Masquerade (Nicholas Tolkien 2011) USA

Reviewed by Rosanna Lapinski. Viewed at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

Masquerade is the story of a former child star, Charlie Best, (Nick Marinoff), who is fired from his own television reality series, The Charlie Best Show, due to low ratings. He is about to be replaced by his archrival, Eric Moody (Eric Olsson), another former child actor. Both Charlie and Eric are struggling to re-start their careers. Long time rivals, Best deviously exploits Eric’s phobias to sabotage Eric’s takeover of Best’s role in his namesake reality show.

The film had the audience engaged and laughing the first twenty minutes and would have succeeded as a short film. However, at 142 minutes, the gimmick could not be sustained. The overly repetitive use of one expletive by Charlie, in particular, became irritating, although overall, I found the characters were both charming (Charlie Best) and endearing (Eric Moody). Ironically, Eric Olsson, the actor portraying Eric Moody, actually was a child actor, and is credited with appearing in three episodes of a Swedish television show in the 1990’s.

Nicholas Tolkien’s use of phobias as a comedic device in Masquerade follows in a long-line of comic tradition. The hit television series, Monk, used phobia after phobia for comedic and dramatic effect in Monk’s crime-fighting endeavors on the streets of San Francisco. The Truman Show used aquaphobia (fear of water) as an element of plot development and arc of Jim Carey’s character, Truman. Like Truman, Eric Moody suffers a career-debilitating fear of water. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones was terrified of snakes. Charlie Harper, the protagonist of Two and a Half Men, has a deep fear of commitment. In each of these instances, the phobia drives the plot lines of these characters. We anticipate the character’s next encounter with their phobia with a mix of anticipation, apprehension and empathy. It is their phobic-foibles that make them endearing.

Eric Moody’s biophobia (fear of nature) and agrizoophobia (fear of wild animals) lead to laugh out loud moments in the film.

When you think about it, phobias are funny. Alekoruphobia. The fear of chickens. Really? This is both funny and ironic simultaneously. Eric Moody in Masquerade has agrizoophobia. Fear of wild animals. Ironically, when Eric’s reps finally land him a much-needed paying job, it requires Eric to film in front of the giraffe enclosure at the zoo. Many comical situations were presented by Eric’s phobias that could have turned this film into sparkling entertainment.

Masquerade is a comedic “mocumentary,” directed by Nicholas Tolkien. David Brainard, Eric Olsson, Robert Steffan and Simon Tolkien are credited as writers. Andrew Dale was the cinematographer and Eric Olsson was the editor. Scenes were improvised and filmed in Santa Barbara. The film utilized a classis comedic device—unusual phobias. Unfortunately, the lack of a strong script resulted in an overly protracted film that would have been well served by tighter editing.  With tighter editing, Masquerade could turn into a fun teen movie.



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