They say you should write what you know, and so Tom Becker has drawn on his personal experience in Los Angeles’ comedy scene to script Too Late for his wife, director D.W. Thomas, in what is their feature debut after making the shorts Back from the Future (2017) and Hey, FiBi! (2018) together. In keeping with its setting, and with a cast that includes many genuine LA stand-ups, Too Late is very funny indeed – even if its take on this community is decidedly dyspeptic.
Violet Fields (Alyssa Limperis) once regarded Bob Devore (Ron Lynch) as her meal ticket. From an older generation, he is an extremely successful comedian whose respectable variety show Too Late (modelled on Lynch’s own weekly variety show Tomorrow! With Ron Lynch) attracts all the best talent from the city and beyond – and Violet, once an aspiring comedian herself, imagined that becoming Bob’s assistant would open all kinds of doors for her own professional pursuits. Yet the exacting Bob treats Violet as his personal slave, rarely even introduces her to the big names in his orbit, and even poaches acts from the much smaller weekly coffeeshop show The Death of Comedy for which Violet works as booker in her free time. Violet still scribbles lines for never-delivered routines in her notebook, but the dream of a career in stand-up, of a love life, or even of just a life-life, has long since died.
Violet is also surrounded by monsters. There is new-in-town Dax Hanlan (Billy Breed), over-pushy in trying to get a booking and unwelcome in his sexual advances. Or Chase Morrow (Brooks Wheelan), the stand-up turned movie star who is an obnoxious narcissist – and again unwelcome in his sexual advances. And then there is Bob, whose tendency to maintain himself parasitically on the talent of others is here manifested in a less metaphorical monstrousness. For as, each month, the dark of the moon approaches, Bob lives up to his surname by literally devouring other comedians – typically scene newcomers with promise whom Violet has scouted for him – and vampirically absorbing their skills. When Violet meets – in a friend’s closet – the modest yet gifted stand-up Jimmy Rhodes (Will Weldon), sparks quickly fly between them. Yet as Bob shows an interest in this rising star, the conflicted Violet is unsure if she is jealous of Jimmy’s success, or worried that one or indeed both of them might be next on Bob’s plate.
“Not like a metaphorical monster?” Jimmy will ask Violet when she first divulges to him the true nature of her – and now his – boss. Certainly Too Late presents itself as a straightforward, if eccentric and amiable, creature feature, but its monstrosities are also figurative, as Thomas stages an entire comedy ecosystem built on toxic rivalry, ruthless ambition and enabling complicity. For here real talent is swiftly stolen, exploited or assimilated, here those at the bottom are abused if not swallowed up whole, and here only the hungriest and the horriblest stay at the top. Yet for all its dark edge, Thomas’ film is full of charm, rooted in well written characters and an environment which, despite the fantasy elements, feels convincingly real.
“Value yourself, Vi,” says Violet’s friend and roommate Belinda (Jenny Zigrino) near the beginning of Too Late. Yet Violet has become so stuck in Bob’s shadow and so entwined in his predatory feeding that in order fully to re-embrace her battered sense of individual worth and to stand-up for herself, she will first need to be almost literally reborn. How exactly this happens will play out like an ultra-low-budget reimagining of Brian Yuzna’s body-horror satire Society (1989), transplanted from Beverly Hills’ leafy suburbia to LA’s urban comedy culture. It is a funny, freaky labour of love whose hybrid variety entertainment comes with a wry delivery.
strap: In D.W. Thomas’ satirical creature feature, an aspiring comedienne learns to stand-up to her monstrous talent-sucking boss
© Anton Bitel