Toronto After Dark Pre-Festival Spotlight: ‘Bad Milo’ – laboured and ridiculous, but not altogether unfunny.

bad milo poster

Bad Milo

Written by Jacob Vaughan and Benjamin Hayes

Directed by Jacob Vaughan

USA, 2013

In an episode of Community, Britta (played by Gillian Jacobs) once said that an analogy is “a thought with another thought’s hat on.” It may be laboured, clumsy, and teetering on the gobbledygook, but what she said was not altogether incorrect. In fact, that’s pretty much the reason why the scene was funny. Jacob Vaughan’s Bad Milo, in which Jacobs co-stars, deals with a metaphor that, in its execution, feels very much the same way: laboured and ridiculous, but not altogether unfunny.

The film follows a mild-mannered but perpetually stressed accountant named Duncan (Ken Marino). He’s stressed for various reasons: he has constant and insufferable incontinence; he’s unable to conceive a child with his wife (Jacobs); and his crooked and insouciant boss (Patrick Warburton) is putting tremendous pressure on him at work.

But, as we learn, the reason Duncan is incontinent is actually because he’s butt-pregnant with a wrinkly-but-sometimes-cute monster, which he lovingly calls Milo, that becomes murderous whenever Duncan is stressed. Therefore, Duncan must alleviate the sources of stress in his life to protect those around him, kind of like the Hulk.

From the get-go, the metaphor is clear: little Milo is the ugly and living personification of Duncan’s angst and worries. It’s not unlike David Lynch’s Eraserhead, but Vaughan and co-writer Benjamin Hayes decide to go for a more Gremlins-esque approach, which doesn’t always work.

Bad Milo

Yes, Bad Milo doesn’t take itself too seriously and the tone is very much tongue-in-cheek, but it also doesn’t spend much time developing the story or fleshing out the film’s central thematic metaphor. Is Milo supposed to represent Duncan’s fear of fatherhood? His frustration with his inability to conceive a child? His daddy issues? His feeling of helplessness at work? Maybe all of the above? The film never really makes this clear, nor does it ever feel like it cares to.

In its place, we have an onslaught of scat jokes, potty-mouthed ad-libbing, and intermittent scenes of bloody Milo-caused violence offset by intermittent scenes of contrived Milo-caused cuteness. This formula works some but not all of the time, because the story is fairly half-baked, the characters are almost all one-dimensional and indecipherable from each other (although well-acted), and Milo’s visual gimmick becomes stale and old hat rather quickly (you can only laugh at a wrinkly, 2-foot monstrosity re-entering a guy’s ass so many times).

Most of the laughs in Bad Milo come from random moments of verbal diarrhea (especially from Peter Stormare as Duncan’s kooky therapist), but with its half-hearted attempt at pursuing any sort of meaningful substance, the story itself isn’t very engaging. Bad Milo is a film that almost demands to be judged on a scene-by-scene basis, and, as it turns out, the result is rather (excuse the pun) scat-tershot.

– Justin Li

The Toronto After Dark Film Festival runs Oct 17-25.

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