During the annual Sundance Film Festival, held this year January 18-28, 2018, coattail film fests tend to be as common in Park City as black puffy coats and traffic jams. But one so-called feeder fest that's enjoyed particular staying power is Slamdance, founded in 1995 "by and for filmmakers" featuring movies by first-time writers and directors working within the confines of small budgets. And while this little festival that could has helped launch the careers of some of Hollywood's best known talents, including Marc Forster (Monster's Ball), Lena Dunham (Girls), and Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite), this year Slamdance will celebrate one of its own: Bernard and Huey, a film directed by Slamdance Co-founder Dan Mirvish, will screen as Slamdance's official closing night film.
If you've picked up either the Village Voice or Playboy some time in the last 40 years, you're likely already acquainted with Bernard and Huey, characters created by Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Jules Feiffer in his eponymous comic strip. Feiffer (who spoke in a video about Bernard and Huey the movie) describes Bernard as "a kind of nebbish, Village hanger-oner, desperate to get laid and who attaches himself to guys who don't have any trouble getting laid so he can have their rejects." Huey, on the other hand, was inspired by the guys Feiffer described as "thugs" that he first encountered in college. "At parties I'd see these Vassar/Sarah Lawrence girls and rather than go for the intelligent guys they went for the thugs. And I loved it. I mean I didn't love that I couldn't crack these girls but I loved the material presented by feminists in love with thugs. And so the balance of Bernard and Huey just seemed natural after awhile."
The film opens in the 1980s with the post-collegiate, ladies-man Huey imparting dating advice to his nervous and undersexed best friend, Bernard. Flash forward to present day: an old and washed-up-looking Huey arrives on the doorstep of Bernard, a now successful New York bachelor. As the two reconnect, relationship hijinks ensue, including Bernard striking up a romance with Huey's estranged daughter Zelda, an aspiring cartoonist.
In addition to winning a Pulitzer for editorial cartooning in 1986, Feiffer is equally regarded as a playwright, novelist and screenwriter (his honors also include an Oscar, Obie and WGA Lifetime Achievement award). But the path from "Bernard and Huey" the comic strip to the Bernard and Huey the movie was hardly a straight line. In the 1980s, Feiffer was approached by a producer to create a Bernard and Huey screenplay for Showtime. But then the network was sold and the script shelved. Twenty-five years later, Mirvish happens upon an article about how Feiffer has several screenplays that have gone unproduced, including one about his most famous comic strip characters. Mirvish reaches out to Feiffer and begins what turns out to be a four-year quest to track down the Bernard and Huey script. "The fact that Jules entrusted me with his hidden gem of a screenplay that embodies two of his most enduring characters is a huge honor," Mirvish said. "But I think Jules recognized that I share with him a similar world view and sense of humor."
Bernard and Huey is indeed funny, and surprisingly salient for being written almost three decades ago. As Bernard and Huey reconnect and bumble through the relationship with each other as well as with the women in their lives, the story takes on a familiar rom-com quality with a tension rooted, in part, in the differences between Gen Xers and Millennials. If you're looking for a more edgy, dark, or out there movie--the kind of work Slamdance has become known for--Bernard and Huey is not that. What this movie is, however, is a light, comedic, and very welcome respite from all the heavy toxicity rampant in both Hollywood and politics these days.
"It’s a smart film about dumb men and the choices they make," wrote Anghus Houvouras, Encore Weekly (Wilmington). "We get to see the modern-day older versions of Bernard and Huey and flash back to their younger selves when they were young and full of combustible sex drives. Jim Rash and David Koechner are great in the title roles ... Bernard and Huey is an engaging and entertaining film poignantly directed by Dan Mirvish and carried by an excellent cast of character actors who make the material pop."
Like Feiffer, Mirvish's talents are not limited to a singular art form; he is also a book author and will be signing his comedic and honest glimpse at filmmaking, The Cheerful Subversive’s Guide to Independent Filmmaking, at Dolly's Bookstore (510 Main St) on Sunday, January 21 at 2 p.m.
Bernard and Huey screens as part of the Slamdance Film Festival (Treasure Mountain Inn, 255 Main St, January 19-25) on Tuesday, January 23 at 5 p.m. and Thursday, January 25 at 5:30 p.m. (closing night). A trailer for the film can be found here. For tickets to either Bernard and Huey screening in Park City, click here.