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“Relaxer” Contains No Relaxation But Is Instead An Absurd Endurance Test

Sitting on a couch playing video games can be a ton of fun. The experience, whether alone or with friends, has been a staple of adolescent and adult entertainment for over a generation now. Some look at it like the lark that it can be. Others, they see it as a detriment to society and part of humanity’s downfall. To some degree, that’s explored in Relaxer, an independent comedy hitting theaters this week. However, what’s more fully on display is a bizarre exercise in discomfort. It’s going to prove divisive for those who see it. This humble critic did not care for it one bit. In fact, it was an actively unpleasant experience.

The movie is supposedly a comedy, set in the year 1999. With the impending potential Y2K apocalypse fast approaching, Abbie (Joshua Burge) is stuck on a couch, undergoing abuse from his older brother Cam (David Dastmalchian). Consistently being given challenges by Cam that he can’t win, Abbie is currently attempting to beat a number of video games. As Cam leaves for reasons unknown, he gives Abbie one final and ultimate challenge, which is to get past the “Billy Mitchell Challenge”. This requires you to beat unbeatable level 256 on Pac-Man. The catch is, as with all of these endurance tests, that he is not allowed to get off the couch until he passes them, gets disqualified, or quits. Determined not to lose, Abbie won’t get off the couch, even as things begin to get extraordinarily weird. Joel Potrykus writes and directs (as well as handles the editing), with the rest of the small cast including Amari Cheatom, Adina Howard, Andre Hyland, and more. Adam J. Minnick provides the cinematography, while the score is by Neon Indian and Alan Palomo.

This is an absurd endurance test, one that overstays its welcome by a large margin. Relaxer has Joshua Burge’s Abbie on screen alone for over half of the flick, which is a bold move. Burge is solid enough, but it’s hard to care about what’s going on. Slowly paced, narratively inert, and uninterested in drawing its audience in, it would have struggled to have justified its length if it had only been a short. Hell, a sketch might have been pushing it. As a feature? It’s well over an hour too long in my book. In fact, the longer it went on, the less I liked it, and this is about a 90 minute exercise in pushing my buttons.

Films like this tend to be of either the love it or hate it variety. I came way closer to the latter side of the coin than the former. At its best, it could have been an edgier version of something that the Duplass Brothers would have mounted a decade ago. This is not the best version though. Instead, it’s just torturous to sit through. To some degree, that’s the point, but that doesn’t mean that we have to enjoy it. Potrykus clearly has a vision, it’s just a vision that really is only apparent to him. For the rest of us, it’s a struggle, even if there’s hints at issues like sibling rivalry and the danger of not getting off the couch (literally).

Starting this weekend, a very specific type of viewer may want to subject themselves to Relaxer. In concept, it sounds like something with potential, but in execution, it just does not work. Your mileage may vary, obviously, but even if this does seem up your alley, know that it’s not an easy watch. You’re put through the ringer just like the protagonist in the film goes through. Keep that in mind. Yours truly? This is among the least enjoyable works of 2019 so far. That’s just me. Feel free to give the movie a look and see what you think. I just can’t advise that you do so…

Relaxer hits theaters in limited release this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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