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Review: The Brass Teapot (2013)

The Brass Teapot (2013)

Directed by: Ramaa Mosley

Premise: A cash strapped couple (Michael Angarano and Juno Temple) discovers a magic teapot that fills with money whenever they hurt themselves or each other. The teapot is able to get them out of debt but greed leads the couple down a gradually darker path.

What Works: The fantasy genre is usually characterized by large epic films such as The Hobbit and The Avengers but not all fantasy films have to be that big. One of the advantages of fantasy is that it allows storytellers to address human issues through a metaphor and because that issue comes encoded in a fantastic conceit the audience is able to engage with a difficult subject more readily than if the issue was presented head on. The conceit of The Brass Teapot is like something out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The issues it addresses are as real and as relevant as those of any prestigious drama. The story begins just as a folk tale might, with a needy couple finding a trinket at an antique store only to discover that it possesses the solution to their financial woes. But what begins as relatively easy money gradually leads the couple to make more difficult choices. They discover that the harsher they hurt themselves the more money the teapot produces and instead of living moderately, the allure of apparently unlimited cash seduces the couple to ever more extreme behavior. The corruption of the couple is done quite well and the filmmakers find creative ways of extending the metaphor. At first the violence begins with simple injuries but matters begin to escalate and the couple inflicts injuries on others and eventually resort to emotionally injuring each other in ways that threaten the future of their relationship. The couple is played by actors Michael Angarano and Juno Temple and they have an offbeat sensibility that befits the fairytale nature of the story while also giving the couple an authentic quality. Temple is very good as greed clouds her judgment and the tension between her lust for greater wealth and the efforts of Angarano’s character to pull her back gets at something very real about human behavior and relationships. As its very premise suggests, The Brass Teapot is an unusual film and it is unlike virtually anything in the mainstream movie marketplace. That alone makes this film worth viewing since so many recent entries in the fantasy genre suffer from an industrial sameness in tone and style.

What Doesn’t: The wacky tone of The Brass Teapot works both for and against it. As the story gets darker and Juno Temple’s character is overtaken by greed, the film turns more serious but even then it occasionally injects incongruously light or madcap moments into the story. These scenes give the movie its unique flavor but they also disrupt the otherwise steady transformation of the tone. The Brass Teapot is the kind of story in which viewers will be able to anticipate where the plot is going and in that regard it holds few surprises. Its offbeat sensibility and compelling characters are enough to distract from the predictability but the route of the movie is telegraphed from the moment that the secret of the teapot is revealed. Perhaps in an effort to diminish that predictability, the filmmakers select some unexpected choices in the ending. The trouble is that these choices are inconsistent with the momentum of the story. The filmmakers of The Brass Teapot opt for a more optimistic conclusion and while it is probably crowd pleasing it is just a little bit disingenuous.

DVD extras: Commentary track, deleted scenes, featurettes, and trailers.

Bottom Line: Although it may not appeal to all audiences, The Brass Teapot is a unique picture in the best way. Its premise is executed intelligently through compelling characters played by watchable actors. That is a recipe for a good film of any genre and The Brass Teapot is a smart, small scale relief from many of the overblown fantasy pictures crowding the movie marketplace.

Episode: #468 (December 8, 2013)