Wisconsin Film Festival Spotlight: “Rat Pack Rat”

ratpackrat

Tickets for the 2014 Wisconsin Film Festival went on sale March 8, and each day between now and the start of the festival on April 3, I’ll be zooming in on one of the more than 140 films playing at the festival. If you have suggestions about films you’d like to know more about as you’re planning your festival experience, let me know in comments.

Rat Pack Rat: Todd Rohal Selects” (Monday, April 7, 6:15 p.m, Sundance Cinemas)

There are over 140 films in this year’s Wisconsin Film Festival, but I can’t imagine more than a handful are stranger than Todd Rohal’s darkly funny short film “Rat Pack Rat,”  which takes the symbiotic relationship between a celebrity and his audience to grotesque extremes.

Eddie Rouse plays a decent-but-not-great Sammy Davis Jr. impersonator who takes jobs off of Craigslist. For $100, a mother hires him to do a little tap-dance for her bedridden adult son on his birthday.

But the son (Steve Little of “Eastbound and Down”) is like something out of a Lovecraft short story, with worms wriggling in his chest, eating Fun Size Milky War bars through a tube. Yet, as Sammy says, “the show must go on,” and the impersonator finds himself performing the strangest act of his life for an eager audience of one. If nothing else, you won’t ever be able to hear “Candyman” without shivering a little.

Rohal includes many grotesque, surreal  touches in the film, such as the sight of that little Milky Way Bar inching through a plastic tube towards an eager maw. But it’s the performances that are so strong; Little’s hilariously twisted fan is both an object of pity and a subtle manipulator. And Rouse lets you see the humanity and the sadness behind that Sammy smirk, revolted at his one-man audience but determined to see the show through, whatever the cost.

Wisconsin Film Festival Programming Director Jim Healy said he thought “Rat Pack Rat” was one of the best things he saw at this year’ s Sundance Film Festival, and has invited Rohal to Madison to screen the film along with some of his other shorts, and a few other surprises. It should be a fun, weird time.

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