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Pushin’ Up Daisies – Review of the flowers and zombies film

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If someone says, “You don’t bring me flowers anymore” — show them Pushin’ Up Daisies!

By: H. Blain

The following is fairly spoiler-heavy so if you want to just know what I thought; skip down to the last two paragraphs. If you’re okay with that, then read on, Mac Duff!

I first saw Patrick Franklin’s film Pushin’ Up Daisies at the Atlanta Film Festival back in April 2010. I wanted to see the locally-made film about flowers and zombies, because that’s the kind of girl I am.  At the time, I was unaware that my Ex had a small role in the film. Now I am sure plenty of you have exes you’d like to see getting eaten by a zombie either on film or in real life, so you can imagine what a pleasant surprise this was. I was hoping for the former, of course. I won’t spoil it, but I will say when I spoke to the director after the screening and explained who I was, he laughed when I said I was pretty satisfied with how it turned out.

The film starts with Darren, an overly intense 20-something (Shenan O’Heronn) looking right at the camera with “There’s only one rule. Whatever you see, whatever you do… Don’t. Stop. Filming. I want reality (and in a smaller voice) I want it…” –and proceeds to make an exit from his parking space, all on camera. He then advises the cameraman to not film everything, as the camera moves low, not looking at him, and he says, “Do not stop filming!” again.  He seems to be a little on the bossy side, and the first few minutes is a travelogue of his and Camera Guy’s travels from Hollywood all the way back home to Tokyo, Georgia, with a flat tire being the “one bad thing” that will happen on the project.

Eventually as they see a road sign that says, Dublin, 16, Cairo 42 and Tokyo 101 miles, the off-camera cameraman says, “When I told my mom I was going to Tokyo for the summer, she about lost her shit.” Darren replies “First of all, South Georgia’s probably a lot scarier then Japan. And second of all, and for the last time, it’s not pronounced Tokyo, its pronounced Toe-Kai-Oh.  Toe like toe, Kai like —kai, and “O” like Oh, thank you, I can now pronounce it correctly.” It is a clever little bit of writing and introduction to both the location of the film and Darren’s need to show off. The dialog is cleverer then I remembered, and that’s also a pleasant surprise, since I saw this film over a year ago and had general good memories of it.

It turns out that Darren is on his way home and will be making a documentary about his brother, Rusty (Simon Sorrells). Arriving at his parents’ house you find that he’s not been home for a very long time and the movie is going to about how flowers are important at different stages of people’s lives; births, weddings, funerals and the like. It’s just that he never told his brother Rusty (the town flower-delivery guy) that he’s the subject of such a film. Surely there are better ways to do so, but Darren springs it on him at the local watering hole complete with a crew of rednecks who make Camera Guy (Orlando Vincente) a little bit nervous. Rusty agrees reluctantly to be a part of this as long as Darren can get a real crew together to shoot it, since Camera Guy (I swear, that’s his name in the credits) is the guy shooting the documentary about the documentary. The rest of the crew is rounded out with Mr.  and Mrs. Emerson (Ken Osburn) the blind man who reads books for the blind since his wife (played by Kelly McGlaun-Fields) narrates them to him in the sound booth (as the boom and sound techs) and Dunbar, (Mitch Maxey) as an old teacher of Darren’s who works at a fast food joint part time as the doc’s cameraman.

They’re on their first day on the Tokyo main street filming Rusty exiting the flower shop over and over as the shite starts to hit the fan. A woman in crashes a car nearby and leaps out yelling, “Everyone’s dead…run….run!” and runs off camera only to be quickly followed by a man riding a horse at full gallop down the street and almost into them yelling “Run….run!!”  Everyone looks at each other with a what’s-that-all-about-expression when over the small hill comes a man with runner’s numbers on his chest panting the same thing…run! It’s nearly something you might have seen in Airplane! or something like Police Squad.

Following him is the rest of the racers all clambering over the film crew and cast as the screaming starts and the zombies start rolling in. Well, meander might be a better term for it. They are the traditional slow Z’s and fairly easy to get away from.

