SXSW 2013: MILO Review

     March 10, 2013

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Jacob Vaughan‘s Milo is revelatory in multiple ways.  It’s a sly comment on our culture’s obsession with stress and how to relieve it.  It’s an intimate family drama about a man afraid of becoming a father when he was abandoned by his own.  Most of all, Milo proves you can get a surprising amount of comic mileage from an anal demon.  Vaughan’s comedy is one of the most juvenile films I’ve ever seen, but works because of its completely sincerity rather than celebrating its own sense of humor.  As silly as Milo gets, Vaughan and his actors play the proceedings completely straight-faced, and let the comedy shine through where the sun don’t shine.

Duncan (Ken Marino) has nothing but stress.  He and his wife Sarah (Gillian Jacobs) are having difficulty conceiving, he’s been placed in charge of firing people by his slimy boss (Patrick Warburton), and his mother (Mary Kay Place) is far too graphic and open about her sex life with her boyfriend.  Most disconcerting is a polyp that causes Duncan considerable gastrointestinal distress.  When it turns out the polyp is a cute demon manifested by stress, Duncan must face his issues or else the little monster will escape and start murdering the targets of Duncan’s rage.

The notion of stress consumes our culture to the point where it has its own industry.  It also comes off as a first-world problem, and while I believe stress is real, it also feels like a catch-all for any kind of problem.  If stress can be the root of job performance, anxiety, depression, listlessness, and gastric distress, then Milo simply plays it out by saying, “And why not an anal demon while we’re at it.”  Vaughan gleefully pokes stress in the eye by representing the nebulous ailment with an adorable demon that comes out of someone’s butt and wreaks havoc.  If you were going to draw what stress looks like, you could do far worse than what Vaughan devised with Milo.

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It’s remarkable how much comedy the movie gets with what boils down to a single gag: there’s a vengeful stress demon in the protagonist’s ass.  It’s something that could easily fit into a sketch and become tiresome when drawn out to feature length (see Hell Baby), but Vaughan and the talented cast treat it like any other story with a character arc, serious conflict, and thematic weight.  Milo is a real movie where we can relate to nice-guy Duncan and respect his dark side that comes out of his dark side.  Marino once again proves he’s one of the best comic actors out there and how game he is for anything the film throws his way.  I’ve heard the “Don’t Blink” scene from The Master should be appropriated for acting classes.  I would also suggest that aspiring thespians study Milo to show how an actor can remain captivating as he constantly has to go through the process of crapping out a demon and then having it crawl back inside his anus.

Vaughan is unapologetic in the film’s humor, and it’s honestly all in good fun.  There’s no desire to offend or even go to great lengths to gross out the audience.  It’s all in the ridiculousness of the premise and letting the viewer get in touch with their inner, completely immature child.  Vaughan could have given the movie a sharper edge, but the cutesy design of Milo, which kind of resembles the baby from Dinosaur but with sharp teeth, keeps everything light.  Characters with daddy issues are annoying, but the film’s goofy tone makes the tired conflict work.

That’s not to say Milo is anywhere close to an emotionally deep or powerful film.  It’s about a demon that comes out of a guy’s butt.  At one point, someone throws dildos at it.  It’s hilarious not only because it’s outlandish, but because it’s not self-conscious or smarmy.  Milo is not uptight about what it’s trying to do.  Leave you stress behind, and enjoy watching a butthole eat off a guy’s face.

Rating: B+

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