The Casserole Club (Breaking Glass Pictures, NR)

film casserole_75It’s sort of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? meets The Boys in the Band, but a lot less serious and more fun.

 

film casserole_500

A lot happened in the summer of ‘69. Judy Garland died and set off the Stonewall Riots in New York City, bringing the gay liberation movement out of the closet. Somewhat further upstate, some half a million people descended on Max Yasgur’s farm in the Catskills for what became known as the Woodstock Festival. Some of that counter-cultural spirit also reached suburbia, of course, and that’s the basic idea behind The Casserole Club, a comedy that feasts on the cultural touchstones of the time (including pastels, cocktails, ball clocks, and really tight clothing) while exposing its hypocrisies. It’s sort of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? meets The Boys in the Band, but a lot less serious and more fun.

The principal cast consists of five suburban couples made up of almost archetypal characters from the time. Conrad (Kevin Richardson, formerly of the Backstreet Boys) is a classic male chauvinist pig (with a shameful secret, of course) married to Sugar (Susan Traylor), who tries to ignore her husband’s behavior and pretend everything is fine; Jerome (Daniela Sea, best known as Max from The L Word) is the rebellious poet who likes to push things a little too far; Sterling (Garrett Swann) is a closet case; Conrad (Kevin Scott Richardson) is a barely-in-control alcoholic; and so on. It’s a real ensemble cast, and while each character may be a type, the fun is in seeing how they interact.

The setup is that the ladies have decided to have a series of bake-offs where each tries to outdo the others, casserole-wise. The casseroles are consumed at a series of dinner parties from hell (or heaven, depending on your taste), in which everyone drinks to excess (MADD wouldn’t come into existence for more than a decade) and plays party games designed to stress whatever rifts already exist in the couples. Before you know it, they’re getting down and dirty with each others’ partners with such exuberance that you have to wonder why, as someone points out early in the film, none of them have any children yet. It’s not purely heterosexual coupling, either, although that variety does predominate.

The script by Frankie Krainz is full of clever lines (“The tension here is as thick as Nixon!”, “I just realized that ‘casserole’ has the word ‘ass’ in it”), and the actors give it their all (you just haven’t lived until you’ve seen a banana-penis fight, trust me), but it’s the production values that really carry the day. Steve Balderson, who did the cinematography and production design as well directing, must have raided all the thrift stores in the state of California for the costumes and props, and the soundtrack by Rob Kleiner also plays a key role in establishing the era, as well as the mood of each scene.

The Casserole Club debuted at the New York VisionFest in 2011, winning awards for acting (Kevin Scott Richardson and Susan Traylor), and directing, production, and production design (all by Steve Balderson). Extras on the DVD include a making-of documentary (65 min.), a photo gallery, and the trailer. | Sarah Boslaugh

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