The independent film world always manages to surprise me. Whether its a very well-made horror anthology feature or if it is a disturbing piece of surreal cinema, I never know what I am going to run into on a month-to-month basis. The world of independent comedies can be quite varied. The very base-level comedies that make it to your local Redbox machine are usually everything that you might expect from such budgetary restraints. These mainstream comedies, often coming in the shape of teen sex romps, cater to as broad of a target audience as anyone could imagine. It is far less often the case that I run into comedic titles that are a bit on the strange side. As someone who is quite strange himself, I am of course a fan of anything that at least tries to be different from the norm. This is where Non Compos Mentis: or Jerry Powell & The Delusions of Grandeur comes into play. Appropriately titled, Non Compos Mentis translates to "not of sound mind" from Latin and is apparently used within the judicial system. The rest of the subtitle, which is an obvious allusion to one of the most famous dark comedies out there (Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb), also tells us everything we need to know about our lead character. He is a petty man with some serious mental issues, but feels that he is far above the people who surround him. With a bizarre man leading a bizarre assortment of other characters, Non Compos Mentis may not be a great comedy, but it is quite entertaining.
Non Compos Mentis focuses on a man named Jerry Powell (Joey Halter) who doesn’t have the greatest memory out there. Jerry is unable to tell a story the same way twice it seems, and his life may not be everything that he expects it to be. As a kid he went through a few traumatic events that have forever changed his life, and he has become a smalltime thug in response to these events. While going from scam-to-scam, Jerry runs into some terrible news early on. He has cancer. With no one to turn to, because of his immense layers of distrust, it seems that Jerry becomes even more erratic in his behavior. He already has an addiction to huffing gasoline (as well as various other chemicals), but now he’s willing to take even bigger chances. As Jerry attempts to "make it," he gets hooked up with a heist that will introduce him to some very dangerous people. While trying to deliver the package, which features some unknown contents, he and his crew will face a number of double crosses and dangerous situations. Having seen the newer film By the Wayside by the same group, Blvd Du Cinema, I went into Non Compos Mentis with a decent amount of faith in these filmmakers. Whereas By the Wayside was a very experimental improvised film that indulged in the excesses of youth, Non Compos Mentis: or Jerry Powerll & The Delusions of Grandeur is a much more focused and sardonic piece of work. Equally as experimental, but in a different way, Non Compos Mentis is a much more straightforward comedy that still retains the jazzy atmosphere that would be found in Wayside, but bumps the nostalgia factor up a notch by shooting the movie in stark black and white photography. Often, black and white photography can be a cheap device that is used by inexperienced filmmakers who look to give credence to a movie out of the misguided belief that black and white instantly gives their movies an "artistic" feel. This is not the case with Non Compos Mentis. While this is most assuredly an arthouse style movie, it doesn’t rely on the photography as a device, but instead it uses it in order to help deliver the retro atmosphere and it also helps give the movie a certain sense of polish that otherwise wouldn’t be felt in a movie that was shot on regular digital video.
The character of Jerry is certainly different from what one might expect in a film that is ostensibly a neo-noir comedy. While this character isn’t entirely unlikable for the most part, he could be construed that way. Some viewers are going to watch the film and see a whiny and pathetic character, and they are certainly right, but he does manage to have a certain charm. There’s a very bleak sense of humor that is present throughout the majority of the movie, and Jerry facilitates it with his sarcastic and angry retaliatory comments. Although it isn’t a precise imitation, the closest comparison would be any of Woody Allen’s work. This is a story about a man with a number of neurotic obsessions, but he is also quite angry due to his past. While his growth is slow and generally quite meticulous, the character still manages to be rather likable in even his most annoying moments.
If there is a problem with the movie, it might be the very wordy nature of the script. Normally, I have very little against scripts that rely heavily on dialogue. As a lifelong fan of David Mamet, Kevin Smith, and Quentin Tarantino, how could I be against long diatribes that are beside-the-point of general plot progression? Well, in the case of Non Compos Mentis, the dialogue is intended to be much more humorous, but due to the anger and the neurosis of the principal characters, it can often come across as a bit "too much." While the dialogue is not so angry that it comes across as being violent, meaning "violent" in the sense that the dialogue is brash and filled with anger instead of humor, it certainly teeters on the edge of it. While I learned to enjoy the sarcasm and the general wit of the film, I can certainly understand the potential for others to find error within this very sharp little feature. If you’d like to read more about the film, take a look at the official page on the Blvd Du Cinema website: http://www.blvdducinema.com/index/projects-2/non-compos-mentis