“Motivational Growth” is a strange, and creative little film. The strength of its creativity comes from the imagination of writer/director Don Thacker. Shot on a limited budget, the audience follows the mundane life of the quintessential couch potato Ian Folivor (Adrian DiGiovanni.)
So, what could be so exciting about Ian? Absolutely nothing, until his antiquated television up and dies. You see Ian’s social life or lack thereof revolves around the program’s that his television, who he fondly refers to as Kent, brings into his living room. Ian has a fear of the outside world and consequently hasn’t left his apartment in almost 16 months. Living in squalor, he lacks the energy to maintain his personal hygiene and is so accustomed to lying and sleeping on his couch that he has developed bedsores. When Kent breaks down, life has no relevance, Ian’s major event of each day is to get up off the couch in order to go to the bathroom to defecate. With his trusted appliance gone, Ian decides to end it all.
Ian, who admits to being a loser, attempts suicide in the bathroom by mixing chemicals in order to inhale the deadly vapors but fails miserably after he slams his head against the floor. When he wakes, he is confronted by a filthy denizen of his disgusting bathroom, which has slowly grown to sentience named The Mold (voiced by “Re-Animator” actor Jeffery Coombs.)
The Mold’s home is on the floor next to the sink and is a product of Ian’s lack of cleanliness. It refers to itself in the third person and calls Ian by the generic name… Jack. The Mold makes promises to Ian. He claims he has come to change Ian’s life and will get him back on track to become a man again in exchange for a few simple favors.
At first, Ian is skeptical, but then he bonds with The Mold and they end up spending a lot of time together. In the process, Ian is visited by some bizarre characters, one of whom is his lovely neighbor Leah (Danielle Doetsch.) He falls madly in love with her. In the process, The Mold promises Ian that he’ll help him land the woman of his dreams.
Without giving away anything, two questions remain. Does The Mold really have Ian’s best interest at heart? And, where does Ian get the funds to live in his dingy apartment for nearly 16 months without working?
Writer/director Don Thacker makes this film work on so many levels. First, he tries many different techniques to make the story interesting and succeeds. Ian breaks the fourth wall with the audience early on and teaches a lesson on how little things become significant when one is depressed and lives alone. Next, Thacker moves the story forward through the use of animation (splendidly created by Jérémie Périn) and by inserting Ian into the very television programs he has been hooked on watching. Finally, the camera is utilized to make the most of a cramped and cluttered apartment. It moves to add excitement to certain scenes. One particular shot goes overhead leaving any member of the audience scratching their noggin.
The relationship Ian has with the cavalcade of different characters depends upon the moment and situation. The bullying landlord Ox (Pete Giovagnoli) is there to collect the rent and add comic relief. He almost steals the film in his final scene. Two television repairmen show up (at different times) to analyze the condition of Kent. Plasmoday (Ken Brown) tells Ian that his appliance cannot be repaired and he should purchase a plasma television. This is after he dry humps the television’s cabinet and licks the monitor’s screen. The second repairman is more sympathetic and understanding of Ian’s fondness for Kent and in the process finds the source of Kent’s malady to Ian’s displeasure. Actress Danielle Doetsch, who plays Leah, brings sex appeal to the film, while at the same time being the focus of Ian’s affections. Her performance is reminiscent of Shannon Elisabeth’s Nadia character in 1999’s “American Pie” without the accent. Hannah Stevenson plays the delivery girl Vanessa, who is indifferent to Ian and his living conditions as long as she gets her fifteen percent tip.
Last but not least is The Mold. This is a complicated character that runs hot and cold. It has no respect for Ian, except to get what it wants. In the process of its’ advisement, The Mold gives his human counterpart a hallucinogenic toadstool, which sends Ian’s mind reeling. The relationship between the two is likened to the partnership between Audrey II and Seymour from the classic “Little Shop of Horrors,” except for a couple of things. The Mold must never be seen by anyone but Ian and there are a few nauseating moments along with some graphic gore. Both Coombs and Adrian DiGiovanni turn in solid performances. DiGiovanni hits every emotional beat. One can only guess what role he will play next. No doubt, he’ll do an admirable job. Coombs, a fan favorite, never disappoints and only accented the incredible puppetry work.
The music for “Motivational Growth” is done with the benefit of an eight-bit era video game sound chip. The instrumental work gives the film a pulse likened to the 80s style of music composed by filmmaker John Carpenter for “Halloween,” “The Thing” and “Escape from New York.”
Finally, perhaps I’m reading into this a little too deeply, so be aware this may be a possible spoiler. The whole film revolves around Ian’s isolation and how he is afraid to step outside into the light, which is thoughtfully overexposed. This could be a metaphor for the character, who may or may not be trapped in purgatory to move on to the sanctity of heaven. Or, could it be the fear someone accustomed to a simpler standard of living might have for the rapid advancement of technology? Just something to think about!
Verdict: This film is highly recommended.
“Motivational Growth” will arrive on VOD on September 30th (via Devolver Films and Indiecan Entertainment in Canada,) Blu-ray and DVD in Canada on the same date, and DVD in the U.S. the following week (via Parade Deck Films,) on October 7th.
As for the DVD release, it will include a commentary track (with actors Jeffrey Combs and Adrian DiGiovanni, and director Don Thacker,) a photo gallery and trailers. The Blu-ray edition will also include an hour of behind-the-scenes material.
“Motivational Growth” stars Adrian DiGiovanni, Jeffery Combs, Danielle Doetsch, Pete Giovagnoli, Ken Brown, Robert Kramer, Hannah Stevenson, Laura Carlson, Megan Hensley, Ellie Kushner, Sheetom Ashbrook, Dawn Xiana Moon, Samori Sykes, Daniel Giovannini, Tori Linn Sanders, Rachel Lapp, Jeff Czerwionka, Eric Henry, Robert McConnell, Erica Highberg, Kevin Williamson, Harold Dennis, Philip S. Plowden, Jeff Waltrowski, Tobiah Viksporre, Bobby Watson, Diana Spilotro, Brittany Wadas, Richard Sollo, Martin Conneely, Jacob Gaetti, Benjamin James Bradshaw, Evan Pope, Clark Lorensen, Casey Graham, Patrick Small, Tim Parrish, Nicole Bruton, Gene Mui, Casey L. Law, Natalie Bruton, Don Thacker and Erik A. Williams. Don Thacker writes and directs.