Seen at the Sydney Underground Film Festival
Political Correctness is ruining comedy. That’s the phrase you will hear by a lot of comics who got really big in the 90s and haven’t changed their act at all in the 30 years since they started, expecting the same jokes that worked back then to get the same reaction now. You’ve undoubtedly noticed comics who get really upset that they can’t tell a joke that mocks a certain minority group but the truth is… well, maybe those comics just aren’t actually funny anymore and need to update their material. Routines feels like someone decided to take one of those comics and place him in a dramatic story of love and loss and it works – occasionally.
Routines follows washed-up stand up comic Bruce Mann (Michael Bugard) who is stuck telling the same tired unfunny shock jock jokes at a local bar. His life is, for all intents and purposes, complete shit until he meets Darling Wednesday (Anita Nicole Brown). Darling Wednesday is a singer at the same bar that Bruce does his stand up and the two of them have an instant connection. Things might actually be looking up for Bruce with this new relationship, but when tragedy strikes it might just destroy the comedian.
Billed as a dark comedy, you can definitely see glimmers of what could make for a fascinating dark ride into the excesses of the world of comedy. There are moments where you can really see something interesting starting to form, starting by the ballsy nature of making your lead character an unlikable asshole who tells bad jokes and then insults his audience for daring not to laugh (so, he’s Bill Maher without a good hairstylist).
There are some scenes where the casual banter between Bruce and Darling show them to be an interesting couple who make each other better, which only makes the shocking plot twist at the 40-minute mark hit harder. You can see glimpses of Routines doing something interesting… I’m just not sure how intentional that was.
Bruce spends the entire runtime of Routines doing one of three things. If he’s not moping about, he’s fucking his girlfriend and if he isn’t doing that, he’s delivering some of the worst stand up ever to be put on film… that’s it. Oh, forgot, he’ll also complain that no one appreciates good comedy anymore because everyone is so PC and for some reason, Routines seems to act like we’re meant to root for him anyway.
He’s unlikable and learns nothing, doesn’t grow in any way or have any real redeeming qualities. It feels like he’s here just to shock, and sure the image of a man performing cunnilingus on a dying woman is shocking but is there a point to it? No? No it’s just there to be a shocking scene of a woman with her throat slit open while he goes yodeling in the canyon? Great, that’s not boring in the slightest. See, Routines tries to shock but fails at that, by a mile.
Before it’s even brought up as a counterpoint, I have nothing against shocking humour or movies designed to get that kind of effect from the audience. John Waters is my favourite director, Pink Flamingos is my favourite film and I once sat through a double bill of Irreversible and Antichrist and loved every second of it. I love it so much when a film shocks me… catch is, you better be good at it and you had better do it in a way I haven’t seen before. I don’t even really care if you have a point (though it doesn’t hurt), just be good while you shock me and this film just isn’t that good.
The elements of it that work are the two female lead performances. Anita Nicole Brown steals every scene she has, just an effortless charm that makes her capture the camera every time she’s on it. Then there’s Kaylee Williams who just has such a sweet charm that she’s genuinely joyful to watch. Together they’re just a great pair of performances that should really have a lot more to do with the central plot but it honestly feels like they’re afterthoughts to Bruce’s constant rants about how everyone is so easily offended.
I genuinely wanted to like Routines, I really did. Elements of it work, it has some good performances and a dark comedy that pushes boundaries is always welcome but the problem is that it just isn’t that funny. The jokes never seem to land, if they even took off in the first place, and the few moments that do work almost feel accidental. There is a chance that maybe I’m just not the right audience for this film, always a possibility with any film that gets a negative review. Even with that in mind, Routines just feels rote to the point of being boring.