In years to come 2009 may well be looked back on as the year the world fell in love with Zach Galifianakis. If you hadn’t seen one of his viral music videos or his Between Two Ferns ‘talkshow’ then maybe it was HBO’s Bored To Death or of course, in one of the biggest comedy movies of the year, The Hangover. But before all this came Visioneers. Independent, low budget and utterly brilliant, it could have been the film that made people stand up and take notice of Galifianakis. Recognise him as a talented comic actor and leading man. Unfortunately, unlike the aforementioned projects, almost nobody saw it.
Set in a world full of nonsensical business jargon, middle finger welcome greetings and people literally exploding from stress, Galifianakis plays George Washington Winsterhammerman, ‘Visioneer’ for the Jeffers Corporation, a company who deal with such explosions. However George isn’t happy – he’s got a neurotic wife, a disobedient (albeit never seen) son and a slacker brother wanted by the police. That’s when George starts showing the first signs of inevitable combustion. Oh, and dreaming that he’s the George Washington isn’t helping either. The only speck of positivity in his life is his telephone contact with work colleague Charisma, a woman he’s never seen.
If it sounds a little mad that’s because it is. The themes of working too hard, stifled creativity, the constrictions of family life and, most importantly, the desire to escape it, all jostle for position within the film. They’re ideas that have been tackled before and in terms of style, pace and tone it certainly shares a lot of traits with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malcovich and even American Beauty.
But what makes it so watchable is Galifianakis. In The Hangover he played loveable weirdo Alan, a role that allowed Galifianakis to pull from the strangest elements of his comedy. Fans of his stand-up will have even spotted the odd line from his shows segued into the movies dialogue. Visioneers though is almost the antithesis of the boozy chaos of The Hangover, full of sweetness, sadness and gentle, unhurried humour. It’s hard to picture anyone else in his role, the comedy coming from a mix of slapstick and surreal dialogue that fits him perfectly, while still breaking out of his stand-up character to show just what he can do as a ‘proper’ actor.
However this means very little if people can’t see the film and, unfortunately, when it was finished at the tail end of 2008 there weren’t swarms of people clambering to see a cult comedian in a dreamy indie movie about thought control and spontaneous combustion. Pity. As a result it’s still very much bubbling under. An online campaign to get it seen by as many people as possible saw the films team sending DVD copies to those who asked for them and encouraging fans to set up screenings. It is now, finally, available to buy online. But it’s still hoped that with the weight of his recent successes behind him, plus his popularity as a cult comic, Visioneers may finally get major mainstream distribution it deserves. It’ll matter little to Galifianakis as he looks destined to become a global superstar regardless, but it would be a shame to see something so quirky and original go overlooked.
More on Visioneers here.