'Pottersville': Film Review

A good-hearted but overly broad and underwhelming debut.

Michael Shannon plays an accidental Bigfoot impersonator in Seth Henrikson's debut comedy.

An amiable misfire that (for better or worse) isn't quite as nutty as it sounds, Seth Henrikson's Pottersville pairs Yuletide cheer with the deviance of the Furry scene and an out-of-control hoax involving an ersatz Bigfoot. The feature debut for both Henrikson and screenwriter Daniel Meyer, it has attracted a top-shelf cast that presumably saw something in the source material that didn't quite come through in execution. Topliners including Michael Shannon and Christina Hendricks will likely be good for some clicks once the pic segues into streaming platforms.

Hendricks' performance here is one of several cues that we're watching the work of unseasoned filmmakers. Not only do they waste her on a thin, one-gag character whose motivations are dubious, but Henrikson elicits a portrayal with none of the nuance we've seen from the thesp in the past. Some co-stars fare better (Ian McShane, for instance), but as the unwitting instigator of the story's action, Hendricks' character needs to be far sturdier.

The actress plays the wife of Michael Shannon's Maynard, the gently taciturn proprietor of a small-town general store whose quaintness would make a Cracker Barrel decorator swoon. Maynard is the salt of the earth, but one of his good deeds backfires: When he leaves the shop early one day to surprise his wife — don't do it, Maynard! haven't you seen this scene before?! — he discovers her in his bedroom with the sheriff (Ron Perlman), both of them dressed in big animal costumes. They swear they weren't doing anything sexual, but still, it's clearly time for a separation.

Baffled by this betrayal and now drunk for the second time in his life, Maynard decides to give this animal-costume thing a try. He rifles through an old Halloween costume box, puts on a monkey mask and has a late-night stumble through neighbors' yards. The next day, many Pottersville residents claim to have seen Bigfoot.

Employing the storytelling logic of a bygone age, Maynard decides he has to keep this fraud going once he realizes how excited townsfolk are about the sightings. Overnight, a cryptozoology-themed tourist industry springs up, and Pottersville is visited by the cheesy host of a reality show called Monster Finder (Thomas Lennon's Brock Masterson). Maynard wants to keep sneaking around in costume until Brock can capture him on tape and cement the town's fame.

Lennon is saddled with much of the comic weight in ensuing scenes, as Brock is revealed to be a showboating coward who isn't even a real Australian. This is very familiar stuff, and not very lively; the arguable highlight is a third-hand gag in which McShane, playing a big-game hunter, tells townfolk he can capture the beast in a scene echoing Robert Shaw's turn in Jaws.

Capra fans will have surmised that this is not the pic's only nod to classic movies. Pottersville, after all, was the alternate-reality version of Bedford Falls in It's a Wonderful Life. When all is said and done, the mess Maynard makes is smoothed over with a sentimental device cribbed from that holiday staple — a scene initiated by Maynard's loyal and admiring shopkeeping sidekick (Judy Greer). Happily, in a film that plays up broadness in many areas, Greer offers a performance much lower-key than those for which she is best known. She seems at times to have the most solid read on what Pottersville intends to be, and, despite the modesty of her underwritten role, makes it hard to completely dislike the film or its inhabitants.

Production companies: Wing and a Prayer Pictures, Big Jack Productions, Storyland Pictures, Plot 4 Productions
Distributor: SP Distribution
Cast: Michael Shannon, Judy Greer, Ian McShane, Thomas Lennon, Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks
Director: Seth Henrikson
Screenwriter: Daniel Meyer
Producers: Josh Crook, Jonathan Gray, Scott Floyd Lochmus, Ron Perlman
Executive producers: Patricia Hearst, Daniel Meyer, Christian Chadd Taylor, Byron Wetzel
Director of photography: Damian Horan
Production designer: Jimena Azula
Costume designer: Jessica Zavala
Editors: Steve Morrison, Joel Plotch
Composer: Brando Triantafillou
Casting directors: Bess Fifer, Rachel Tenner

84 minutes