Darren says, “Just wait ‘til they get out of the street and we can get this shot.”, initially, but realizes the folly of this quickly and calls “That’s lunch!” as they grab all the equipment and hide in the general store and flower shop. In a “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?!” moment from Animal House, Darren doesn’t just want to run away like everyone else, with a speech claiming “We don’t need that organized survival shit … It’s not a big deal.” With a persuasive argument of running away meaning the zombies win, (or you post-September 11th world, irony is never not funny) … it’s decided they will shoot around the zombies, instead of shooting at them directly. Rusty’s boss finds him on the street with an offer to make double pay for working during this crisis, as people are needing to be reburied and that means more flowers, of course. So, of course Darren‘s all over it, but if he’s trying to ignore the ZA, how is he going to justify the mass (re)burials they’re filming now?

Later, as Dunbar keeps trying to frame shots at a hospital (because you take flowers to sick people, right?) that don’t have a zombie in the background, things start to unravel for Darren when crewmembers start becoming casualties to his “vision” one by one. This leads to some revelations about the troubled relationship between Rusty and his brother and the denials people can tell themselves over and over.  It is here where Darren becomes a bit more of an empathetic character and less one-sided with his need to film and keep separate from the events going on around him. However, a self-pitying monologue follows shortly, (that was mostly improvised) and as it unfolds it becomes a confessional that his big Hollywood job is not what he’s been telling people all about. A rant about how perfection is a lie has slight overtones of the social commentary that people keep insisting are in Romero’s films tops it off before Rusty comes and gets him to finally take care of one final family problem.

The next part is probably my favorite bit with Camera Guy (who’s on the run from the rednecks since the night before he’s a “really dark white boy”) returning with a completely incredible story that I would have loved if the filmmakers included it as an extra on the DVD of his survival, complete with hot girlfriend he obtained overnight. During this exposition, a solution to the outbreak is revealed and the brothers reconcile enough to finally be able to say goodbye to their own loved ones. The zombies are not truly scary, and mostly in the background to the pursuit of the flower-story, and you don’t even miss them much.

Overall, the acting of the leads is pretty good, with Sheehan and Simon doing most of the heavy lifting since most of the cast is not made up professional actors. Blind Mr. Emerson is really a blind voice actor, however. The sets are all on location and looked like they didn’t need much dressing, which is good, because it probably would have been out of budget.  This was filmed in small towns in Georgia on location with as much natural lighting (and pretty much all of their friends and family if the end credits are anything to go by) and local background help as possible. I guess you could say it’s a Dogma 95 film, but without the pretension and Dutch accents.

On the extras of the DVD there are both two audio commentaries as well as an audio description for the visually impaired that I can’t help but think comes out of the relationship they had with Osburn and some deleted scenes. If you’re only going to watch one bit of the extras, watch the very last deleted scene for some laughs. The film is a fun romp through southern Georgia small towns with very little violence for a ZomCom, strangely. There are small character moments of both the main cast and the extras that are really well done and clever and will make you glad you started watching it.

The cast and crew (including the writer/director/producer) worked very hard with little money to make this movie. Now your job is to find it and enjoy it. I backed them on Kickstarter so I could get my very own copy, (and one for my brother’s upcoming birthday) and support cinema that I think is worth something.  If you’re interested in seeing this, please go to www.IAmNotAZombie.com so you can keep up with the film and see where it might be playing next and how to get your own DVD. It’s gone to California and even Israel for film festivals, and is playing at the Rome International Film Festival (Rome, Georgia, that is) in September.

Please support independent films like this, little gems that often get overlooked. It’s the sort of thing that I can totally see being re-made in 10 years by someone with a bigger budget as the backlash against zombie films grows (though hopefully not until World War Z is finally done and released!) as pseudo-intellectual snark on the genre. I hope not, though. It’s silly and fun just the way it is.

You can reach me at Holly@LiveForFilms.com and MediaTsarina on the Twitter.

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