"We're gonna have fun tonight. I can feel it!" declares Jerome (Daniela Sea), the fabulously butch, sharply dressed housewife who's one of the ten players in Steve Balderson's brightly colored retro-sexual comedy/drama "The Casserole Club". Jerome declares this in the beginning of the movie, as five couples meet up for what starts out as a presumably innocent dinner at the home of (Get this...) Sugar and Conrad. As it turns out, a lot of fun is ready to be had with this movie indeed-- especially for the viewer!
"The Casserole Club" takes place in 1969. If the opening music or the ladies' fashions don't immediately give it away, then the audience soon learns this because the radio announces that American icon Judy Garland has just died. The director has gone through great lengths to duplicate the flamboyant look of the era-- complete with the supersaturated hues; the overindulgent hair, makeup, and costumes of the women; and the spot-on kitschy mod decor-- all set in the idyllic setting of sunny suburban California. Many of the scenes seem hand-colored in pastel crayons. But more important than the visual aspects of "The Casserole Club" is the vibe of the movie. The director manages to capture the era's changing social and sexual mores which characterized the film's time period: The sexual revolution by now had pushed its way into American life, and the crazy, no-holes barred decade of the seventies was in clear view-- ready to be explored. We meet five couples-- Jerome and Les; Kitty and Sterling; Marybelle and Max; Flo and Bert; and our happy hosts, Sugar and Conrad. They gather for a pot luck dinner where everyone gets to vote for the best recipe-- and their playful competition is soon dubbed "The Casserole Wars". Dinner and drinks soon lead to R-rated conversation (The friends try to decide the "male" equivalent of the notorious C-word), tipsy party games, and then ultimately a night of drunken swimming, where clothes and inhibitions are soon lost.
Up to this point, we may view "The Casserole Club" as pure camp comedy. Things start to segue into drama, however, when this gang of friends wakes up to their suburban reality the next day. (One character declares, "The tension in here is as thick as Nixon!") Particularly fascinating is how each of the movie's five husband-and-wife pairings handle the proverbial "morning after"-- with emotions ranging from one couple avoiding the subject, to another bemoaning how long it took for the group festivities to happen in the first place. Nevertheless, the parties continue-- with the sexual experimentation going even further. The climax of the film occurs when, after another wild soiree, everyone wakes up to another sunlit morning of reality with a tragic discovery.
All the characters deliver nicely nuanced performances, with a particularly standout being ex-Backstreet Boy Kevin Richardson in his feature film debut: a fascinating example of dark tendencies hiding under middle class, white- bread affluence. In Richardson's showcase scene, his character Conrad shows to be a rather troubled soul: at best regimented and at worst disturbed. It's startling, and at times quite painful to watch. Jennifer Grace is likewise a standout as vulnerable housewife Marybelle. It's worth mentioning again, however, that the entire cast is excellent and indeed fun to watch, playing a group of characters that are as colorful as the aforementioned set pieces. At the risk of sounding square, let's say that director Steve Balderson has found a recipe for success with this "casserole club".
"The Casserole Club" is now avaiable on DVD. Visit www.BreakingGlassPictures.com for more.