Year Released: 2002
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 30 minutes
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Question: who is Jamil Said and how can we get him a Hollywood contract? I have no idea how to answer the second part of that inquiry, but the first part is easy enough: Jamil Said is the Washington, DC-based mad genius actor-filmmaker who created “Byromania,” a deliciously sick comedy short which makes bad taste a celluloid gourmet treat. Achieving the near-impossible in finding the perfect balance between vulgarity and comedy, “Byromania” is a happy shock to the senses and a stunning calling card for a new and exciting talent.
“Byromania” focuses on poor, unhappy Byron (played by Jamil Said himself). Byron is stuck in a cubicle-hell dead-end job he loathes and is married to a sneering virago who physically and emotionally belittles him at every opportunity (in her kindest moments, she refers to him as “bitch”). Byron is obsessed with the possibility of opening an amusement park built around a serial killer theme, but his attempts to get his wife to share his rapture at serving burgers in the Jeffrey Dahmer Cafe is inevitably met with a slap to the face and a shove out the door.
In his frenzy to fund his dream, Byron’s personality snaps dramatically. To raise funds for this theme park, he begins to take on the persona of Lord Byron, a fortune-teller who wears costumes that Elton John would have rejected as being too flamboyant. Speaking in a weird pseudo-Russian accent, he spends his office hours giving tarot card readings via telephone. Not surprising, his behavior lands him a pink slip…but he treats the news of his dismissal by taking a cane and clubbing his supervisor to the ground.
Byron, having completely lost his marbles, takes his revenge on the unsuspecting world. He sets up a tarot card-reading shop, and disposes of disbelievers by unleashing a toxic kitten whose claws give a fatal case of cat scratch fever. He then cons two gullible Mormon missionaries into trying to “convert” a transvestite…but the zany trannie winds up converting them in a joyous menage-a-trois. Byron later snags one of the Mormons, who is wallowing in belated guilt for his romp in the land of alternative lifestyles, and stuff him with an LSD-laced hot dog. The hopelessly stoned Latter-Day Saint is directed to Byron’s home to kill his wife (she is defined as an evil Catholic, which feeds the Mormon’s fury), and when this deed is done Byron lethally freaks out his acid-drenched henchman by appearing as a remarkably vengeful Christ.
This is admitted a lot to pack into a 30-minute film, but “Byromania” races like a rollercoaster into the furthest corners of taste and sensibility. The film’s reckless slams at religion, marriage, drugs, the workplace and the gay subculture could easily have been numbing in the hands of a lesser talent, but Jamil Said speeds brilliantly through this demented landscape with an extraordinary sense of physical comedy and a happy disregard for good taste. As an actor, he twists himself into a variety of guises which is nothing less than astonishing: the whining Byron being slapped by his horrendous wife, the inane fortune teller with eye-bulging leers and generous hand gestures, the deranged entrepreneur whose fixation with serial killers takes sensationalist obsession out of pop-fascination into a dangerous stratosphere of deification, and (in what could have been a huge mess, but which is actually a crown-of-thorns achievement) the malevolent Christ who provides physical and vocal embodiment to the lunatic theology of anyone who misreads the Gospels and replaces its message of peace and love with a mindframe of intolerance and malice. If you can remember what Robin Williams and Jim Carrey were like when they were once genuinely funny, you can picture Jamil Said as their natural successor.
Behind the camera, Jamil Said has the extraordinary talent of bringing the right people to his project. The film is beautifully and professionally produced, and he has gathered a fine ensemble cast and highly talented technical help (especially editors David Mailouin and Leila Garcia and cinematographer Gregg Watt) to bring his trippy image to the screen. This is the rare short film which looks like a Hollywood production and not a home movie.
More than a few people may find reasons to loathe “Byromania,” but that’s too bad. The film operates on the notion that feet were meant to be stepped on, and “Byromania” offers a bumper crop of outrageous behavior not seen on screen since John Waters in his prime. “Byromania” is truly a wild and wonderful achievement.
Posted on April 29, 2002 in Reviews by Phil Hall
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