brass teapot

The Brass Teapot isn’t very good, but it’s interesting, and that makes its flaws more forgivable than those of the average Hollywood churnings. It’s tonally scattershot and almost amateurish in its construction, but it’s also not content to act like most other movies, and that almost makes it worth a look. It probably won’t get many looks, since it isn’t headed for a wide release. Oh well.

Juno Temple and Michael Angarano are Alice and John, a young married couple living in a small town and struggling through the tough economic climate. Then their money woes are solved by the unlikeliest development: Alice discovers an antique teapot which turns out to be magical. Whenever someone suffers pain in the teapot’s presence, it coughs up hundred-dollar bills. Soon, Alice and John are doing everything they can to hurt themselves, and at the same time, they get to climb the social ladder. But the teapot’s gifts get skimpier the more time goes on, and the pair have to resort to increasingly extreme methods to get it to dole out money. At the same time, others become aware of the teapot, and they’ll play dirty to get it.

The film is a morality fable with traditional story conventions, only told through a sensibility that’s akin to an animated sitcom, only in live action. The humor has the kind of broad, often low-minded slapstick that wouldn’t look out of place in an episode of Family Guy. It works and doesn’t work at the same time. The actors, somehow, are mostly able to sell it (or at least look comfortable with it). Temple and Angarano make a likable enough duo. They don’t feel entirely authentic as two lovers, but they’re serviceable enough as Generic White Main Characters (TM). Still, the tone is so supremely odd as to be almost disorienting.

It’s admirable that director Ramaa Mosley took that path, and it’s probably preferable to any sort of normal approach. Imagine if the premise was taken at all seriously or “realistically,” the way so many fantastically-inclined movies for adults these days are wont to do. It would have been a disaster. Remember The Box?

That lack of po-facedness is refreshing, and helps keep the film engaging even as it follows pretty much every story beat that an attentive viewer will expect. It’s a rather obvious parable for how people are willing to degrade themselves to keep their finances afloat, and how such misplaced priorities can hurt relationships. That lack of grace doesn’t stop the movie from resonating at times, though. I could relate to the protagonists at points – some of the jobs I’ve taken out of desperation for money certainly weren’t all that different from base self-harm (in spirit, if not physically).

More than anything else, The Brass Teapot feels like a direct-to-video feature that accidentally wound up in theaters. The cheap production (starting with some awesomely bad main credits and only going downhill) and cheesy feeling make it better suited to a lazy Saturday cable TV viewing than a trip to the cinema. It’d be at home on Disney Channel, if it weren’t for all the swearing, violence, and sex. Much like it’s eponymous artifact, the film is, at best, a chintzy curiosity.