One of the dangers of being artsy, quirky, super-indie filmmakers is that if you never quite break through artistically or commercially, you'll be left twisting in the wind, irrelevant and forgotten. That definitely didn't seem a problem for directing brothers Mark and Michael Polish, who started off helming the promising, oddball movies "Twin Falls Idaho," "Jackpot," and "Northfork." They were perceived as cool outsiders with an incredible eye and a deadpan comic streak. But "Northfork" came out eight years ago. Since then, things haven't gone so well -- so bad, in fact, that their movies barely get released at all. Which brings us to their horrible-looking back-to-high-school comedy "Stay Cool."
"Stay Cool" originally premiered at Tribeca in 2009, and like their other 2009 festival entry, Sundance's "Manure" (now called "The Smell of Success"), it's been buried. "The Smell of Success" -- which stars Billy Bob Thornton and Ed Helms, is about manure salesmen, and isn't very good -- is available on iTunes, but "Stay Cool" (which is also on iTunes) at least is getting a modest September release. Movieline tracked down a trailer for the film, and it just looks ... boy, this is just sad. Put it this way: How many trailers that have a voiceover that starts off with "Meet [name of protagonist]" in cheerful tones are any good?
"Stay Cool's" plot is that Henry (Mark Polish) is going back to his old high school to make a graduation speech now that he's a published author. Since he was a loser as a teen, this trip down memory lane means he will most assuredly run into his old flame (Winona Ryder) and attract the attention of a hot high school student (Hilary Duff). Just the way all your high school reunions played out.
At least with "The Smell of Success" and their earlier films the Polish brothers were trying to go for a highly stylized, ironic Americana tone: It might have been pseudo-Lynchian, but at least it was distinct. "Stay Cool" seems to be their attempt at selling out and making a broad mainstream comedy. And the results are as uncomfortable and unnatural as it probably was for them to make it. Hard to believe these guys were this close to doing the American remake of "Akira." Instead, they wanted to stay independent. We're not sure that's working out for them so well at the moment.
(Update: After the flurry of response to this post, Grierson decided to talk to the Polish brothers about their career. You can read that interview here.)