January 28, 2013

SHOWBUZZDAILY @ SUNDANCE 2013: “Ass Backwards”


The Sundance programmers, one has to assume, are big fans of TV’s Happy Endings.  Casey Wilson is part of that show’s wonderful ensemble, and one of its most reliably hilarious members.  The news that she was co-writing (with co-star June Diane Raphael) her own comedy vehicle must have seemed promising.  Yet at some point the Sundance people had to have actually watched ASS BACKWARDS, and hence the question:  what the holy hell were they thinking?

Let’s not spend too much painful time on this, and simply say that Ass Backwards is spectacularly, relentlessly unfunny, 90 minutes that last at least a week.  The inspiration, evidently, was Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion, with its pair of dimwitted BFF heroines.  This time, Chloe (Wilson) and Kate (Raphael) are childhood friends whose formative experience was a disastrous beauty pageant where Chloe proved resoundingly that she couldn’t sing, and Kate was unable to handle the Q&A portion of the program.  Now they’re roommates in New York, both mired in delusion (Chloe dances badly in a club, while Kate earns her income by selling her eggs), when they receive an invitation, as former participants, to the 50th anniversary of the pageant.  They head home, certain that they’ll reverse their earlier loss and change their fates.

Much of Ass Backwards is their road trip, as Chloe and Kate make their way–mostly in the wrong direction–to the pageant, losing their vehicle and their assets along the way.  There’s an encounter with a women’s commune where the gag is whether or not the members are lesbians, and another with a crackhead former child star.  They also find time for a visit to Chloe’s father (Vincent D’Onofrio) at his trailer home.  Eventually, though, of course they foul up the pageant again (Alicia Silverstone turns up as the former winner/mean girl who’s now a bestselling writer, and Jon Cryer must have shot all his scenes as the pageant director separately from everyone else, since he rarely shares the frame with any other performers), and sort of learn a semi-valuable lesson.

Sadly, it’s not an exaggeration to say that literally none of this is funny.  It serves as a lesson in comic writing to see how even though Wilson’s character on Happy Endings is often similarly deluded about her place in life, that woman is believable on the show’s surreal level and dumb in an often witty way, while Chloe and Kate are simply unappealing morons.  Ass Backwards also doesn’t have any of the charm or imagination of Romy and Michelle, and although Wilson and Raphael have amply proven their appeal in other roles, here they’re the world’s beat argument against letting performers control their own material. Director Chris Nelson doesn’t do the material any favors either, shooting the already-strained comedy with an aggressively flat, overlit style (the high point of his visual imagination is a urine sight-gag under the opening credits), and with no comic rhythm at all.

It would be a mercy to everyone involved to just pretend Ass Backwards doesn’t exist, and let the participants go back to their careers.  Sundance may have thought they had a cult movie on their hands, but the cult in Martha Marcy May Marlene was funnier than this.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."