Marvelous Mandy (directed by Chase Dudley, written by Brentt Slabchuck) is the story of a mentally-deranged woman named Mandy (Paula Marcenaro Solinger) who suffers from an inability to perceive and/or accept her life as it is. Rather than accept reality, she creates her own in her mind, lying about the truth, making up the story of her life as she goes along. Mandy is a psychopath, a sociopath, and even something far worse I won’t mention (but you may guess). Along with all of these undesirable (and dangerous) qualities, she is also beautiful. Yes! Therefore, Mandy is also a man trap of the most successful kind. Nerds, social misfits, geeks and all such losers who have trouble with women and romance should definitely apply here! Mandy is just the woman for you–the one to pursue with hope like never before (or so you think). But wait! Mandy is far too complex for that! She is also an author of children’s books titled (you guessed it) Marvelous Mandy…or is she? Did I mention that her life also involves a lot of blood and death? I should…but, I’ll bet you already guessed that too! Even with so many things you may guess, Marvelous Mandy is far from predictable. But, is it truly marvelous?
The story begins with a man (Jonathan Stottmann) doing a standup comedy routine, telling mostly unfunny jokes. His name we learn is Harvey Fowler; he is what most would call a social misfit, suffering from a gross inability to relate to people (particularly women) in ways considered “normal.” Harvey’s wife has recently left him (for reasons we can imagine without knowing), and he is looking for another wife. The bluray synopsis describes Harvey as being “down on his luck,” but as a bonus to viewers (I suppose), he has more than just luck working against him. Harvey’s nerdy ways of trying to get a date are almost unbelievably stupid, until we realize that some people are actually like that. A scene where he attempts to flatter a female restaurant employee and get a date is almost painful to watch; the intended date, as well as other customers, laugh at him out loud. Here, Harvey is more successful as a comedian in real life, unintentionally, than he is telling jokes on a stage. Sadly, he is such a misfit that he doesn’t even realize how ridiculous he looks asking for a date. (Is Harvey already sounding like a good match for Mandy, unaware of his own reality?) What’s the most normal thing about Harvey? His daughter Clementine. She likes the series of out-of-print books called Marvelous Mandy, and Harvey wants to make his daughter happy by finding the books she doesn’t have. These two motives–finding a wife and finding said books–lead to events that morph the story into the type of psychological thriller/horror film we expect…or do they?
“You exist on a plane of existence that’s so far beyond reality that it’s unfathomable.” ~ Harvey Fowler
At first, I thought Jonathan Stottmann was overacting the part of Harvey Fowler. Soon enough, I realized that Harvey is really meant to be so socially inept, and Stottmann is just doing what the script requires. Fowler is a flawed version of a human, acting out his own life poorly, just like a bad actor. Consequenlty, this is a role that is difficult to portray properly and seem competent doing so. Succeeding competently with incompetence is, indeed, just what Stottmann does.
In movies about psychopaths, serial killers and insanity, the first most important thing is that the crazy, psychopathic characters be convincingly crazy and psychopathic. Does Paula Marcenaro Solinger (as Mandy) do this! Absolutely, yes! Solinger not only does it, but she does it certifiably (to use clinical terms). Yes! Solinger gives life (insane as it is) to Marvelous Mandy, making her all the more marvelous, indeed. Her demented expressions are spot on and disturbing (as they should be), depicting, with proficiency, a woman detached from the reality of herself and the world around her; Solinger is authentic in making her character overly concerned about herself but apathetic about others, and thus a classic sociopath. She even portrays the kind of nervous hysteria and paranoid derangement we expect from a horror-film lunatic, on cue, every time. Narrations of her life, in real time, as if read from a book, add to the delusional thinking she has. Yes! Solinger gives a knockout (or I should say killer) performance as Mandy. A convincing mentally-deranged person is certainly one of the more difficult roles to play. Solinger nails it, portraying Mandy with perfection, spilling insanity as well as blood, onto the screen, profusely. The scene (featured above) with Mandy emerging from a house holding a butcher knife is chilling; here, it is Solinger’s motions, without words, that speak so well!
