Review: Retro-fueled ‘VHYes’ rewinds to a dark-comically tinged time

Kerri Kenney as Joan, the host of the parody TV show “Painting With Joan” in "VHYes."
(Nate Gold/Oscilloscope Laboratories)

The twisted comedy “VHYes” begins on Christmas morning, 1987, when a preteen boy named Ralph (Mason McNulty) gets a new camcorder from his parents, who show him how to plug the machine into the back of the TV to record shows. Eager to get rolling, Ralph grabs the first tape he can find — which happens to be his mom and dad’s wedding video.

Almost the entirety of “VHYes” is presented as if it were Ralph’s raw tape. It’s a hodgepodge of late ‘80s channel-surfing, intercut with shots of the boy goofing around with his best friend Josh (Rahm Braslaw). Occasionally, snippets from the original wedding video appear, flashing back to a much happier couple than the one we see arguing and moping around in the background of Ralph’s home movies.

“VHYes” was written and directed by Jack Henry Robbins, in collaboration with Nunzio Randazzo and Nate Gold, a team that worked together before on the surreal pop culture parody shorts “Painting With Joan” and “Hot Winter: A Film by Dick Pierre” (both of which are excerpted at length in this movie). Their comic sensibility should be familiar to fans of Cartoon Network’s more out-there “Adult Swim” experiments. They’re all about dark, deadpan re-creations of TV schlock.

In the interest of getting laughs, Robbins’ team doesn’t always maintain tight discipline over their premise. Some of the TV and movie parodies in “VHYes” are anachronistic for 1987; and some of the jokes wear thin quickly.


But the filmmakers have attracted a cast of skilled comic actors (including Robbins’ parents, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon); and they’ve successfully shaped a hit-and-miss collection of sketches and trippy digressions into an actual motion picture, with a larger point.

The decay of Ralph’s parents’ marriage — pointedly contrasted with the scenes from their wedding — cleverly and succinctly illustrates the way that kids can sometimes get so caught up in their own adventures that they don’t realize a happy golden age is ending. Along the same lines, throughout “VHYes” Robbins and his collaborators intertwine their dopey old television broadcasts with glimpses at the 21st century’s biggest threats, like global warming and reactionary populist rage.

Throughout, “VHYes” laces its nostalgia with bitter poison, reminding its audience that even in the carefree couch potato days of 1987, the end-times always loomed.


Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 12 minutes

Playing: Lumiere Music Hall, Beverly Hills