Find a Way to See Nebraska Supersonic!
by Timothy Schaffert
Despite the fact that the film is yet another locally produced feature about college-aged men with a scheme (can we call a moratorium on that particular plot chestnut?), Nebraska Supersonic is easily the funniest comedy projected on a movie screen this year — or last. While so many contemporary film comedies take their cues from the Farrelly brothers, hyperfocused on bodily fluids and brickbat-style humor, Nebraska Supersonic has the subtly warped style of Bottle Rocket or Swingers — or even Todd Haynes’ daffy disease comedy, Safe . But if you didn’t catch its premiere at the Omaha Community Playhouse last week, then you may not get a chance to see it until director/producer/writer Jeremy Lerman wins acclaim for subsequent films and Nebraska Supersonic is released as a special DVD collector’s edition.
It’s tempting to declare the 25-year-old Lerman a comic genius, but much of the film’s success derives also from the easy performances of his cast. Sonny Robinson, Jesse Joyner and Matt Kelehan play Cal, Stan and Dave, a trio of slackers who graduate with French degrees, yet can’t even exchange a greeting in the language. Mostly shirtless and fancy-free, the young men embark on an absurdist’s entrepreneurial scheme of building a bicycle courier business to serve the cities of Omaha and Lincoln, and to compete with the corporate giant Fancy Express.
As it turns out, the marketplace is desperate for just such a service — one business woman approached by the boys laments the inefficiency of fax machines and hires them on the spot — and the success of the service affords the young men the opportunity to pursue their more meager ambitions; Dave, for one, longs to work in a bakery. Stan trains to be a cop by going on drive-alongs and narcing out his pot connections.
The goofy but inspired conceit of the film is its narrative device — the whole thing is a mock-documentary of sorts, every scene captured by the camera of Jerry Lemon (voiced by Lerman), a filmmaking friend of the boys. (In one scene, Jerry shows his grandmother a sci-fi porn movie he made.) Though the film does feature straight-on interviews with the characters, we’re mostly allowed to forget that the movie is supposed to be a documentary, as the camera is impossibly ever-present. The camera even manages to zoom in on Cal’s boner discomfort following a run-in with two backyard sunbathers. In another scene, a boy-assistant of the courier service is abducted from a highway by a man on a motorcycle, and Jerry’s voiceover reminds us that he had just stood by filming the whole thing. “It was a scary thing to watch,” he says.
While a few of the performances are delightfully bad, the leads enjoy a great chemistry and share a hilarious deadpan reaction to the peculiarities with which they’re confronted. Lerman should be congratulated for finding, with his low budget, a few seniors willing to indulge in some sauciness. At one point, Jerry’s grandparents (played with raucous goodwill by Vicki J. Sayles and Jack Moskovitz), the grandfather decked out in black bra and panties, receive a delivery of a dildo and other brown-bag confections from a Council Bluffs porn shop.
Many of the scenes of Nebraska Supersonic have a what-the-hell-just-happened-there? quality, a divine twisting of logic and common sense. The film even takes on a Buńuel-esque surrealism in a scene that features a well-stacked young woman playing Warren Buffett. During a meeting with Buffett, we slip into the minds of the young men as they begin to imagine Buffett without her suit and fondling her own breasts.
Even with all the frolicking in the subconscious, Nebraska Supersonic is simply a light romp. Lerman is testing his themes, however, and will presumably delve deeper in future films. At one point, Jerry’s grandmother chides him for his filmmaking ambitions, proclaiming that Woody Allen is the only Jew who makes movies. Somewhere in that brief exchange is a wealth of material about growing up Jewish with filmmaking ambitions in Nebraska. Lerman could also afford to get to know his female characters a little better — the young women of Nebraska Supersonic are either cranky or horny. Regardless, Nebraska Supersonic is a glimpse of raw talent — something in rare supply at the movie theaters. Write your state senator and demand another public screening.