Kenna Hardin is truly awesome and outstanding beyond her years as Clementine, Harvey’s cute-as-a-button daughter. (She almost seems too “normal” to be his child.) Currently only 9 years old, Hardin has a career in acting ahead of her, easily! As Clementine, she is as convincing as possible, never pretentious or acting conscious of the camera. Clementine is a little girl doing the best she can to cope with having no mother and being teased about it at school, on top of all else; always happy, she hides her worries with a smile that lifts the mood of all around her. Hardin plays the role perfectly, becoming Clementine, rather than just acting the part! One of the biggest mistakes that beginning actors (young or old) make is that they are too aware of the camera and too self-conscious; consequently, they overact or underact, rather than playing it naturally. Hardin, young as she is, makes no such mistakes. With a Shirley Temple charm (yet a charm she makes her own), Hardin steals the show every time! Yes! She is a professional already! Hardin heading the movie’s official poster and bluray cover as one of the top three actors in the film is a well-deserved honor, indeed!
“When you’ve got Cherry on top, you’re livin’ La Dolce Vita, baby!” ~ Private Investigator, Mike Cherry
Private investigator Mike Cherry (Keith Nicholson) doesn’t appear in Marvelous Mandy until about the last 30 minutes; but when he does, it sure makes a difference. Nicholson portrays Cherry as the kind of smooth-talking, good ole boy familiar to everyone, and a stranger to no one. He wears his sport coats with plaid shirts, complete with cartoon ties, and a cowboy hat. Cherry’s a natural-born salesman who could sell a private investigating plan (tiered for different income levels) to just about anyone. He repeats cheesy one liners like a classic used-car salesman, patting his customers on the shoulder, while complementing himself. He’s the type we cautiously listen to, but wind up believing every time. Yes! Everyone knows a Mike Cherry, but Nicholson plays the stereotype with a flare of his own, daring to be different, with success! He adds a very effective boost of energy to Marvelous Mandy, at just the right time!
Director Chase Dudley plays the part of Levar, the overbearing, sometimes perverted bookstore owner, more concerned about sexual favors from his employees than work productivity. At one point, Levar leads Mandy to his office holding her by the hand, as if she’s a child; but, we get the idea that he has more than the usual employee reprimand on his mind. It’s a subtle touch that tells us, in advance, something more sinister about Levar’s character. Yes! He is just the sort of guy that everyone wants added to the body count, as soon as possible. Dudley does the job here, by making Levar convincingly unlikable (and eventually detestable), worthy of whatever horror-film fate he gets.
As part of the Space Jockey Reviews tradition, I will also mention an actor with a small part who does a big job. Marvelous honorable mention goes to “Barista Girl” Madison Moore (featured above), smiling and laughing her way through a corny date proposition from Harvey Fowler. Moore is the girl who “exists on a plane of existence…so far beyond reality that it’s unfathomable,” and the girl who sets his brain on fire, trying to process just one mental image of her. Wow! What a girl…and, for all that she is, certainly worth a paragraph here!
Were there problems with Marvelous Mandy? Yes, but mostly technical. The first problem was with the sound. The volume and quality of sound were inconsistent. At times, the volume was so low that I could not hear it; at other times, it suddenly became very loud. Sometimes, sound quality changed from one cut to the next, in the same scene; lack of background noise would, for example, after a cut, abruptly switch to noticeable white noise, suggesting that recording was done using different equipment or methods. Such issues with sound created distraction from an otherwise good movie.
Another problem related to sound involved audio tracks not in sync with the movement of the mouth doing the talking. This happened more than once and, each time, it was greatly distracting. The movie actually started off this way, out of sync with an opening comedy skit mentioned earlier. Here, such soundtrack issues evoke humor at inappropriate times, about the error itself, when humor is far from this movie’s intended effect. I can overlook foreign-language films being out of sync due to dubbing, but English-language films having such problems with English audio tracks are more difficult to take. Again, such errors cause the great problem of distracting viewers from the movie.
