My Friend’s Rubber Ducky
Written and directed by Josh Hyde
74 min, USA, 2016
There are two very different possible reactions to My Friend’s Rubber Ducky, which premiered last night at the Sun Valley Film Fest. Opposing reactions can often be a sign of good art. On the one hand, I would say that this is a troublingly upbeat treatment of Stockholm Syndrome. On the other hand, it’s a delightful absurdist comedy about finding redemption in friendship and weed.
One thing, however, is certain: My Friend’s Rubber Ducky is funny. So laugh-out-loud funny that someone needs to give writer-director Josh Hyde a big budget already, because his grasp of both comic dialogue and situational humor is standout. It’s incredibly easy to take the premise and script of My Friend’s Rubber Ducky, mentally tweak and expand it a little, and stock it with Seth Rogen, Ed Helms, and two more Hollywood funny people, for a solid, checks-all-the-boxes Hollywood hit comedy.
Joseph (Jordan Kenneth Kamp) is a deadbeat, working as a volunteer coordinator a nonprofit and just barely making his house payments. One day he runs into an old friend, Oliver, who is now a successful director of music videos and TV commercials. Oliver owes Joe $5000 for a film they created together in film school, and Joe is determined to get the money back. He impulsively kidnaps Oliver and locks him up in a closet, with a set of simple rules: “No money. No bathroom. No food.” Joe’s stoner roommate and his girlfriend assist him.
One of the most pleasurable things about My Friend’s Rubber Ducky is its cohesiveness. A strong sense of identity is what many indie films are lacking, as they strive to incorporate multiple influences and styles. My Friend’s Rubber Ducky sticks firmly to its world, which mostly consists of a celebration of weed as a humanizing influence, which would be dreadfully boring if the characters and dialogue weren’t so gripping. Visually interesting shots and a crackling soundtrack from Michael Deller (Hangover 2, The Other Guys), give a near-beauty to the varying sensations of being high. Alex Hardaway, as Joe’s roommate, is mesmerizing, a scene-stealer with pitch-perfect comedic timing and naturalistic delivery.
The characters progress slowly over the course of the film from a state of violence and tension to harmony, and the film is bookended with voiceovers from an Indian guru about identity and harmony. What’s odd, however, is that real violence and trauma is done against someone – Oliver is kidnapped, imprisoned, denied food, water, and bathroom privileges, and forced to give money to his kidnappers – yet there are no ramifications, emotional, psychological, or otherwise, shown. Especially in a 21st-century America preoccupied with violence and victimhood, and ever more aware of the enduring effects of both, this seems like a tonally deaf choice at a best. On a purely moral level, I find Oliver’s transition from unwilling captive to cheerful consenting captive, an unnerving presentation, in that the film offers no awareness of the darkness underlying the situation. This may be the most upbeat presentation of Stockholm Syndrome I’ve ever seen.
Yet, there’s a gentleness and charm to the film, and while it unmistakably glosses over some troubling elements, it’s endearing in its optimism. The audience, having laughed aloud for over an hour, left on a wave of satisfaction.
The fifth annual Sun Valley Film Festival returns March 2-March 6 in Ketchum, Idaho, featuring over 60 narrative films and documentaries, as well as special guests Oliver Stone, Mark Duplass, Bruce Dern and Amy Smart, and musical guests The Joy Formidable and Thunderpussy. Films are shown at local venues including the Sun Valley Opera House, Magic Lantern Cinemas, and NexStage Theatre in a celebration of film and storytelling.