Movie Review: The Perplexing Would-Be Whimsy of ‘Pottersville’
Michael Shannon stars as a meek small-town shopkeeper who inadvertently stirs up Bigfoot controversy in Pottersville, a beguiling feature that wouldn’t be out of place on the Hallmark Channel but turns confounding due to the participation of its excellent cast.
When Shannon’s Maynard Greiger comes home from work early one afternoon, he (expectedly) finds wife Connie (Christina Hendricks) cavorting with the town sheriff (Ron Perlman). Unexpectedly, they’re dressed as a rabbit and a wolf, and in this movie’s insight into furry culture, the cavorting is limited to some moaning and dry humping.
Still, it’s enough to send Maynard in a moonshine-induced haze that winds up with him in his own makeshift furry costume: a gorilla mask and Ghillie suit, the kind of stuff one tends to find in a general store. And when he wakes up the next morning, the whole town (named after the locale in It’s a Wonderful Life) is bubbling with talk of last night’s Bigfoot sightings.
And whaddya know: everyone - including Connie - is happy about the town’s new mascot, humble Pottersville is graced with big-city media coverage, and the Bigfoot merch is flying off of Maynard’s racks. Why, just in time for the holidays!
Despite the goofball premise, the plotting is disarmingly simplistic; Pottersville has barely enough material for half-hour TV show (heck, even the trailer feels strained). It wouldn’t take much to bring some life to the proceedings, but Thomas Lennon walks away with the whole movie as the phony host of a Monster Hunter TV show with an even phonier Aussie accent.
Still, the movie threatens to come alive during some Jaws parody scenes with Lennon, Perlman, and local hunter Bart (Ian McShane), who take to the woods in search of Bigfoot and wind up on their own moonshine-fueled misadventures.
The great Judy Greer also stars as Maynard’s compassionate friend and co-worker, who I think we’re supposed to take as a potential love interest because she invites him over for some popcorn.
Michael Shannon is not the docile lead of a Hallmark TV movie, and yet inexplicably that’s exactly what he’s cast as in Pottersville; in every scene there’s something simmering behind his eyes suggesting something that simply isn’t in the script.
It’s something the rest of the cast also seems to harbor - only Lennon’s broadly comic performance seems to fall in line with the tone of of the movie - and the result is something confounding, as if the cast is in on a joke that the audience isn’t aware of. The closest comparison I can make is to A Deadly Adoption, the Lifetime movie starring Will Ferrell and Kristin Wiig that was played completely straight as a goof.
Unlike that movie, Pottersville is almost certainly a horrific misfire, and deserving of its scathing notices (David Erlich, in a hilarious review for Indiewire, calls it “one of the worst Christmas movies ever made.”)
And yet there’s still something strangely fascinating here that kept me hooked: for fans of cinema at its worst, Pottersville just might be a Christmas classic.