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Teddy Bears' Picnic (2002)

  Directed by: Harry Shearer
Written by: Harry Shearer
Starring: John Michael Higgins, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Alan Thicke, George Wendt
Links: Teddy Bears' Picnic on the IMDb, Official site, Buy on DVD, Buy on Video
Genre: Comedy

This movie gets: 5.50 (2 ratings)
nofreelist.com Ranking: Ranked equal 147th of 187 movies (2 ratings minimum; see full chart)

Teddy Bears' Picnic (2002) is also mentioned in mino's review of This is Spinal Tap (1984).

"See them gaily gad about…" - a review by mino

Teddy Bears' Picnic is the directorial debut from Harry Shearer, well known to virtually everyone on the planet as a good third of the cast of The Simpsons, even if they don't actually know him by name. TBP is a rather flimsily-plotted caricature of the goings-on at Zambesi Glen, a kind of summer-camp for the rich and famous, where the powerbrokers in the worlds of politics, commerce and the arts meet to — well, to get shit-faced and dress in drag.

It sounds simple enough, until you realise that the Glen is not a figment of Shearer's imagination, but is rather a thinly-veiled take-off of ‘Bohemian Grove’ in California, a real-life summer-camp for the rich and famous, where the powerbrokers in the worlds of…, well, you get the idea. Shearer's film is therefore not merely a Porky's (1981)-style bunch of holiday shenanigans, but rather a satire on the behind-the-scenes machinations that keep the modern world ticking.

Some of the ‘usual suspects’ from Shearer's previous movies are to be seen, of course — particularly stalwarts of the Christopher Guest ‘mockumentary’ films, like Michael McKean and John Michael Higgins, along with other superstars of stage and screen like Alan Thicke and George Wendt. Given the stellar cast, and the idea of a tightly-scripted, razor-sharp political satire from one of the geniuses behind The Simpsons, it's clear to see how Teddy Bears' Picnic could be an instant classic.

Unfortunately, it's not.

TBP is certainly amusing, and it has some great moments, but it's on the whole rather disappointing. The performances are great, but the script has rather too many ‘flat spots’ which contribute to neither the plot nor the characterisations. Too much time and energy is devoted to vaguely-entertaining interludes which, while not unfunny, aren't exactly side-splitting. While one is obviously not expecting The Hot Chick (2002), say (well… again, you get the idea), the fact that it's a semi-highbrow satire doesn't mean that it's exempt from the basic comedic requirement of being funny. Maybe not funny in a rolling-about-in-hysterics way, but at least the kind of consistently funny and insightful (but still thought-provoking) satire with which we've been spoilt over recent years — Guest's Waiting for Guffman (1996), for example, or the superb State and Main (2000).

Don't get me wrong — Teddy Bears' Picnic is certainly a cut above a lot of the other crap that's around, and at least it doesn't insult the viewer's intelligence. It's just that it's rather patchy, and perhaps needed another run or two through the Script-Polish-O-Matic 9000. Some flaky cinematography didn't help, either.

See it, by all means — but don't expect too much.

mino gives this movie 6 out of 10.
Review created on Wed 23 Jul 2003

"Lifestyles of the rich and the famous" - a review by pearly

Teddy Bears' Picnic is written and directed by Harry Shearer. In some ways, it's not the kind of thing you'd expect from the voice of The Simpsons' C. Montgomery Burns, and star of movies like This is Spinal Tap (1984). It's a comedy, which is to be expected, but the style of comedy is totally different to the work for which he is best known. However, there are still echos of this other work, in that their focus is satirical, with the satire being used as a commentary on real life.

This movie is based on actual events, but is highly fictionalised. It tells of a group of rich and powerful men in the USA, who spend a week every year at an exclusive men's club in the hills. Whilst there, they put on plays for each other, drink copious amounts of alcohol, run amok, and act as though time is standing still - their lives outside of the club do not exist while they are there.

I attended the southern hemisphere premiere of this movie, which was followed by a Q&A session with Shearer himself. During this session, Harry explained that the Glen in the movie is based on the real Bohemian Grove, which is attended yearly by such luminaries as Henry Kissinger. A couple of years back, after Harry had written the first draft of his script, he was invited to attend the Grove, and he used this excursion to fact-check, meaning that he was able to provide a pretty accurate portrayal of what goes on. The specific events are made up, and the names have been changed to protect the innocent, but aside from that, it's on the money, Shearer tells us.

There's no real message behind the movie - no moral to the story. It simply serves to illustrate the events, and hopefully to entertain for a bit over an hour. For a comedy, it's not overly funny - it's certainly not the style of comedy that aims to have you bent double with laughter. Lots of the jokes are politically incorrect gags told by the rich old guys whilst in the privacy of their lodges, so there's lots of cringing whilst chortling. But there are other funny moments too.

Given the subject matter, I think financial backing was hard to come by, and as such, the movie is quite low budget. It's filmed on digital, and then converted to 35mm film, which makes it visually different to most films you see on the big screen. The focus is most definitely on the huge ensemble cast rather than any The Matrix (1999)-style effects.

One of the downfalls of having such a small budget, though, is that the funds were not there to be able to allow the actors freedom to improvise their roles (this was also discussed with Shearer during the Q&A). Many of the actors Shearer chose for this movie have plenty of improvisation experience (such as Michael McKean, one of the many here that have previously popped up in numerous Christopher Guest films), and had there been more money available for tape, the film may have ended up being a lot funnier than it was. Using such actors in this way almost seems a waste, but they do make the best of the material (written, of course, by Shearer himself).

I find it difficult to know who this film will particularly appeal to. It's certainly a thinking person's comedy, but it's not the type of thing that will have a wide appeal, and it's probably only good for a single viewing. I personally thought it was kinda interesting, but it started to drag towards the end, and the light that was shed by Shearer was quite possibly of more interest to me than the movie itself.

pearly gives this movie 5 out of 10.
Review created on Wed 23 Jul 2003

Movie review statistics

Number of reviews: 2
Average rating: 5.50
Lowest rating: 5 (by pearly)
Highest rating: 6 (by mino)
 
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