I may spoil some of The Beaver Trilogy, but it’s unlikely you’re going to come across it. It’s got song licensing issues, I’m sure, since it’s all about the love for Olivia Newton-John. I watched it today in a class and it might have been the best setting.
There are three parts to the film–The Beaver Kid, The Beaver Kid #2, and The Orkly Kid. The first part is documentary footage, which may or may not be for a Salt Lake City TV show, about a guy from Beaver, UT who does impersonations. He does John Wayne, a good Sylvester Stallone, Barry Manilow, and Olivia Newton John–in drag. The conclusion is the guy performing “Please Don’t Keep Me Waiting,” doing a good job with band accompaniment. It’s about twenty minutes of non-stop laughter at this… loser. The audience thinks the guy is a loser and we all laugh at him. The footage mocks him and we all join in.
The second part stars Sean Penn as the real guy from the first part. Shot on video, The Beaver Kid #2, is an abbreviated version of the first one, with Sean Penn doing an impression of the guy. It’s funny and though Penn is in his Spicoli period, it suits the character. Then at the end, when it sticks with the character after his big performance (with Penn not doing a good job singing, though at least trying, without a band), Harris turns on his laughing audience. We just got done laughing at this guy, who promptly goes home and puts a gun in his mouth. However, at the final moment, he’s saved by a newfound friend–albeit one who only wants him for his drag persona.
The Orkly Kid is shot on film and immediately different. Besides the superior Crispin Glover performance in the lead, it recasts the character from being a lovable guy around town to being the heckled and abused one. After all, the audience just got done mocking him, why shouldn’t his fellow characters? This third film changes the whole situation and, this time, the context doesn’t allow for the life-saving phone call at the end. There’s no relief for the viewer, who’s got to come to terms with his or her mocking of this character. Just because other people mock him, all of a sudden it feels kind of… wrong.
Harris is not a brilliant director or dialogue writer (though he did pick the perfect Olivia Newton-John song). The Orkly Kid comes off a lot like an after-school special, but the point of The Beaver Trilogy is the viewer and the viewer’s gradual realizations. It’s not even manipulative, except maybe at the end of the last film… Apparently, the idea to put the three films together didn’t come around until 1999 or so, which explains why Harris didn’t exactly catch on….
Like I said, I can’t believe this film will ever make it to an easily accessible media format, but it’s worth hunting down.