Executive producers the Daniels lend their indie-weird cred to an uncategorizable film starring the Cocoon Central Dance Team.
by John DeFore
Three years before they set Sundance abuzz with Swiss Army Man, the duo known as Daniels made their name with a much-watched video for "Turn Down for What," in which Sunita Mani (GLOW, Mr. Robot) had something of a dance-battle with Daniel Kwan's puppet-animated erection. No stranger to unconventional dance routines, Mani was already part of a trio called the Cocoon Central Dance Team, friends of Daniels from back in college. Now the gents have exec-utive produced CCDT's big-screen debut, Snowy Bing Bongs, in which directors Rachel Wolther and Alex H. Fischer adapt the New York troupe's stage show (full title: Snowy Bing Bongs Across the North Star Combat Zone) for unsuspecting moviegoers. Hard to define but made for the Adult Swim generation, the film will find admirers on the fest circuit and should lead to more offbeat opportunities for performance artists who, among other things, have already been responsible for the kickoff of the 2013 New York Marathon.
Opening with a brassily out-of-tune rendition of Thus Spake Zarathustra and another 2001 nod or two, the film announces its eagerness to puncture pomposity, often through self-mockery. The three dancer-comedians — Mani, Tallie Medel and Eleanor Pienta — take the screen languidly in white bikinis, but moves that would usually be sexualized (applying sunscreen; rolling over, ass-toward-camera) are made grotesque with cartoonish sound FX.
Later, the women will perform in deliberately unflattering rug-and-thong outfits, stacking their bodies on top of each other unerotically. Then they'll mimic 1990s boy-band routines while "singing" a melange of mangled phonemes that underscores the generic nature of what's purported (by a cameoing Reggie Watts) to be a top-of-the-charts hit. At no point will their choreography be meant to demonstrate graceful athleticism or turn us on.
In between the dance bits, though, are more filmic sketches in which each woman does pretend to be eager to please. Playing versions of themselves, they are actresses who flub auditions or learn they have (literally) more heart than anybody around them. Mani, in a sharp reversal that will likely ring bells for performers whose names challenge white folks, plays a nervous actress who can't introduce herself without turning her name into an indistinct mumble.
Though it demonstrates a distinctive comic attitude to match their choreography, Wolther and Fischer's screenplay doesn't quite go far enough in these scripted scenes to let the women establish memorable individual personalities. But it does give them a launching pad that is memorably strange and self-aware in a Mr. Show-ish way — suggesting that, when they're not pursuing screen work on other people's projects, the CCDT (or the Bing Bongs, or whatever we're supposed to call them) may have better things ahead of them as an ensemble.