In Reginald Harkema’s excellent political comedy, the wonderful Toronto actors Don McKellar and Tracy Wright, a long-time off-screen couple, poke fun at themselves by playing a long-time Toronto couple, Dan and Linda, so deathly sick of their stale relationship that they call themselves “roommates.” At one time, these fortysomethings had been committed left-wing revolutionaries. In recent years, their political activism has become as inert as their love life. Employed by a neurotic, baby-crazy do-gooder, Linda goes crazy bored at her stamp-licking office job. Dan hangs around their low-rent flat listening to 1960s LPs and searching for roaches in ashtrays, desperate to get high. On weekends, they become a two-person team of petty-bourgeois capitalists, foraging through garbage bins, sniffing out yard sales, looking for pop-culture items that they can spiff up and sell on the Web.
What a cynical comedown from the glory days of protesting the Gulf War. Simmering and feuding, Dan and Linda are like marital escapees from an Albee play. Worse, they’re bicycle thieves! “People who don’t care don’t lock them properly,” Dan declares before “liberating” a two-wheeler chained to a fence. The bike, too, will be worked on, fixed up, and sold. And so on, dreary year after year.
Until one morning when Dan is approached at a yard sale by a forward young chick with a polka-dot top, very tight jeans, and a tart little butt. Susan (a foxy, intense Nadia Litz) sells “organic” pot from British Columbia. After bike rides and coffeeshop dates, Dan brings her home in the afternoon while Linda works. He plays her politically charged rock tunes from MC5 and the Fugs and lends her books about the Revolution and guerrilla warfare. But this is a comedy, so of course Linda walks in one afternoon just as Dan and Susan look as if they were about to go at it on a bike.
In the second half of Monkey Warfare, there’s a wobbly truce, a nervous friendship among the three protagonists. (Will Dan and Susan fuck? Linda can’t help but wonder.) In a calm bonding moment, they bicycle together through the streets. (Although hundreds of features are shot in Toronto, Monkey Warfare is the rare film to use the city as a lived-in, urban locale with recognizable neighborhoods.)
Finally, radical politics comes to the fore. In the film’s one real stretch, Eco-girl Susan is transformed by the anarchist books Dan has lent her. She’s an urban guerrilla wanting to blow up SUVs and build Molotov cocktails. She’s challenging Dan and Linda to put their long-dormant ultra-left politics into practice. Where does writer/director Harkema stand in all this? All the conscious Godardian flourishes in the movie make me believe he’s setting up Susan as an equivalent to Jean Seberg in À bout de souffle|Breathless: dangerously young, frighteningly impulsive, so watch out! A hint: Seberg and Litz seem to be sporting the same “femme fatale” shades. 75 minutes | Brattle Theatre: April 4-7