It’s time once again for me to tackle this month’s obstruction for the 5 Obstructions Blogathon hosted by My Films Views. This month’s obstruction was deceptively simple: write a review that’s more than 1,250 words long, and if you want to go the extra mile write a review that’s over 2,000 words long. I try to average my reviews at about 1,000 words, I personally feel like if they’re much longer than that they are being too wordy and also fewer people want to read overly long reviews. I also thought about using this to go off on a bad movie, which is often easier to write about than a good movie. Instead I decided to take a closer look at a movie fewer people will have seen. I hope you enjoy and also be sure to check out some of the other entries in the blogathon.
Special is a movie that I’ve actually been wanting to see for some time now since starting this site. It’s not as flashy as many of the other movies, and doesn’t involve a known superhero, technically it doesn’t really involve a superhero at all but I’ll get to that in a moment. It’s a very low budget indie movie that came out within a few years of some other similar movies, and this one never really got noticed. It stars Michael Rapaport as a simple man with a simple life, a parking enforcement officer who goes through the same routine day in and day out, has only a couple friends who own a small comic shop, and nothing really happens in his life. This inspires him to take part in testing a new drug called Special which is supposed to help remove self-doubt, but in Les’s case it starts to give him the idea that he has superpowers. It starts with his ability to fly, and grows to telepathy and many other powers, only these powers only exist inside his own head and he grows increasingly addicted to these powers and paranoid of anyone who tries to make him stop taking his medication. There are many moments of comedy through the absurd situations he puts himself in, but for the most part it’s a look at this man’s life and how it all starts falling apart.
This is a movie that often gets lumped in with a few other somewhat similar movies that came out within a few years of each other: Defendor, Super, and to a lesser extent Kick-Ass. They all involve the idea of creating a superhero in the real world who doesn’t have any powers and the fact that the person would have some mental problem in one way or another, and show this in a darkly comedic light. I have yet to see Defendor yet, but Super shows this through the Crimson Bolt/Frank who has a mental breakdown after his wife leaves him for a drug dealer, and Kick-Ass shows this through Big Daddy who lost his wife and career to mob kingpin Frank D’Amico, and here in Special it really just centers on Les participating in a drug study that goes very wrong. It’s interesting to note that the main thing that sets Special apart from the other films is that his mental breakdown comes through no fault of his own and instead is brought about by external forces.
Compared to the other movies, this one has less comedy, but a stronger central character. He’s someone that you root for, both because what’s happening to him isn’t his fault, but also because you want to see him become a stronger person when he finally comes out the other end. This is all brought about by a very strong performance by Michael Rapaport, he and his stunt double are able to sell the physical comedy of him smacking into walls thinking that he is running through them, but more importantly he is able to sell the drabness of his life. This is often done through the voiceovers which is explained by Les’s keeping of a medication diary which help give an insight into his life. One of the best points is early on when he mentions that he used to dream about flying, but now he dreams of normal things like doing the laundry. At this point in the movie, it’s almost like he’s given up on the idea that he even has the ability to do something more interesting with his life. Instead all he has to look forward to is more of the same, so much so that being part of a drug study on essentially anti-depressants is something exciting to do. So much so that when he is given his bottle of pills he doesn’t even wait until he gets home or until the next day, he excitedly asks “can I take the first one now?” which he then does without even a glass of water.
What this movie excels at is its sense of subtlety, early on in the testing he starts getting a sense of weightlessness while just watching the TV. It could be explained as just a feeling, like nausea or feeling lightheaded, but it is shown on screen as him lifting up off of his couch. And then when he tests it out himself, his shoe falls off. While it would have been interesting to go on farther with this concept and leave it a surprise as to whether or not Les actually has superpowers, the very next scene deflates this when he shows the study’s doctor and we get to see through his eyes that when Les leaps off the desk and believes he is floating in the air, he is actually just flailing around on the floor. He then proceeds to start having a telekinetic conversation with the doctor who is telling him out loud that he should stop using the drugs, but in Les’s mind it’s actual a plot straight out of a comic book and the place is actually bugged by people who want to stop him.
As Les’s delusions grow stronger, this is where Rapaport’s performance really starts to shine through. He has a very manic energy that only grows throughout the movie, he can’t stand still, he is continuously talking and most of the talking is for his own benefit, filtering what everyone else is telling him about his condition and translating it into an explanation involving his super powers and the supposed super villains that are after him. These super villains turn out to be the suits, two brothers who developed the drug and are about to sell it to a big company and make all their money back. These two start out being fairly friendly, but when their tactics don’t get through the drug-induced haze, they actually start to become the villains that Les believes them to be, removing Les’s results from their study and gaining his silence through mob tactics.
The special effects in this movie are also fairly subtle, yet effective. I’ve mentioned the handful of flying scenes, but there are also several moments where Les makes himself or other invisible, including a dramatic climax when he makes the two suits disappear, yet they still follow him and beat the everliving crap out of him under an overpass with a two by four. Since it is all seen through Les’s eyes, they are invisible through that entire scene except for when they eventually pick up the wood and we see it swinging around by itself. But aside from those visual effects, there’s also the makeup effects on Les’s face. Even though he thinks he has super powers, he really doesn’t and running into walls, tackling people, and his various other exploits take a toll on his body and it quickly starts to show on his face, until at the end of the movie it’s an almost unrecognizable mask of cuts, bruises, and swelling.
The supporting cast is also chosen quite well for this movie, I’ve mentioned the doctor who plays the straight man very well, but also has a bit more story to him when things start going wrong with Les and the two suits. I also quite enjoyed Alexandra Holden as the convenience store clerk, Maggie who Les has a bit of a crush on. She is in many of the scenes throughout the movie, but spends most of her screen time wordlessly behind the check out counter. But when Les finally gets to the point that he’s ready to stop using the medication after being beaten to a pulp and broken down verbally as well, he confides in her, the one friend that no one knows he has, even himself really. He goes to her as a last resort because in his paranoid state, she is the only one that “they” don’t know about so they wouldn’t have gotten to her already. And in that moment, we find out that the reason she doesn’t talk is because she has a very strong stuttering problem, and in his affable fashion Les barely even acknowledges this, instead pointing out how beautiful her voice is.
I will admit that while the ending is a great scene, it ends on a bit of an odd note. While he does take a stand, survive something that would take out a lot of people, and keep managing to stand back on his own two feet, it doesn’t really amount to anything in the long run. It does technically create a resolution with the two suits, but it feels like more of a hollow victory especially when it comes after his internal victory when he decides to finally take the “antidote” to the medication. I would have also liked to have seen what happens when he does finally return to his normal life, if he gets his job back as parking enforcement, or if he takes a less demeaning & more fulfilling job. As it is presented here, the movie just ends. It ends on a victory, yes, but it still just ends.
Special really is a special movie, I enjoyed it a lot for what it was. It’s not a flashy superhero movie, or a great comedy, but more of a slice of life of this ordinary person who suddenly forces extraordinary into his life through this drug. From everyone else’s perspective, he is the only one that’s changing, but from his perspective everything changes. It’s well worth a look if you can find it anywhere, I enjoyed it quite a bit even though it’s often more of a quiet and subtle movie than Kick-Ass or Super, but it’s no less effective. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.