"Two Mikes Don't Make a Wright," a compilation of three short films opening today at the Charles, is held together on a pretext as clumsy as the pun in the title. The title, in fact, only makes one point: Here are three movies directed by two guys named Mike and one guy named Dennis, featuring comedian Steven Wright.
It's an absurd match: The first film, an HBO-sponsored short featuring the master of deadpan surrealism Steven Wright, has nothing to do with the other two. It happens to be hilarious, but deals entirely with internal issues: That is, the relationship between a man and his shrink. Called "The Appointments of Dennis Jennings," it's a chronicle of a poor shlub being serviced by the analyst from hell. How bad is this analyst? Well . . . he's dating his patient's girlfriend, that's how bad. One problem: It's old, having won the 1989 Oscar for best live action short subject.
The other two films make the following point brilliantly: Americans don't know how to make class warfare. They do it poorly and self-importantly, while the Brits wield the stiletto of resentment with the power and delicacy of a Jacobean assassin.
Exhibit one is "Pets or Meat: Return to Flint," by the ever-irritating Michael Moore. This guy had a big radical hit in "Roger and Me," and it evidently turned him into a monster: He thinks he's Woody Allen, and the film, which follows his return to the city in Michigan economically devastated by a General Motors decision to close a big plant, isn't really about workers or corporations or General Motors. It's about Michael Moore and what a wonderful guy he is. Not fun.
Finally, there's Mike Leigh's brilliant "A Sense of History," which is written and performed by the great Jim Broadbent. (The two collaborated on "Life Is Sweet" a few years back.) What a poison fruit this one is, a bon-bon from hell, rancid and unsettling but equally pungent and resonant.
It begins like oh-so-many PBS specials, with a dapper Brit standing in front of a great hall of a house, babbling tastefully about his family and the estate and the legacy of the past. It turns out that the "past" is immediate and horrifying. As "the
23rd Earl of Leete," Broadbent veers off in an unusual direction, unreeling quite a horrible story of murder and infanticide, revealing that behind his aristocratic demeanor there's a monster. But the sheer brilliance of it is that not only does
Broadbent make us see how depraved the earl is, but also how tragic, how his ideological underpinnings ruptured his life. It's horrifying and sad, and how rare that a film in an American movie theater lets you feel two emotions at once.
"Two Mikes Don't Make a Wright."
Starring Steven Wright, Jim Broadbent and Michael Moore.
Directed by Mike Leigh, Michael Moore and Dennis Parisot.
Released by October Films.
**** "The Appointments of Dennis Jennings."
* "Pets or Meat."
*** "A Sense of History."