Discover the true you that cowers inside the you you...
Maxwell McCabe-Lokos's Stanleyville is an unusual beast of a film, a fiercely captivating motion picture that uses its quirky well in telling the semi-centered tale of Maria Barbizan (Susanne Wuest, Goodnight Mommy), a prim and proper sort who's grown tired of her everyday existence including a bubble-wrapped job, inept husband, and grotesque human being of a daughter.
So, one day she unceremoniously walks away from it all and only a few moments later encounters a peculiar chap (Julian Richings) who announces that she's been selected to participate in a competition to win true enlightenment - along with one slightly used habanero orange compact sport utility vehicle.
Does it sound strange? It is.
Maria thus finds herself within the confines of one dwelling with a group of strangers that includes Andrew Frisbee Jr. (Christian Serritiello), Felicie Arkady (Cara Ricketts), and a couple of others who are tasked with a series of increasingly strange yet somewhat risky challenges while being unable to leave without risking disqualification. The challenges themselves are darkly comical, quirky for the sake of being quirky yet increasingly meaningful as well. It's an unusual balance, yet for the most part Stanleyville finds that balance quite nicely.
The always compelling Susanne Wuest is the compelling cinematic glue that holds Stanleyville together, a film that is never less than engaging yet narratively stagnates as if true enlightenment doesn't provide nearly as much clarity as one might think it ought. McCabe-Lokos is content to not provide easy answers, though the burgeoning relationship, or something resembling a relationship, between Wuest's Marie and Ricketts's Felicie is particularly captivating as it borders both emotional depth and maximum outrageousness in the quietest of ways.
Stanleyville had its world premiere at Montreal's Fantasia in 2021 where its reception left it seemingly destined for an appropriate indie distributor capable of marketing toward its many cinematic strengths as a darkly comical yet meaningful tale somewhere in the landscape between Beckett and Gondry.
Oscilloscope Laboratories to the rescue. Now, Stanleyville is marked for a limited theatrical release starting in April and arthouse devotees should make a point of capturing the lovely but unusual little film on a bigger screen if possible.
Julian Richings is also a true gem here as the rather quirky chap who facilitates the increasingly surreal challenges amongst these quirky and increasingly surreal challenge participants. He's a seemingly innocent fellow yet he possesses an undeniable edge that constantly leaves one wondering which direction Stanleyville is going to travel.
Somewhat surprisingly, Stanleyville never quite becomes as edgy as one might expect nor as all-out humorous as it constantly threatens to be. This is a film that is rather consistently dry and dark, dry and funny, and, well, dry.
Yet, again, it's also consistently fiercely engaging and I found myself constantly drawn to it and drawn to these quirky yet engaging characters.
Christian Serritiello is also quite memorable here as Andrew Frisbee Jr., perhaps the most unusual of participants because he's initially not really that unusual and seemingly has no need to actually be here. He just wants to be here. And he wants to win it all.
The rest of these participants, including Maria, seemingly need to be here for their own individual reasons from emotional and physical to the very, very practical. Stanleyville, if you're open to it, is surprisingly meaningful amidst all its rather surreal quirkiness. I think that's why it mostly kept reminding me of everything I love about the more visually-based yet similarly minded Gondry.
Some will desire ever more from Stanleyville, though I'd imagine it's fairly well the film that Maxwell McCabe-Lokos intended it to be. Heavens no, it's not for everyone but for those who arrive on its wavelength it'll be an absolutely lovely 90-minute experience and I can only hope that it arrives in one of Indy's arthouse joints where I can more fully appreciate it proper.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic