humped all up my face!”

The tendency with a movie as silly as The FP is to constantly wink at the audience so they know it’s a joke. The FP resists that tendency. It’s deadly serious about being completely ridiculous. It’s the comedic equivalent of a long con. You know that feeling you get when you hear a funky song lyric, and you think, “wait, what the hell did he say?” So you rewind until you figure it out, and it becomes forever etched into your memory? It’s a lot like that, the glorious sense of confusion followed by discovery that characterizes all works you want to experience over and over. And yes, often while drunk. Jason Trost says he thinks The FP‘s official tagline should be “three-drink minimum.” I concur. It’s great as a movie, better as a shared experience.

Grade: A