There’s a craft to making dirty words and sexual innuendos funny that Sunflower Hour never masters. Aaron Houston’s mockumentary gathers a decent amount of giggles when its playing up pathetic characters in cleverly clean ways, but the comedy would much rather have those dolts exclaim expletives, or call things “gay”.
The film centres around puppeteers competing for an open slot on ‘Sunflower Hour’, a supposedly successful – albeit cheaply made – children’s television show featuring puppets that could be distant, inbred cousins of Ernie and Bert. The show is a chip off of Sesame Street’s curb despite being founded by pornographer Donald Dirk, a scummy dude who would rather brag about his mature work featuring double penetration than teach the alphabet. But, as he says, ‘Sunflower Hour’ is something new.
His partner Melissa – after being irritated and berated by Donald – casts four unlikely losers…er…contestants for the show’s final audition. One’s a goth who goes by “Satan’s Spawn”, another talks through his giddy leprechaun puppet, one’s devout to his father’s religion and optimistic to use the TV show to warn viewers about the evils of homosexuality, and the geeky last entry is legitimately fighting for the top prize.
These characters are as stereotypical as they come, and Houston hits a lot of easy, predictable targets when trying to make his audience laugh. But, the mockumentary’s success is found with how the cast quietly tame their roles. For instance, Leslie’s doofus tactics to teach young viewers about “homosexual sin” are rote and not very funny, but Patrick Gilmore’s character mannerisms when he’s not talking were making me chuckle. His fixed half smile that never seemed to budge during uncomfortable silences was all it took to draw out my laughter.
But, Houston wants his actors to squawk obscenities as if the idea of being aggressively inappropriate in the context of otherwise innocent situations is supposed to signal gales of hilarity. It’s made clear that most of the people on screen are awkward and socially inept, but these pushy profane segments mould the film into something unfortunately shallow.
In actuality, if Houston took a break from the f-bombs, he’d see that he has the ability to make a movie about passionate misfits. He’s already taken the first step by focusing on the peculiar puppeteers instead of the lewd acts the puppets can perform. He just needed to continue showing some semblance of consistency.
The lone puppeteer striving for greatness (David Spencer played by Amitai Marmorstein) has plenty of moments where Houston shows what the film could’ve supplied more of. Goofy moments of David showing off his “smooth” Parkour skills are endearing and really funny, and a hilarious prank about a puppeteer’s eyes being glued upwards from looking at their puppet for too long gets David instantly worried.
Nonetheless, Sunflower Hour follows the rules of staying within the guidelines of a mockumentary. Though it’s hampered with merciless juvenility , Sunflower Hour still manages to be one of the better mockumentaries I’ve seen recently. But, when the competition consists of duds like Bird Co. Media and Authors Anonymous, there’s hardly a contest.