Whenever someone mentions Dan Fogler, I’m suddenly interested. He’s a comedic dynamo who always seems to choose interesting or niche projects. Directing his second film since 2009, Fogler displays acting ability that he really hasn’t be able to show off yet. With Don Peyote‘s strange, but cool tale, Fogler has a grand spectrum of insanity.
It’s just a shame that the rest of the film falls apart.
Directors: Michael Canzioniero, Dan Fogler
Release Date: May 9, 2014 (VOD)
Don Peyote follows Warren Allman (Dan Fogler), an out of work man on his way to getting married to his long time fiance. Without direction in life, he’s depressed, wallows in self pity and drug use, and distances himself from that fiance. After a run in with a dishelved man carrying a “The End is Near” sign, Warren, inspired by the end of the world, wants to film a documentary about the subject. And this is all before his nervous break down.
Much like its main character, Don Peyote also goes through a sort of breakdown. With Warren narrating the events of his own story in the third person (thus creating a nice “storybook” setup for the character of “Don Peyote”), the film enters a dream like state where, much like Warren’s character, there’s no real direction. While this attempt to parallel Warren’s constant fugue state is indeed enjoyable at first, without at least a hint of a clear path to resolution, the film eventually dissolves into nonsense. Rather than seemingly enjoy the random things Warren sees and does as the film might intend, all that’s left is a disconnected list of events that may or may not have happened.
That’s one thing I do appreciate about Don Peyote, however. With its unreliable narrator, Don Peyote goes off the rails to some great places. With the film’s lower budget, there’s a bit of ingenuity at work when it comes to how the film is shot. Before Warren completely loses himself, there’s a slight blur to all of the shots. Every time the film cuts to a new scene in this segment, the lens is unfocused. During these scenes it’s entirely possible to understand how Warren is coping as you can see reality piercing through. Unfortunately, these fun little techniques don’t continue (oddly as Warren is giving up on the documentary in the story). And the rest of the film has a blase tone that really doesn’t mesh well with its main character’s instability. While there are some dream sequences here and there, they feel more like filler as Warren’s characterization falls apart.
And that’s something that really bothered me with Don Peyote. The direction of the narrative mirrors Warren’s constant inner battle at first, but once he delves into complete insanity, the film does as well. Although you could argue that by breaking down conventional narrative structure Don Peyote intends to reveal a deeper look into its main character’s psyche, Warren is never developed enough to warrant such direction. The descent into madness at display in the film is shallow. With no connections to Warren’s mental state (we’re never given reminders of how his actual self may be feeling as he just drifts from one lucid dream to the next), all we’re left with is the initial impression of the character: a self involved, lazy drug user. And with that initial impression, there’s no real reason to care why he’s on the journey. No involvement, no drive to push forward through the haze.
No matter how great Don Peyote may seem under the surface, by completely losing all sense of structure as the film falls into place haphazardly, there’s not enough here to continue watching it. The delusional narrative doesn’t seem wacky, quirky, or intellectually invigorating enough to connect its scenes together. It’s just disarming. Dan Fogler may have some great acting chops (he wonderfully contorts his face in manic positions), and it’s hilarious how big names like Josh Duhamel, Anne Hathaway, and Jay Baruchel are thrown in completely at random, but those bright spots do not shine through most of this confusing mess.
I shouldn’t need some peyote to enjoy Don Peyote.