I’ve been struggling for days about how, exactly, to describe Mondo Hollywoodland for this review. Completely outside of my wheelhouse of movies, this low-budget, experimental production by director Janek Ambros practically escapes description. Part mockumentary, part critique of the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, I’m still not certain what I’ve watched despite reading the plot synopsis hundreds of times.
At times, the film has breezy pacing that throws so much at you, you can’t help but chuckle and go along with things. At others, the pacing slows to a crawl and you wonder when the hell things are going to move on. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, and while I didn’t quite enjoy it, something about Mondo Hollywoodland won’t leave my thoughts.
Director: Janek Ambros
Release Date: August 3, 2021 (Paid VOD), December 13, 2021 (Amazon Prime)
In very simple terms, Mondo Hollywoodland is the story of a groovy mushrooms dealer and a traveler from the fifth dimension journeying through Hollywood to discover the meaning of “Mondo.” That really makes no sense without context, but even with context from the film, I still have no idea what the hell that means. The aforementioned shrooms dealer is a man named Normand Boyle (Chris Blim) and he has many a tale about the various subcultures that populate Hollywood.
Taking place in a fictional recreation of our real-world (i.e. Hollywood is referred to as Hollywoodland), it’s not hard to decipher how this film is an exploration of the excess that permeates throughout tinsel town. As Normand explains, there are three groups in Hollywoodland: The Titans, The Weirdos, and The Dreamers. We become intimate with one member of each of these groups as they struggle to find their place in not only life but the entertainment industry.
It’s certainly an interesting conceit for mashing together different styles and genres. With the way Mondo Hollywoodland is edited, it can feel like a horror film during certain segments. As Normand details these different groups and the special drugs he makes for them, the camera will cut to some random guy wearing a gold and silver mask out in the desert and flash around scenes from what looks like the Vietnam War and various politicians. I’m sure there is something else going on there, but it kind of flies over my head…because I’m an idiot.
My stupidity aside, the “plot” gets kicked off in Titan land with the misadventures of Ted (Alex Loynaz), a hot-shot producer who has something of a drug problem. Pretty much a parody of cracked-out producers that only look out for themselves, Ted is at his wit’s end with actress Paloma (Miranda Rae Hart), who thinks she is hot shit. Friends with Normand, Ted goes to him to vent his troubles while also getting hooked up with some sweet, mondo shrooms.
Meanwhile, in Weirdo land, we get caught up with Daphne (Alyssa Sabo) and her struggles to rid the world of Neo-Nazis. Attending a local meeting of her Antifa group, she pretty much goes AWOL and concocts a plan to blow up the car of Derrick (Janek Ambros), a supposed Neo-Nazi that has been terrorizing her. There’s some B-plot where her colleague, Todd (Yaki Margulies), is in love with her, but it really goes nowhere.
Lastly, there is Dreamer land and we actually meet two people this time. There is aspiring actress Anna (Jessica Jade Andres) and washed-up businessman Barry Hollywood (Barry Shay). Anna is doing the rounds at her local acting class while Barry is attempting to acquire the funds to open a new business. I’m not exactly sure how the two relate, but their plans go awry and the two are stuck wondering how they can achieve their dreams.
The connective glue of these various stories is Normand, supplier of some bomb ass shrooms. Everyone eventually comes to Normand for their answers and he gives it to them in the form of mushed-up powder. I suppose you can say the moral of the story is that Hollywood turns people into junkies, but by the mid-point, I started to lose interest. It’s not that the acting or editing is bad. In fact, I liked most of the performances here and only felt a few were off due to inexperience more than direction. No, my issue is just that these disparate plotlines have the thinnest of reasons to even co-exist.
At the beginning of the movie, there is some unseen narrator that introduces himself as being from the fifth dimension, but he disappears for massive durations of time. If he were filming every character and contextualizing their struggles somehow, I feel Mondo Hollywoodland would have worked a bit better. Without his guiding voice, the film often meanders around and provides a lot of out-of-context shots that are never referenced again or inform upcoming scenes.
What’s even more bizarre is that in the last 15-ish minutes, most of the cast does come together to plot out a heist that manages to tie up a few loose ends. It’s bizarre to see 90 minutes of screentime spent on setting up characters just to provide a closing punchline of sorts, but that’s how the cookies have crumbled. Credit to Ambros for seeing the bigger picture here, but I don’t quite think the film nails the landing.
As harsh as all of this sounds, I don’t hate Mondo Hollywoodland. In a year where I saw both Werewolves Within and Like a Dirty French Novel, I can tell you when a movie is legitimately bad. Ambros hasn’t made a bad film, but one that doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. It has some entertaining moments where characters spout off random jokes or land perfect comedic timing with puns, but it feels a bit bloated for its own good. That’s also not mentioning how spending an hour and a half on random stories doesn’t quite stage the heist properly, which seemingly comes out of nowhere at the end. I get it would be pointless to shove in backstory during a pivotal moment like that, but there are better ways to contextualize such a finale.
What Mondo Hollywoodland offers is something where viewers are meant to dissect each frame for subtext and iconography and suffer through the mundanity of these people’s lives for that ending. It’s just hard not to think that some tighter editing could have made the story flow better. Even still, there is bound to be an audience for this guerilla-style of filmmaking that Ambros has captured here. I’ve never truly been one for experimental films, but I understand the appeal they hold for the less mainstream-inclined audiences.
If you’re one to eschew the typical three-act structure for a story that focuses more on its characters than any concrete narrative, Mondo Hollywoodland is going to cater right to you. If not, then I can’t say there is really much here that will pique your interest. What you won’t feel after the film is disappointment because this is definitely a very deliberately made film. You may not like it, but you can’t claim that Ambros did not achieve what he set out to do.