The Little Theatre in Rochester tends to be a quiet place on Sunday evenings, but on Sept. 25 one of its screens was anything but. For one show only, the theater presented Kevin Smith’s new film, Red State.
Including The Little, several theaters across the country participated in this special screening of the film, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival surrounded by buzz and controversy.
Red State is a vicious and fun attack on the real-life Westboro Baptist Church. The religious fanatics depicted in the film only differ from the actual members of the Westboro Baptist Church by the guns they carry.
The film opens with a brutal protest at the funeral of a local gay teen. The angry protesters are followers of the Five Points Church, which is exclusively comprised of members of the Cooper family.
In disgust, youth character Travis watches the protest scene from his car. He and his friends Jared and Billy Ray are typical teenagers: they curse, make fun of each other and are obsessed with losing their virginity.
Jared finds a woman on the Internet willing to meet them for a “wild night.” The woman, as it turns out, is actually a member of the Five Points Church and she drugs the boys’ drinks. From there, the film focuses on the demented theology of the church, the boys’ desperate attempts to escape and a tactical team trying to mediate the escalating situation.
Red State features a plethora of mesmerizing performances. Michael Parks as Abin Cooper, the deranged leader of the church, is absolutely incredible. Last year’s Oscar winner Melissa Leo also gives a chilling performance as Cooper’s daughter. John Goodman also shows up midway through the film in a darkly funny role.
The film is over the top and fun, but the plot and pace are a little bit clunky: Abin Cooper seems to pontificate endlessly during some of his sermons; many of the subplots the film creates end abruptly and are never addressed again. Still, the film was surprisingly entertaining and worth watching.
After the screening, Kevin Smith appeared on the screen for an exclusive Q-and-A webcast from the New Beverly Cinema in Hollywood. Participating theaters were given an exclusive hash tag so Smith could see the questions audiences were asking on Twitter. Despite the large number of questions, Smith only answered four because he talked and ranted for so long.
Even with his long, tangential answers Smith proved to be a fascinating and very blunt speaker. He talked about his past films, saying that he made Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back “just for the fun of it.” He addressed talking to actual members of the Westboro Baptist Church and directing his 5-year-old daughter, who appeared in film. When it came to his future in filmmaking, he didn’t think he had much left to say.
Since Smith talked so much, the questions on Twitter quickly turned into comedic observations. One audience member tweeted, “Are there smaller sized shirts that fit you so you don’t look like a wizard?” poking fun at Smith for wearing a hockey jersey. With the combination of hilarious tweets, Smith’s insightful commentary and an awesome film, the event proved to be a wild success.