Director Charlie LaVoy | 2013 | USA | 81 mins | East Coast, New York Premiere
SCREENING: Friday August 2, 2013 | 7:00 pm
Things aren’t going well for Steve Chong. He just got fired from his job as a sushi cook. He’s a virgin, and he can’t get it together to do anything about his crush on Alice (Jennifer Foreman).What’s a guy to do?
Steve Chong Finds Out That Suicide is a Bad Idea begins with the eponymous character detailing every single mistake and failure of his life on 3×5 index cards and pinning them to the wall, from “Broke a plate full of lasagna” to “Just got rejected from another game design school”. In an attempt to stave off his suicidal tendencies, Steve, played by Stanley Wong, spontaneously calls up some old friends and invites them to his family cabin for the weekend.
At the cabin, the four friends engage in the sort of activities you would expect young guys to engage in: drink, play drinking games, and then pull drunken pranks. However, during a game of Kings, Steve confesses to his friends that he’s been thinking about committing suicide, then runs away and finally passes out. His friends spend the rest of the weekend proofing the cabin from Steve’s suicidal whims (putting marshmallows on decorative fish hooks, hiding all the knives, etc.).
As much as the film is about Steve’s impending suicide, it’s also about the friendships between the four men. Tom (Tyler Russell) is the group’s Lothario, and his womanizing tendencies have put him at odds with Chris (Owen Horstein III), a manic stand-up comedian who likes to do Jim Carrey-esque frozen smile impressions. Joe Sökmen offers the film’s strongest performance as John, a quietly commanding guy whose beard also provides the premise for the best scene in the movie.
When Gretchen (Jennie Freeman), a former co-worker of Steve’s, visits from a nearby cabin, she immediately tries to hit on John. “I like your beard,” she says. “You like my beard?” John scoffs. “Yeah, everyone conforms to social norms,” she says. “I didn’t grow this beard to be rebellious,” John answers. The conversation between the two is believable and touching, showing how John moves from displaying an open antagonism at Gretchen’s questions to being more receptive and open with her, ultimately revealing why he decided to grow the beard at all.
Moments like this in the film are few and far between, but only because the overall tone is difficult to grasp. There are some great comedic exchanges, like when John admits he had “the clap” during a drinking game, but my main issue with the film is that while it’s clearly meant to be a comedy, one of the better comedic resources of the film went nearly unused. Yes, the character of Steve is meant to be morose, but even in the darkest of dark comedy films, the main characters manage to inspire some laughs (Harold from Harold and Maude is the most relevant example I can think of at the moment). It’s strange to consider why, in a comedic film about suicide, the main character wasn’t given more comedic material. Steve’s reasons for suicide come off as too mundane because, while his friends are given somewhat of a back story, Steve is one-dimensional.
It’s not for lack of comedic talent on Wong’s part as an actor. If Wong looks familiar to you, it’s probably because he’s been in some of the most high-profile comedies in the past year (Pitch Perfect, 21 Jump Street, and Now You See Me). He usually plays pretty minor characters, but he portrays the awkwardness of his characters so well that my memory of 21 Jump Street (one of the best comedies in recent years) is incomplete without picturing him as the gloriously bad-ass chemistry nerd Roman.
While we never actually learn the real reason why Steve is suicidal, if you like your buddy comedies with lots of debauchery and some well-written dialogue (for me, the lewdest joke was the definition of “snail trail”), Steve Chong Finds Out That Suicide is a Bad Idea is an enjoyable experience that shouldn’t be missed.
For screening information at the 2013 Asian American International Film Festival: Steve Chong Finds Out That Suicide is a Bad Idea