Patron Pick – Motivational Growth

This is a special reward available to Patreon patrons who pledge at the $10 or $20 a month levels. Each month those patrons will pick a film for me to review. They also get to include some of their own thoughts about the movie, if they choose. This Pick comes from Bekah Lindstrom.

Motivational Growth (2013)
Written & Directed by Don Thacker

American independent film is a complicated industry that’s been through many transformations since movies were invented. The late 1990s to the mid-2010s were a Golden Age at the start but eventually became a time of diminishing returns. The 20th century ended with so much promise, especially with the advent of digital cameras, but by 2015 movies were being churned out that lacked a lot. Motivational Growth is one of those American indie flicks with an interesting premise, but the execution is ruined by a filmmaker who believes he’s cleverer than he actually is. He’s completely unsure of the tone, so the movie veers from body horror to dark comedy, back and forth again and again.

Ian (Adrian DiGiovanni) is a depressed, reclusive thirty-something hiding in his apartment. One day, the misery gets too much, and Ian attempts to kill himself. The attempt is botched, and Ian falls, slamming his head against the sink. When Ian comes to, he discovers an immense mold growth (Jeffrey Combs) in the bathroom has come to life. The Mold that Ian needs to hand his life over to the growth who will guide him into a state of self-fulfillment. Ian has to eat a mushroom that the creature grows, which begins to alter his mind and way of thinking. Things seem to be getting better in the man’s life until the Mold starts interfering in his interactions with other people. It seems the wise, all-seeing Mold has more nefarious plans for poor Ian.

The biggest problem with Motivational Growth is that it is extremely concerned with making the audience think. It’s just not possessed of strong enough writing to be coherent. The script presents many twists & turns and questions and certainly doesn’t answer any or attempt to do anything with the ideas it raises. I can feel the over-excited filmmaker pulling bits from everything he loves: the body horror of Cronenberg, the gross-out horror-comedy of Troma Films, overwritten pseudo-philosophical monologues that recall Kevin Smith. I fully understand that director Don Thacker loves all these things, but he’s missing a key piece: his own point of view through which to meld them into a single thing. 

Adrian DiGiovanni isn’t a great actor, but I think a lot of his performance can be blamed on the aimless script. He’s meant to deliver these long monologues full of graduate-level words, and he simply isn’t convincing in that role. The schlubby man on the edge of collapse angle works for him but trying to make him into some philosophy student never worked for me. Indie film legend Jeffrey Combs is adequate as the Mold. I was frankly surprised I didn’t enjoy the performance more. Combs has a distinctive voice and style, but it feels very muted here. The Mold is a very laid-back character, save for a few moments.

I think I get what Thacker was going for with Motivational Growth, and that’s why it’s so disappointing to take in the final project. I kept thinking of comedian/YouTuber Connor O’Malley who does work that is in the same vein, psychedelic horror about men in the middle of modernity. You can see O’Malley’s latest video below, which is done in a style I would argue suits a movie like this better. It’s less about stilted dialogue and more about the dimensions to which a human psyche can be stretched. It leans into the self-destruction themes of Motivational Growth in a way that unsettles me, and I never felt unsettled by this movie. 

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