Thursday, January 04, 2007

UFOria Revisited

Browsing through the always interesting Twitchfilm.net site the other day, I spotted a review of one of my all-time favorite films, the seldom-seen UFOria. Hardly anybody mentions this little cult film from 1985 that starred Cindy Williams (then at the height of her Laverne & Shirley fame, but proving that she could stretch beyond the confines of TV Sitcomland) and the usual cult movie suspects: Fred Ward and Harry Dean Stanton (if HDS is in a film, it is, defacto, a cult B-movie). Anyway, here's the review from Twitch posted by "Colin A" on January 4, 2007:

Seldom Seen review | UFORIA

It’s almost easy to understand why writer / director John Binder’s wonderfully bizarre, uplifting Uforia languished unreleased for four years after being completed in 1981. The film’s laid-back style belies its narrative roots, peppering the screen with characters who move and think at their own speeds in the face of an idea-heavy, high-concept plot about a young woman who thinks she’s been chosen by aliens to serve as a modern-day Noah for their intergalactic arc. The same dichotomy that makes Uforia a commercial challenge also renders it a wholly unique experience, and helps afford its veteran cast the opportunity to completely inhabit their roles.

Professional drifter Sheldon (Fred Ward) blows into a dusty Texas town and in short order hooks up with spacey grocery clerk Arlene (Cindy Williams) and old friend Brother Bud (Harry Dean Stanton), a swindling evangelical preacher. As Sheldon eases back into Bud’s world of staged faith healings and quick money scams, he falls hard for Arlene, despite her believing extraterrestrials are speaking to her through her dreams and asking her to tell the world about the coming of their otherworldly wagon train. When Sheldon explodes on a news broadcast defending Arlene’s right to think what she wants, the public responds and Bud smells money. As Arlene’s proclaimed zero day nears, everyone scrambles to prepare for what they hope the future’s bringing.

The beauty of Uforia lies in its characters, all of whom believe so fervently in themselves when push comes to shove that it’s impossible not to root for them, regardless of how crazy, dangerously, or even illegally they think and behave. Despite everything going on within the film’s narrative, it seems closest in nature to something along the lines of an early Wes Anderson film, not the far-out Repo Man-styled meta-comedy it has, over the years, come to be identified as.

Uforia’s take on Midwestern American life is perhaps a little too askew, but isn’t entirely off-base. Having grown-up in and spent a portion of my adult life floating around the Ohio River valley, the earnest and God-fearing qualities the film imbues its characters with aren’t unlike those I’ve come to know in family and friends, distant or otherwise. That the characterizations stop short of caricatures is a testament to just how strong a collective handle the cast had on their roles. Ward and Stanton have played these parts before and after, but with such a wide birth of ideas and situations for both to explore they really lose themselves in Sheldon and Brother Bud. Williams was still the “Shirley” of TV’s ”Lavern and Shirley” when Uforia was lensed, and by the time it saw the light of day her career had begun to stall. It’s a shame the film sat for such a long because her performance is so strong, had it come on the heels of her success on TV its professional impact may well have been much greater. Arlene is a beautiful creation, and her personal transformation over the course of Uforia is a small-ish wonder to behold.

The film has a sunny, dust-covered look, its horizons dotted by double-wides and faded ranch homes. Again thinking more in terms of an ensemble piece than a high-concept comedy, overall tech credits are appropriate without stepping too far over the line in either direction. The climactic set-piece features some low-key effects and fits in nicely with the film as a whole.

Uforia’s rights currently sit with its production entity, Melvin Simon Productions, which no longer appears to be an active enterprise. Simon himself last worked as a production head at Columbia. It’s becoming old hat to say so in this column, but why on earth this title remains unavailable boggles the mind. A gem for the right enterprising DVD label, Uforia deserves the audience it would surely find (in some cases again) this go-round.

Related Links:

IMDB Listing
Roger Ebert's Review

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