NOTE: Here is my review from Soda & Telepaths that was posted back on August 12, 2021
Strawberry Mansion takes place in a world where the content of people’s dreams is subject to taxation. James Preble (Kentucker Audley) is an auditor whose job is to go through those dreams and figure out how much tax people owe for the strange things that they dream about.
One day he receives a letter requesting help and an audit from an eccentric older woman named Arabella Isadora (Penny Fuller), who would prefer it if you called her Bella. Upon arriving at her home James learns that all of Bella’s dreams have been recorded to old VHS tapes (she hasn’t upgraded to the digital dream recording model) and so his audit will undoubtedly take a long time.
During this dream audit, James will be sent through a strange journey, learning more and more about Bella and a masterful conspiracy that she’s stumbled upon that involves her son and Cap’n Kelly fried chicken. The more and more James learns about Bella, who often dreams about herself as a much younger woman (Grace Glowicki), the more he comes to forming a bond with her that is stronger than any dream werewolf son could ever be (that three-word descriptor will make total sense after you watch the movie)
To call Strawberry Mansion an odd film would be understating the matter; Strawberry Mansion almost defies normal descriptors. It’s the kind of film that opens with a shot of a man sitting in a room where everything is the same colour as the custard from Teletubbies and holds on him just looking around this putrid pink place he’s in until someone walks in with a tub of fried chicken and a bottle of soda. It’s the kind of film that knows it’s being weird but it’s playing its weirdness so naturally you have no choice but to go along with it.
Strawberry Mansion smartly holds most of its weirdness together by creating an epic love story that, quite honestly, might be the most beautifully told love story I’ve seen all year. Any love story that can feature an island retreat, a gigantic talking frog waiter and visual references to the garbage disposal sequence in Star Wars is, in my humble opinion, the greatest love story ever told. This simple story is the thread that lets the film go off and do the weird stuff that makes it so unique and manages to keep the audience fully invested. I’ll buy anything that the film sells me as long as I get to know if this love story ends happily.
Indeed, Strawberry Mansion might know that the audience will buy whatever it’s selling because it’s also a fairly heavy criticism on the ubiquity of advertising and just how widespread it can get, at first in subtle ways but then in ways that are less subtle and more… well, let’s just say that one scene near the end had me singing “Too Many Cooks” out loud because we were heading towards that level of absurdity… and it all works, it’s pointed jabs land spectacularly and they just fit in with this wonderfully weird world.
The weirdness of the world is aided by the brilliant stylistic flairs, the aesthetic choices are so specific that it makes the world this story takes place in feel completely real and lived in. I buy that there’s a technology that puts your dreams onto old VHS tapes, the dream taxation laws make sense, it’s a fully realised world that we get to step into for an hour and a half. The film never overstays its welcome, it doesn’t feel like it needs a second longer or that it’s missing anything. It’s fully realised and just a joy to peek into this strange world.
As I sat watching Strawberry Mansion, it kept reminding me of another wonderfully weird film I saw a few years ago called Greener Grass. It has that same quality where people will say the weirdest things as though it’s completely normal, there are strange unexplained visuals and the story goes off into places you don’t really expect and it’s a joy to see just where this film is going to go. Granted, Greener Grass is much more intense in its weirdness and might crack a few more jokes but if you enjoyed that one, this film is definitely playing in the same field.
Strawberry Mansion is a wonderfully weird film with enough heart to charm the heck out of just about anyone. It’s surreal and sweet, odd and adorable, the kind of film that will undoubtedly confuse you at times but you’ll be smiling so much that you might as well just go with it. A fruity mix of tones that adds up to one rich experience, easy as hell to recommend to just about everyone.