Why Are You Weird? might just be the best VHS feature film to be made in 2009. Zach Shipko and Tucker Bennett's lo-fi exploration of San Francisco art school reality, told through the eyes of an awkward video art/performance art major named Curtis Jackson, also sets a high bar in the world of straight-to-YouTube features.
Using the lowest fidelity equipment outside of pixelvision, the directors achieve a scuzzed-out, VHS bargain-bin aesthetic with a nostalgia that offers a compelling alternative to other low-budget filmmaking options. If you can watch an entire Hollywood film on YouTube, who's to say you can't watch something that objectively looks much worse, with a lot more style? Throw in a bunch of turn of the century pop hits (Thong Song, KC + JoJo) turned into Midi songs and count me in.
From art class critiques to apartment parties, to openings and outdoor music fests, every location is the perfect setting for an awkward encounter between Curtis (played by Shipko) and some girl he's interested in. Admittedly, several of the amateur performers are pretty terrible, but even the worst moments are often redeemed by Shipko's transparent anxiety and awkward fibbing. There are absurd revelations, drug-induced conversations, art-school satires, trips to buy organic food, letters from mom, and an attention to detail that makes even the slower paced scenes comical in their astute observation of reality in the 2000s.
During one Slurpee-drinking date, the camera focuses in on Curtis' cell phone. He is sending a text to his friends about his date and, in order to spell the drink in his predictive text, he must write the first syllable as the word "slur," then make a space and write "see" which must be exchanged for "red" and then for "pee" and finally backspace between the two words, to make the compound: "slurpee." It's the type of mundane experience that doesn't warrant a thought to in reality, but which gains vibrancy when given the respect of time onscreen. Suddenly something so pedestrian becomes, dare we say, weird.
Why Are You Weird? is being shown as part of "Serial Chillers in Paradise" a yearlong exhibition of work related to Internet art. Why Are You Weird? has just entered its last week of presentation and can be seen at jstchillin.org until November 13, after which it will be available on YouTube through next wave video.