Although Man Maid was made in the backwash of the 2005 critical and box office comedy hit The 40 Year Old Virgin (Jane Lynch from that film cameos here as a dominatrix) — and lost somewhere in the Judd Apatow comedic raunch-o-verse — this quirky tale about a male housekeeper at a dying hotel in the Pacific Northwest feels like one of those off-beat, innocuous ‘80s comedies John Cusack used to make — on his way up to the likes of Con-Air — such as Better Off Dead and The Sure Thing. But since Man Maid was released in the early 2000s and filled with eccentric characters, a more accurate reference would the out-of-the-ordinary, ’90s indie comedy hits Bottle Rocket, Little Miss Sunshine, and Napoleon Dynamite. And if this was made in the ’80 with major studio backing, John Cusack would have been our male maid; in the ‘90s, Jon Heder would have been cleaning rooms; a pre-Office Steve Carell would have been tailor made for the role of our off-the-grid geek hero — complete with motor scooter — who gets the girl and saves the day. In fact, if DreamWorks-Paramount had backed Man Maid, Jay Baruchel from their 2010 joint venture, She’s Out of My League, would have his face inside the washing machine.
Shot in 22 days on a shoestring in Oregon back in 2006 and hitting the festival circuit in 2008, Man Maid feels as if it comes from a place of erudition. Self-financed and mini-major indie comedies usually come from aspiring filmmakers and burgeoning actors with the burning desire to make something and, to that end, they’ll keep the story simple and write it around locations that they know (and know they can secure for shoots to avoid costly set builds) and write characters that they know. And considering this is a tale about a male maid, one wonders if writer-director Chris Lusvardi and lead actor Phillip Vaden worked as maids — or at least as hotel concierges or managers — to work their way through college.
Vaden — who’s very good here and brings a definite Cusack-Carell vibe to the proceedings — is Vincent Van Metcalf: a slightly more ambitious Pacific Northwest slacker — and second generation male maid — who finances his camping-tent lifestyle as a member of the housekeeping staff of a historic, dying hotel. During his off-days, he feverishly builds a piecemeal structure — as an act of love (reminding of the tale of eccentric South Floridian Edward Leedskalnin and his Coral Castle mystery) — that’s to serve as an outdoor concert stage for the way-out-of-his league Chloe Flaminghawk (nary a strand of Elizabeth Warren’s Native American DNA in her body), a free-spirited, aspiring singer who can’t sing, write, or play a harmonious chord on her accordion. (Played by a wonderfully ditsy-cute Amanda Walsh from SyFy’s Lost Girl, she’s bumped-off-the-marquee for Jane Lynch; that’s Walsh, poster right. And yes . . . the Bryce Johnson on the marquee is Detective Darren Wilden from ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars.)
Proving that even off-beat dorks can get girls . . . and couldn’t be more clueless: Vincent is oblivious to his more realistic romantic goal of Tory (Sara Rue, TV’s The Big Bang Theory), the hotel’s “plain and boring” manager. Love blossoms when it’s learned the in-debt-to-the-IRS hotel is about to face foreclosure at the hands of a heartless developer (is there any other kind), played by omnipresent comedic television actor Stephen Hytner (who — sorry, Sam — will always be the ovaltine-obsessed Kenny Bania from Seinfeld). So the makeshift, outdoor stage, once to serve as a musical home for the dreamy-eyed Chloe Flaminghawk, will now host a benefit concert to save the hotel. And Chloe’s godfather — Americana-Country star Sissy Taylor (John Doe), known for his protest anthems — will headline the show.
Aggravating Sam — one Seinfeld reference at a time.
Ah, but beware, ye streaming John Doe fan. While John gets top-billing on the theatrical one-sheets, he only appears in the film’s last 15-minutes — to stand up to the cops and sing a tune — but it’s worth the wait to see Doe mixing it up with Stephen Hytner. (Oh, and while Rue and Doe worked together in Gypsy ’83 — also reviewed this week — they have no scenes together here.) All in all, Man Maid is an enjoyable, competently shot and acted film that rises above the usual indie norms — and is actually on par with the other comedies named checked in this review.
Sadly, unlike indie writer-directors Wes Anderson, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, and Jared Hess, each who found critical and box office acclaim with their respective indie-darlings, along with major studio and A-List actor acceptance with their sophomore films, the equally quirky Man Maid — which served as their film debuts — would be the only feature film from the writer-director and acting team of Chris Lusvardi and Phillip Vaden.
You can enjoy this “John Doe Week” entry — with its hard-to-find DVDs currently out-of-print — as a free-with-ads stream on TubiTV.