If the joy of art is that it can be interpreted in infinite ways over time, then is a project which “remixes” classic movie scenes by forcing them into the current political climate redundant in concept? Take Joe Dante’s The Burbs, one of the key films featured in art collective Soda Jerk’s recycled musical Hello Dankness, and which remains relevant because its combination of suburban malaise and paranoia continues to echo into our sharply divided political climate. Does lazily editing yard signs for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump into characters’ front gardens really feel like a bold new addition to such an older work? Or does it just state the obvious as to how a modern audience might interpret the character archetypes it presented us with in the first place?
Hello Dankness is a tiresome exercise due to how it states every clear, played-out satirical point of the last several years; it’s surprising to hear the filmmaker duo were primarily working on it during the pandemic, considering how exhausted every single insight they have would have been even at that point. Utilizing pre-existing footage stretching back to the 1950s––primarily from works set in suburbia, ranging from Dante’s aforementioned black comedy to American Beauty and countless episodes of Hulu’s PEN15––characters from each project now co-exist within the same, endless suburb, even though their only point of interaction with each other comes via awkward reaction shots, less-than-seamless in how they’ve been stitched together.
The directors hail from Australia, and there is something of worth to the idea of two relative outsiders (they’ve lived in New York on-and-off for the best part of a decade) using American pop culture to understand current divides in the country. From a young age, international audiences are spoon-fed U.S. imports on screens big and small, so trying to grapple with the Trump era by examining the warped view of suburban life presented to us over the years suggests a wise starting point. The problem is that many of the works Hello Dankness aims to re-contextualize are already grappling with the dark heart of suburbia, often as allegories for a generation or entire nation on the brink of complete meltdown; forcing them together into pre-Trump and post-COVID framing devices adds little you couldn’t already interpret organically.
Even at a whisker over an hour, with extensive credits listing each visual reference pushing the film to the 70-minute mark, the directors still let many original scenes from the texts they are “remixing” play out in full. In classic musical style, we open with an overture––but that overture is Kendall Jenner’s infamous Pepsi commercial from 2017, roundly criticized for how it trivialized Black Lives Matter and other contemporary protest movements by suggesting the world’s second-favorite cola brand could heal all wounds. The advert itself––billed by Pepsi as a “short film”––runs for 168 seconds, and every last one of them has been transferred to the screen, adding little in the way of satire, but immediately suggesting the movie is padding for time before it’s even begun.
This recurs throughout, as scenes from Wayne’s World and This is the End are among the many that have barely been edited to fit a grander narrative. With the former, the only change is that instead of listening to Bohemian Rhapsody, Wayne and Garth are now rocking out to a parody of La Bamba called “My Dick is Out for Harambe.” This scene is a vivid encapsulation of the project’s limitations; even when working with a treasure trove of footage from throughout the recent history of film, TV, and the Internet, they continue to fall back on the laziest jokes possible. Admittedly, the joke is likely on me for trying to find artistic worth within a film that operates as a feature-length shitpost, right down to playing an extended Garfield meme as a metaphor for Trump’s entire Presidency––somewhat unexpectedly, the only gag that made me laugh out-loud.
Hello Dankness ultimately feels like a lockdown project; an in-joke between friends, assembled when there was nothing better to do in the world, and now an irrelevancy. This is especially baffling considering how many of the events within its narrative continue to cast a shadow over global politics––yet within Soda Jerk’s film, referencing them now feels as stale as many of the memes invoked throughout.
Hello Dankness opens on September 8.