Try as she might, Alice can’t turn her expensive Art History degree into gainful employment, but it sure helps when she spots an old teapot in a roadside antique shop. Turns out the teapot is even more magical than she knew, so Alice goes wild for a while before coming to her senses. Sweet silly comedy with well-earned uplifting message.
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“Alice” (Juno Temple) is in a funk. She played by the rules, studied hard, got a degree in Art History, and married her longtime boyfriend “John” (Michael Angarano). But times are hard, the economy stinks, and they can’t seem to launch themselves. So John dutifully heads to work every day, spending hours in a cubicle making telemarketing calls in order to pay the bills, while Alice keeps interviewing for management jobs that never really fit her.
Then Alice spots an old teapot in a roadside antique shop; seized by a sudden frenzy, she steals it, and all their problems magically disappear. John is skeptical and wants to return it, but Alice is determined. She heads for the library, where she learns that a dire fate awaits, but she still won’t give up the teapot. Like every junkie, Alice is convinced that she’s in control; she’s sure that when she’s had enough, she’ll be able to quit “Cold Turkey.”
Once Alice and John are rolling in dough, they start palling around with rich folks in town like “Payton” (Alexis Bledel) and her handsome husband “Ricky” (Ben Rappaport). Shopping big time at the mall, Alice and Payton run into “Louise” (Alia Shawkat) someone who was once Alice’s best friend, but no longer fits her aspirational life style. Caught between Louise, who is warm and self-effacing, and Payton, who is rude and condescending, Alice knows what she should do, but she pretends otherwise. Alice has lost her grip. Alice is hooked. Is John strong enough to save the day?
The Brass Teapot is played for laughs and the two leads, Juno Temple and Michael Angarano, are adorable together. For awhile they go on a sex-crazed binge, and Angarano is cute as a button playing someone who can’t quite believe his good fortune. (Still, I’m amazed this film is rated “R” because while kinky things are definitely implied, it’s always tongue-in-cheek. Nothing edgy is ever shown, and their relationship, even in the worst of times, is always love-filled.)
This is Ramaa Mosley’s first full-length feature and she comes to the task with lots of energy and a good eye for color and detail. I especially enjoyed the art direction by Brian Goodwin, the set decoration by Heather Thomas, and the costume design by Malgosia Turzanska. Once Alice steals the teapot, her life becomes defined by all her new possessions (including her clothing and jewelry), so it’s critical that everything look just so–which in this case means on the edge of bad taste but not totally over the top. It’s a fine line, and Mosley’s design crew walks it well.
According to IMDb, Mosley originally made The Brass Teapot as a short in 2007, so she’s been working on this concept for a long time now (collaborating on both iterations with her co-screenwriter Tim Macy). Clearly their 22 minute short was strong enough to garner the budget required for the 101 minute feature, which now includes several name actors and familiar faces. But the screenplay has weak spots. With the exception of John, all the other male characters in The Brass Teapot function more like plot devices than as multi-dimensional people. This is especially true of a bad boy named “Arnie” (hunky Billy Magnussen) who has the hots for Alice, and the mysterious “Dr. Ling” (Stephen Park), an inscrutable Asian who shows up out of nowhere to tell John what he must do to get Alice back to reality.
I am also left scratching my head about the two guys (Bob McClure and Thomas Middleditch) who show up in Hasidic garb periodically, babbling about Hitler. We should either learn way more about them if they are intended to be integral to the plot, or see way less of them. As it is, their thread is merely annoying, especially since the teapot seems to have a big Jewish Star on the side and lettering around the rim that kinda sorta looks like Hebrew.
But when The Brass Teapot focuses on Alice’s marital dynamic with John, or counterpoints her relationships with Louise and Payton, there’s a whole lot to like.
Photo Credits: Angela Graves/Magnolia Pictures