Wednesday, May 1, 2024


It is my personal opinion that Joel Potrykus’ feature debut Ape should be mentioned in the same breath as the early films of Richard Linklater & Kevin Smith. Before reading up on Potrykus and his influences, I knew Ape was, in part, the subconscious result of a healthy obsession with at least one of the affromentioned filmmakers. The subject matter, the settings, the low budgets, certain specific shots, etc. I think what draws me in to Portrkus’ films so much is because even thought he’s so open about his cinematic influences, his movies are still very much his own. They’re also strangely specific. Anyone can enjoy them but beyond that general enjoyment, they’re always made for a specific group of people born in a specific era. Ape should be one of the definitive films for Generation Y in the same way that Slacker or Clerks were defining films for Generation X. It’s the perfect film for/about folks born between 1981-1987 that had no money in their 20’s while trying to maintain employment and follow a non-work related passion. The type of 20-something year olds that were good-hearted and well-meaning but weren’t the best at getting their shit together.

We thought, if this Richard Linklater guy living in Texas can do it, we can do it in Michigan – Joel Potrykus,

Slacker / Ape

I understand that comparing modern-day American independent films set in & around convenience stores to Kevin Smith & Richard Linklater is a bit cliche but I couldn't resist...

Suburbia / Ape

Suburbia / Ape

Clerks/ Ape

I’ve dedicated quite a bit of writing to the films of Joel Potrykus on this site. His references go deeper than expected sometimes (click here, here and here to read more). I think because of Portrykus’ aesthetic, folks don’t pick up on some of his references right away. Filmmakers like Linklater, Kevin Smith, Harmony Korine, Jim Jarmusch, Luis Buñuel and Godard are easy to spot but someone like Ozu might go over someone’s head. Portrykus even makes references-within-references sometimes…

My introduction to Ozu was Buffalo ’66 (1998). There’s a scene in which they’re at the dining room table, and they’re all eating. It was shot really weird and I thought, “What is that?” Reading interviews, I realized that was from Ozu, and so that’s where I kind of started watching him – Joel Potrykus, Kinoscope

Early Summer/ Buffalo 66

Late Spring / Ape

Buffalo 66 / Ape

 But it’s Vincent Gallo taking from Ozu. It’s like a reference twice removed – Joel Potrykus, Kinoscope

The Flavor Of Green Tea Over Rice / Buffalo 66 / Ape
Good Morning / Buffal 66 / Relaxer

In the film Josh Burge plays “Trevor” - an aspiring standup comedian struggling to make ends meet. He lives in what I believe is a weekly motel, his employment situation is never solid and he gets screwed over with money regularly. What fascinates me about Trevor is that he still always manages to stay positive. At first glance he comes off like an aimless slacker but when you take a step back and observe his actions you realize he’s got a lot of drive. No matter how much he bombs on stage he’s always eager to get back up and try new jokes.

Ape certainly falls under the comedy category but the more you watch it, the more heartbreaking certain specific scenes are. It’s full of awkward humor and dry surreality, but the more you watch it the more you recognize how lonely the main character is. While there are elements of The Dark Bakcward & How To Get Ahead in Advertising, there’s also unintentional nods to those scenes of Tom Hanks bombing on stage in Punchline. Ape also predates/laid the groundwork for similar films like Rick Alverson’s Entertainment and even Todd Phillips’ Joker. The events in Ape are definitely enough to make a villain origin story but our protagonist has a more positive outlook on life. ...even if his future still looks like a mix of rough & uncertain by the time the movie ends.

This is one of those occasions where a feature debut is the perfect starting point when delving in to a director’s body of work. Not every filmmaker finds their voice right out of the gate. I wouldn’t recommend As Tears Go By to a Wong Kar Wai novice. Neither Fear and Desire or Killer’s Kiss are a good representation of Stanley Kubrick. And I wouldn’t recommend Who’s That Knocking At My Door to someone looking to get in to Martin Scorsese.
Every feature Joel Potrykus has made can be traced back to Ape in more ways than one. The loneliness in Alchemist’s Cookbook and Relaxer spawned from all the scenes of Trevor alone in his room. The protagonist in Buzzard, also played by Josh Burge, feels like an alternate version of Trevor only slightly older but still trying to get his shit together.


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