By: Addison Wylie
Why is it that movies try so hard to find humour in LARPing? Lloyd the Conqueror, a comedy that was featured in this year’s Toronto After Dark Film Festival and will now be featured in a special theatrical run along with a VOD release, is the latest culprit of this confusion.
LARPing, for those readers who may be unaware, is an acronym for Live Action Role Playing. It’s the hobby of building replica weapons and authentic costumes and taking part in face-to-face battles by yourself or with a team of fellow LARPers.
Battles are executed, bodies are cast aside and wait for the scene to reset, and a plethora of fabric and foam lay around the field where brutal confrontations took place.
It may seem like I’m poking fun at the hobby – and I am. Because it’s such an easy target. However, it’s a hobby that makes itself an easy target for being so “out there” that it develops a niche interest and thus develops its own community. For that, it’s impressive. And, when the right battle is developed, I bet LARPing is a helluva thrill and loads of fun.
So, I’m brought back to my original question. Why is it that movies try so hard to find humour in LARPing? So far, the closest cinema has come to embracing LARP while poking fun at the obvious, is David Wain’s hilarious Role Models starring Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott.
With Lloyd the Conqueror, screenwriters Andrew Herman and Michael Peterson take a tired route and drop their characters in numerous “fish-out-of-water” gags.
The screenwriting team is too busy digging their elbows into the side of movie goers and trying to remind them that the hobby is peculiar instead of telling a story that takes a new approach to LARPing that balances both sincerity and hilarity.
The story: Lloyd (played by Evan Williams) along with his knucklehead buddies Patrick and Oswald (played bluntly and annoyingly by Jesse Reid and Scott Patey) find themselves in a jam when they drop the academic ball and fail a college presentation on Beowulf.
Their teacher Derek, better known as Derek the Unholy in the LARPing community, suggests a deal. Because the LARPing playing field is running sparse and the league needs extra teams, he tells the three students that if they enter as a LARP team and can beat him, he’ll issue them a grade only dreamt by the smartest of students.
It’s a win for Derek the Unholy because if LARPing continues in the community, he can proceed to wipe the fields clean and hold his victorious, unbeatable title.
Derek is played by Mike Smith – better known to Canadian viewers as Bubbles from the Trailer Park Boys TV show and films. Another LARPer named Andy (played by comic Brian Posehn) plays a key role as well – a much more positive key role. These two actors are the film’s lone strengths.
Smith and Posehn are the two actors that “get it”. They understand their character, they know how to deliver each line, but most importantly, they know how to make these characters feel real in this universe.
Smith snatches his role up and becomes fantastically menacing as the film’s antagonist. He plays his character with a straight face while knowing where to add emphasis on certain dialogue without milking it for laughs. We believe that Derek has absorbed himself in this pastime. It’s a fully dimensionalized character that Smith has tackled perfectly. I can’t imagine anyone else taking his place.
Posehn, on the other hand, is a different case – but the odds are still positive towards him but not so much the writing.
While watching Lloyd the Conqueror, I found myself laughing at Andy’s deliveries and exchanges even when the dialogue was neutral. It’s because, even though the stale and obvious dialogue is poorly written, Posehn knows how to deliver each line, much like Smith. We’re laughing more at Posehn’s knowledge of the conventions of comedy rather than the material itself.
Again, it’s a character who has been engulfed in this world and because Posehn is a strong comedic actor, he can make Andy real while also knowing how to make the audience laugh.
Some of the gratitude should be aimed, I suppose, at director Peterson but it takes skilled actors to take a shabby script and spin gold.
The major problem, other than the script, is that too many amateur comics are being paired with much stronger personalities. I’m not saying there should be a wall separating established comedians with younger performers but the newcomers in Lloyd need more practice at comedy.
Reid and Patey mug every second they’re on screen and Williams, though he shows commitment with the leading role of Lloyd, still needs some brushing up with delivering punchlines.
When you have such radical extremes between these two types of actors, it makes for uneven results. The film even makes things worse by lunching for an R-rating with vulgar jokes that add an icky feeling to the whole debacle.
I will admit, there’s one post-sex joke that is one of the film’s stronger laughs but it owes thanks to skilled editing. It’s unfortunate that all the others resemble a joke Harland Williams (who plays a Vulcan) makes when he has a connection with an older lady. Blech!
If you’re still interested in checking out Michael Peterson’s film and supporting LARP-based projects, you’d be better off renting this at home on some sort of VOD platform. Just don’t get your hopes up.