Animation Network’s Adult Swim has flourished on unusual sketch comedy, with programs like Robot Chicken and Tim and Eric Awesome Program, Great Job! VHYES initially seems like a prolonged episode of a similar series. Young Ralph (Mason McNulty) has a brand-new video camera, and he’s utilized it to tape over his moms and dads’ wedding event VHS. The film is meant to be the result: a mix of footage from the wedding, Ralph’s recordings of life around your home, and different programs taped off TV.
Each TV-show bit parodies a familiar bit of TELEVISION lore, from Bob Ross’ painting tutorials to Antiques Roadshow
Kerri Kenney ( Reno! 911) plays the Bob Ross-esque figure, Thomas Lennon (also of Reno! 911) plays one of the shopping-channel hosts, and Mark Proksch (the What We Do in the Shadows series, Better Call Saul) plays the appraiser.
As the clips alternate with video from Ralph’s life, socializing with his mother (Christian Drerup) or his friend Josh (Rahm Braslaw), it slowly ends up being clear that whatever is connected. VHYES is a story about a child reckoning with his moms and dads’ divorce. The formerly cool, gentle world of late-night TV starts to blur and end up being cruel as Ralph realizes that his parents’ marriage is falling apart. The sketches break down as clips of the seemingly idyllic wedding event still flash across the screen, highlighting a sense of rudderlessness, as well as how confusing and impossible the upcoming separation feels.
The slow expose of precisely what’s happening is masterful. The bite-sized little bits of late-night programs create the illusion that VHYES is a collection of discrete parts instead of a whole; it feels an experimental film, and the revelation that the movie is telling a more simple story isn’t a dissatisfaction as much as it is a sort of twist.
What makes VHYES much more remarkable is the fact that it’s in fact totally shot on VHS. The film remains in the nearly square VHS 4:3 element ratio, and it’s somewhat rough, accompanied by occasional lines of visual fixed. Fond memories has actually hit it huge in series like Complete Stranger Things and the It movie franchise, however the commitment to VHS implies VHYES really feels like it was made in the era it’s portraying. (It’s nearly jarring to see the director’s parents, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, appear in cameo looks, as they’re the only overt ideas that the film wasn’t in fact made in the 1980 s.)
Jack Henry Robbins, who co-wrote the film with Nunzio Randazzo, ultimately takes the absurdity threaded throughout the movie to a practically David Lynchian level, a gambit that works mainly because of the sketch-y nature of the movie, and how short it is at simply 72 minutes. The strangeness of the product isn’t VHYES’ main tourist attraction; it’s the atypical mode of storytelling and sense of sincerity. Considered that the story isn’t precisely linear– the audience pieces it together through several programs and stories– the amount of Ralph’s story that can explicitly be told is decreased. So Robbins focuses on conveying emotions through the footage that’s been cut together, creating an arc that’s tangible instead of literally told. He’s found out how to make a successful sketch movie, and he’s taken advantage of fond memories better than any of the Steven Spielberg or Stephen King would-bes mining the very same vein.
VHYES debuts in theaters Jan. 17.