The midnight shorts program at SXSW is one of the jewels of the fest, and one of the best programs of its kind in festival-land. Lines circled around the block to get in this year, and that was just the stand-by line. Most of those poor souls didn’t get in. So, this goes out to you poor souls; if this somehow reaches you, your long wait is over—you can now see the best film from SXSW Midnight 2016.
Seth is an outrageous coming-of-age written by first-time writer/director Zach Lasry and features a revelatory performance from Logan George in the title role. The film is “Midnight” not due to horror, or grossness (though there is a little bit), but simply due to its highly imaginative, non-sequitur comedy style that will elicit more than a few expressions of “WTF?!?!”.
Writing about comedy is tough, after all explaining a joke kills it, and I certainly don’t want to defang what the team of Seth has accomplished with its title character. You don’t need context to enjoy the film, and I encourage you to check it out first to allow yourself to be surprised. However, now upon multiple viewings, my esteem for Seth has grown even more. The character is simply a grand achievement. Outrageous, unpredictable, but consistent. His behavior flows naturally from his traits, and those traits are well-established very quickly: the repressed hypersexuality that plays out in his questionable photographic collages, suggestive dancing, and pantless tuxedo, as well as his manic-depressive dramatics, leading him to uncomfortable moments of self-harm and stinging self-recrimination. Simple throw-away jokes are rewoven into the script via call-backs, sometimes with big payoffs, such as the corn “feast” Seth prepares for his father.
Seth is an A+ comedic construction that is more flexible and better developed than any SNL sketch character of the last 10 years, and it’s often overlooked how rare that is. He has identifiable bits—his grandiose visions, sartorial flair, and artistic impulses make him a spiritual cousin to Rushmore’s Max Fischer, while his unhealthy parental fixation and developmental arrest have hints of Buster Bluth. But that said, Seth is quite an original, and it was rare to see a film where I was consistently surprised by a character’s actions, and yet those actions never betrayed the character is the search of that surprise.
Lasry studied at NYU and worked for a time as a fashion photographer for Interview Magazine, as well as serving under Rodrigo Prieto during the shooting of The Wolf of Wall Street. In conjunction with his partner, Arianna Lyons, he founded Fever Dream Productions which is in development on a number of projects, including Lasry’s debut feature script Velvet Suit. The script was recently selected into the Capalbio Future Storytelling Lab where it will mentored by Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World). With the success of Seth at their backs, the future is bright for this promising creative team.