Updated: Jun 13, 2022
Just under 17 minutes into Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying, the title card of the film directed by Parker Seaman is dropped. With exactly an hour left in the runtime, Seaman and screenwriter/Sticky Boy Devin Das are off to visit their ailing friend all the way in Boise, Idaho. They gather all the essentials required for a proper road trip comedy shot documentary style: cool looking van a la Little Miss Sunshine, a retro video camera, and some old school maps; All done through Craigslist deals following proper COVID-19 protocols. There have been a handful of films made during the pandemic era that directly address the pandemic itself, and if this isn’t the best one about this tumultuous time we still find ourselves in, it’s certainly in the conversation. As D’Arcy Carden’s character says in the film, “You’re going to make a movie during a global pandemic to gain notoriety in the film industry, when you could be doing literally hundreds of other things to help the state of the world right now, and all to tell the story of your cis-hetero white male friend?” Yes, that’s exactly what they do.
Fellow Sticky Boy and former co-worker Wes Schlagenhauf contracts COVID-19 and lets his friends know with an ominous FaceTime call. As Seaman and Das come to terms with how to help their quarantined friend, whom they haven’t seen in three years since he up and moved back to Idaho, they decide a Cameo from Mark Duplass will boost his spirits. After maybe the best advertisement Cameo could ever possibly receive, the two friends become so heavily inspired by his words that they decide what Schlagenhauf really needs is a film dedicated to him, made in the most indie way possible… with a massive corporate sponsorship and struct guidelines of course. With their $10,000 check and a copy of Save The Cat to guide the film along narratively, Seaman and Das begin the journey and documentary with style, flair, and comedic timing that not only rivals, but surpasses, possibly any sort of comedy team currently working today.
Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying is acutely aware of the struggles that filmmakers looking to break into the industry will face. From choral renditions of Blink-182 songs to overflowing product placement, their answers to these dilemmas are met with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. The two do whatever they can to create “those trailer moments” and hooks for audiences while the entire time, the film begins taking on a sort of dual layered subtext. The two halves of the film parallel one another, wherein everything that is being strived for and created inorganically comes about in a natural way through the friendship of Seaman and Das. Each plot point gone over ad nauseum to Das in Save The Cat is replicated by a lifelong bond naturally taking its course. For this is not merely a film about filmmaking, but one of friendship. And it’s that exact asset which allows Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying and its comedic trio to elevate the material beyond a simple indie comedy.
In a dramatic scene, the duo hear that some films shouldn’t be made for awards and praise. A story within a film should be deeply personal, and one that you can tell better than any other soul on the planet. Luckily enough, this film will fit into both boxes. Seaman described this film as “a two-year therapy session that encapsulates 10 years of friendship”. For a film that constantly addresses the fact that audiences will not want to see a love letter about three random friends, it’s an immediately gripping film. From the smart hook to the clearly sincere process of working out real-time emotion on screen, what follows is a profoundly moving slice of life, told through the lens of a comedy about making a movie.
This is an absolute crowd-pleaser in every sense of the word, and the definition of an indie powerhouse. By making a film that is incredibly specific, Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying soars into the territory of brilliance, and it’s not by accident. This is a film that is completely honest with itself, and in turn, pays off tenfold with comedic beats that will leave you howling and lessons to take home in every aspect of your life. Whether it be creative inspiration, how you view friendships, or what exactly it is you’ve been put on this planet to achieve, Seaman and Das have crafted a film that can serve as a guiding light through dark times. With a little bit (or a ton) of laughter, and a will to create and experience life to the fullest, this is a film that reminds us anything is possible, no matter how cliché that may seem. And after we have all been through so much darkness, perhaps a cliché as genuine and plain-spoken as that will turn out to be the most effective.
Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying celebrated its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. Tickets for screenings and more information on the film can be found right here.