Published Oct 21, 2013Powered by self-conscious stylistic quirks and mired in nostalgia, Don Thacker's ambitious feature length debut suffers from an eagerness to impress by way of sheer bombardment of strangeness and sprinklings of hipster catnip. What cool-obsessed try-hard could possibly resist the 8-bit musical score (the notes of which actually work very well to set the mood), fetishism for old technology (the plot involves a vintage television set) and NES-style animation sequences? In all likelihood, only a small niche will be able to overlook Motivational Growth's many flaws enough to appreciate the message of "The Mold."
In this hallucinatory world, a sentient clump of fungus in the bathroom of agoraphobic thirty-something, Ian Foliver (Adrian DiGiovanni), gains the power of speech and begins giving the grubby shut-in pep talks. This scheming patch of grim (voiced by From Beyond's Jeffrey Combs) only starts yapping about his grand "plans" after Ian knocks himself unconscious in a bad fall during a botched suicide attempt, so whether anything we see is actually happening is up in the air until the final frame. To further compound the deliberate disorientation, Ian breaks the fourth wall near the beginning of the film, right after he freaks out over his television set going up in smoke, and some of the thoughts he shares take the form of visual run-throughs of paranoid delusions about ways he might die in a freak accident.
These unnaturally scripted factoid-spewing rants of his comprise a surprising amount of the narrative. It's an approach that might work as a one-man, stage show but on screen it feels awkward, especially since there doesn't seem to be any reason the monologues couldn't have been tweaked to be directed at the dirty lump of puppet he eventual starts taking advice from in order to get his life back on track. Through it all, a parade of weird characters shows up at his door – his landlord, a couple of TV repairmen and a pushy grocery delivery girl – to give Ian something to interact with other than The Mold and the audience. But since reality is so uncertain they all feel like physical extensions of his internal arguments rather than characters with their own thoughts and motivations, which is a distinct possibility. The only external force to penetrate Ian's world is a girl he routinely peeps as she walks by his front door daily. So, underneath all the peculiarities, it's really just another movie about the motivational power of sex.
Whether or not you'll appreciate Motivational Growth will largely depend upon your fondness for poorly thought-out reductive rants about pop culture, intellectual posturing and the abundant use of random camera tricks and '80s-referencing stylistic devices geared towards titillating the developmentally arrested. All the same, Thacker deserves some credit for investing this much effort in a project that asserts—through The Mold—that needing to be special is a kind of disease, It's a commendable message, even if it's a tad hypocritical considering his flashy approach to filmmaking. (Imagos)