If you’re a child of the ’80s and ’90s, you should know Orion Pictures. This was the company that gave us Caddyshack, Amadeus, First Blood, Robocop, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and so many other iconic films from the era. It’s also the company that went bankrupt in 1995 and pretty much ceased to exist when MGM bought it out a few years later.
But as with everything else from thirty years ago, it looks like Orion Pictures is making a comeback. In late 2013, the Orion Pictures brand was quietly relaunched as a new division of MGM, for the purpose of distributing smaller arthouse films. Kind of like Fox Searchlight or Paramount Vantage, but for movies that are even MORE obscure.
The most recent case in point is Buddymoon, shot over ten days in the forests just outside Portland, Oregon. The film was exec-produced and co-written by costar David Giuntoli (one of Portland’s most famous actors since his starring gig on “Grimm”), alongside his old friend Flula Borg. Though debut director Alex Simmons is also credited for the screenplay, the script was almost entirely improvised.
To recap: We have an indie comedy film set and shot in my hometown, distributed by the formerly-defunct company behind several of my favorite childhood films. There’s no way I wasn’t going to review this one.
Giuntoli and Borg play fictionalized versions of themselves, also named David and Flula. Both Davids are actors, though the film David is a former child star who’s auditioning for a Lewis and Clark biopic to get his career back on track. Both Flulas are German DJs, and the film Flula is currently recording strange new sounds in search of something to put on his newest track. And both pairs of friends met while David was traveling abroad in Germany, but the film David goes into details that I certainly hope were fictional.
The film opens on the day of David’s wedding, just after his fiancee (Frankie, played by Jeanne Syquia) called the whole thing off at the last minute. Then she moved out and practically took the whole house with her. But while the wedding was called off, plans for the honeymoon were never cancelled. So Flula — the would-be Best Man — decides to try and cheer David up by going with him on the intended honeymoon: A seven-day hike through the Oregon wilderness, ending at a stay in a remote cottage.
David says there’s a surprise waiting at the cottage. Without getting into spoilers, the poor guy has no idea.
Even though the characters are hiking instead of driving, this is definitely a buddy road trip comedy. This naturally means that our two main characters and their interplay are what drive the plot forward, generate most of the comedy, and serve as the centerpiece of the film. The dynamic between Flula and David is a very simple one: Flula is the energetic goofball with more heart than brains, and David is the more grounded and focused of the two. David’s situation is simple enough to understand, but Flula needs a bit more elaboration.
The very first time we meet Flula, he shows up in a Dollar Store sun costume, just before delivering a rambling speech about Rudy (as in Rudy, the football movie), all for the purpose of cheering David up. This should give you an idea of just how random, flashy, hyperactive, and loud this character is, to say nothing of the German-American cultural differences that get played up for laughs. All it takes is thirty seconds with this character, and he’ll either have you rolling in the aisles or swallowing all the aspirin you can take.
Personally, I hated Flula’s brand of humor, but I was still more than willing to put up with it. And that’s pretty much entirely due to David Giuntoli. The guy is a crazy-talented straight man, serving up reactions and comebacks in such a way that Flula’s antics are made so much funnier. Of course, it certainly helps that the two actors are legitimate friends and capable talents with a solid rapport, which translates to some effective comedic timing between them.
There are times when Flula dominates the scene (his intended reception speech comes to mind), and it’s painful. There are times when David is the center of attention, and it’s a drag. But when the two of them play off each other, they’re on fire. It’s a lot of fun to watch.
Then we have the Lewis and Clark references. All throughout the film, actual journal entries from William Clark are read by David in voice-over, and the entries all comment on the current scene in some way. Yes, the film is actually drawing a parallel between Lewis/Clark and Flula/David. Is it pretentious? Maybe a little bit. But more often, comparing the two great explorers to these dunces makes for a nicely funny contrast.
A mention is also due to the supporting actors who drift through the plot. Jeanne Syquia is suitably charming as the one who got away. Brian T. Finney plays a hiker in a way that’s comically disturbing. Claire Coffee (also of “Grimm”) puts in a delightful turn as a new potential love interest for David. Last but not least is the Oregon Renaissance Band, who shows up for a scene so hysterically random that I don’t dare spoil any more about it than I already have.
But then we have the scenery. That gorgeous rural Oregon scenery. The film was shot in Silver Falls State Park just outside Silverton, but it serves as a fantastic showcase for the kind of natural beauty that could also be found in the Columbia Gorge or any Portland park. Sitting through this film brought back so much nostalgia, from my childhood outdoor summer camp days to my ecoinformatics summer internship in college. There really is no substitute for coming out to Oregon and wandering these trails, but this movie is probably about as close to a second-best thing as anyone could hope to get.
Alas, while the photography is gorgeous from start to finish, the editing leaves a lot to be desired. While the editing does a lot to preserve and enhance the comic timing, it’s also loaded with glaring continuity errors. The way this film was stitched together, it’s abundantly clear that the movie was mostly improvised and a lot of stuff got left on the cutting-room floor.
Buddymoon is a sweet little buddy comedy trifle. It’s clear that everyone involved was having a great time on this project, and it’s hard not to share in that infectious sense of fun. Your mileage will vary, of course — Flula alone will probably either make or break the film for you — but there are enough good jokes and gorgeous shots that I can gladly give the film a recommendation. That said, theatrical distribution is pretty scarce, and video streaming is probably better-suited to an 80-minute picture anyway.