Another problem (yes, I’m going to be picky) was inconsistent lighting. Some scenes popped with light and color; others were too dark, leaving deep shadows in character eyes, and too much of the scene poorly lit. I understand how intentional differences in lighting and color can make thematic statements that enhance the story metaphorically. I understand how natural light, complete with prominent shadows, can add to the mood of a movie. Here, differences in quality of lighting and color were not as controlled as necessary for such purposes. At first, I thought brightly lit, colorful scenes were intentional and meant to highlight, metaphorically, the happier, “marvelous” times in Mandy’s life…and that is a great idea. At first, I thought darker lit scenes (complete with deep eye shadows) were meant to suggest darker, unhappy moods of characters in general…and that is also a good idea. All of that worked perfectly when it was done at the right time; it simply wasn’t done consistently enough, losing an opportunity to be better.
Finally, the movie would have also benefited from smoother transitions and better-timed cuts. Some scenes were cut too hard and put together too abruptly, leaving me scratching my head at times, wondering what just happened. A scene suddenly inserted after a particular sexual encounter (where Mandy seemed to be punching something) was confusing, even after watching it again several times. There were also times when I wanted to see more of the background in a scene, for better balance and comprehension of events. While fast cuts, tight framing, and occasional ambiguity didn’t break the movie, they again didn’t help it.
Is there blood and gore, and how good is it? YES! There is blood and gore galore! And yes, it is good in all the ways that blood and gore can be good for horror fans. It’s messy, graphic and brutal, with blood gushing from slit throats, lingering on the carnage so horror fans can soak it in. Marvelous Mandy gives us proof again that old-fashioned practical effects deliver the goods like CGI never can. Yes! The gorehound within you will be well-fed here! Make sure you stick that corpse’s foot in the trunk before you close the lid, and be sure to wipe up all the blood! Wink, wink!
“My brain is on fire trying to process just one mental image of you.” ~ Harvey Fowler
Will Mandy kill Harvey and put him out of his misfit misery? Will Harvey survive to make a fool of himself yet again, trying to get another date? Will he learn that his pick up lines are funnier than his comedy routines and cleverly merge the two? Will he learn a lesson about dating women who write books claiming they are marvelous? Will Mandy live to be incarcerated and rehabilitated (at taxpayer expense), and become truly marvelous some day? Will Mandy escape death herself, living on to star, possibly, in Marvelous Mandy 2? Or, will Mandy herself be killed, only to be resurrected as a supernatural version of herself in a sequel? (Yes, I’m thinking of Jason Voorhees here!) Most of these questions (and don’t you just love the questions) are answered in Marvelous Mandy! The rest are marvelous, even without answers!
Even with technical errors as they are, Marvelous Mandy is an engaging psychological terror tale that succeeds in spite of itself. The story is good and, while maybe a little overlong, it unfolds itself at a pace that keeps viewers watching. Blood and gore are delivered in copious amounts, and the horror hound’s sweet tooth is sure to be satisfied. Dialogue and performances are, overall, believable, and Mandy’s decent into madness is very convincing. Solinger’s marvelous performance is the glue that holds things together here, saving the movie from a fate far worse. Could death have been the case otherwise? Possibly! But, then again, could Silence of the Lambs have survived without Anthony Hopkins nailing the literally biting insanity of Hannibal Lector? I think not!
Marvelous Mandy also stars director Chase Dudley, Spencer Korcz, Ryley Nicole, Jessica Paige York, Tory L. Beckham, Keith Nicholson, Paul Cecil, R. Wayne Hogue Jr., Angie Willmott, Madison Moore and Christine Conticchio, produced by Samantha Stengel, with music composed by Frederic Mauerhofer and Tricia Minty. The movie is currently on bluray, DVD, and Vimeo.