SXSW Film Review – Milo
Described as the story of a man with a demon in his stomach, Milo had me wondering what to expect, and honestly, initially it didn’t excite my interest. Sure, it sounds unique, but it also felt like something Troma might release, and that wasn’t enough to hook me. The best comparison I’ve been able to come up with is that it is a combination of Dinosaurs and Teen Wolf…if that catches your fancy, then this might be the film for you.
Directed by veteran Duplass brothers collaborator Jacob Vaughn (and produced by the Duplass brothers), Milo is the story of Ken (Ken Marino), a man who is tormented by stomach trouble. Finally pushed by his wife Sarah (Gillian Jacobs), he goes to Dr. Highsmith (Peter Stormare) and discovers he has a demon living in his stomach that will leave his body and act upon his stressors when they get to be too much for him. Now he must stop the demon before it is too late.
The premise is certainly outlandish, but the attachment of the Duplass brothers was finally what brought me in. That was a lucky break, because the film is a lot of fun. Sure, there are plenty of low-brow jokes and toilet gags (in fact, Ken Marino has a handful of scenes actually on top of a toilet), but there is a tenderness beneath the surface that helps create a nice balance. You can see Jacob Vaughn’s past experience as an editor in the movie, as the pacing is tight, the timing of the comedy is very on point, and it does a good job of building to the climax.
Marino is his usual funny self; it doesn’t feel like much of a stretch. The role gives him a good opportunity to showcase his slapstick comedy and he is very talented, but the most engaging part is the softer side. As he begins to come to terms with the demon living inside his stomach, it’s strangely heartwarming, and provides a nice balance to what otherwise might be a run-of-the-mill shock comedy. I’m not going to argue Ken Marino isn’t a funny guy, but I actually tend to think his more restrained work is some of his best, and this just reinforces that feeling.
Huge points have to be given for the use of a real puppet rather than CGI for the demon; not only does this add a more realistic feel to the acting, but the puppet itself adds a huge part to the experience of the movie. The puppetry work is excellent and is a throwback to classics like Sesame Street. The demon’s presence opposite Marino is really the driving force behind the movie, and is the most engaging relationship. Describing it as a demon is technically correct, but that doesn’t really do a good job of explaining it. Think more of a buddy comedy with a bit of a horror bent.
The supporting cast is overall pretty solid, though somewhat underutilized, given their talent and star power. Leading the charge is Gillian Jacobs, who proves to be a solid “straight man” as she takes a break from her comedic work on Community. It is nice to see her in a more serious role (and that is a relative term, given the context), but unfortunately the majority of her work is on the back half of the movie, and she feels a little one-note for the first half in pushing her husband. I would’ve liked more, but her fight scene makes it all worthwhile.
Besides Jacobs, there are several stars in smaller roles, calling upon the likes of Peter Stormare, Stephen Root, Mary Kay Place, and Patrick Warburton. They are all quite funny, but don’t really do anything that stands out from the rest of their careers…I would describe it as more of the same. On the flip side, one of the most pleasant surprises was friend of the MacGuffin and regular Duplass-project actor Steve Zissis as Dr. Yip. He consistently is a scene stealer in their movies (see Jeff Who Lives at Home, Baghead, or Do-Deca-Pentahlon as an examples). One again he is hilarious, and probably has the most memorable moment in the movie. Another shoutout must be given to Kumail Nanjiani; if you aren’t familiar with the world of comedy you might not have heard of him, but keep your eyes peeled, as he is a very funny actor and consistently does excellent work.
It isn’t often that I completely misjudge a movie, but I will admit I did with Milo. It isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea (certainly not if you don’t like toilet humor or shock comedy), but if you’re able to run with the craziness, it is a good time. I’m not going so far as to say I will buy this on home video, but with the right special features, I’m saying it might be possible.
Final Grade: B+
Also, be sure to check out our interview with actress Gillian Jacobs and writer/director Jacob Vaughan.