*. Applesauce is a good little movie, but you get a sense of something being a bit off right from the opening. The radio talk-show host Stevie Bricks (Dylan Baker) is asking callers to confess on-air the worst thing they have ever done, and his delivery is too slow. He doesn’t sound like a radio personality. That’s not a big thing but it does get us off on the wrong foot.
*. The rest of the movie felt a bit the same. It’s smart and deft, but needed to be lighter on its feet. A darkly comic tale of two bickering couples in New York, it plays like a slightly ghoulish, slightly raunchy Seinfeld episode, only longer and not as clever.
*. That probably sounds a bit harsh. Like I say, Applesauce is a good little movie. So let’s talk about a few things I picked up from the commentary by writer-director-star Onur Tukel.
*. Tukel repeatedly says that he is not a professional actor, which I guess he isn’t by the strict definition of these things. Few actors are. But he’s pretty good and holds his own with the rest of the cast. The miscue was in making his character, Ron, into such an obnoxious figure. It’s hard to see how he manages to have any friends at all much less keep his job as a teacher. Is his insulting manner supposed to be charming? I must have missed something here. The opening dinner scene made me cringe.
*. Tukel also talks about how Applesauce is not mumblecore. This is a label applied to a fairly obscure subgenre that apparently everyone wants to now disown. Anyway, the reason this doesn’t qualify as mumblecore is that the script wasn’t improvised. I keep needing reminders about these things.
*. Finally there is the matter of the title. I’ll confess I pulled a total blank on its meaning. On the commentary Tukel explains that it has various meanings. It refers to being set in New York, the “Big Apple.” It ties in to the idea of a sauce being a mixture of different genres. And finally it just sounds jazzy.
*. I’m not sure why Tukel bothered with the radio stuff. Stevie Bricks doesn’t function that well as a chorus and he’s only attached to the main plot with some difficulty. His game of getting people to confess to the worst thing they’ve ever done gets the ball rolling, but after that he has no essential role to play. In a movie like this you expect things to be a bit tighter.
*. Still, there’s a neat story here that nicely evokes the physical and intellectual milieu. The locations and lighting, the language and wardrobe, all combine to give an authentic sense of a comfortable but not affluent urban class. There’s a tidy moral about empathy that is made messy enough not to seem preachy. There’s nothing hysterically funny about any of it, but plenty of moments to make you smile. It’s low budget, but the talent on both sides of the camera makes up for any shortcomings in that regard. Would Tukel be better served, however, by not playing both sides? Is it only Ron’s lack of self-awareness that holds the film back? I think his author might have benefited from the same distance.