Cloning Comedy A True Original

A Brand New You
(Canada, 83 min.)
Dir. Kathryn Palmateer, Shawn Whitney; Writ. Shawn Whitney
Starring: Manuel Rodriguez-Saenz, Clinton Lee Pontes, Freya Ravensbergen
Clones overrun the multiplex these days. Twilights, Hunger Gameses, new RoboCops, and inbred Marvel movies fill the screens with cinematic carbon copies. Every other movie seems like the one that came before it. Fortunately, though, A Brand New You might legitimately have claim to being the first and only microbudget cloning comedy that Canadian has ever produced. This lo-fi film is fun, creative, and refreshingly original.

Small Canadian films like A Brand New You don’t really have the funds to go full House of Cosbys and churn out clone upon clone, so A Brand New You takes an amusing Maplecore approach to bare bones sci-fi. Directors Kathryn Palmateer and Shawn Whitney take an “out there” premise and give it an amusing Three’s Company spin when thirty-year-old Santiago Morales (Manuel Rodriguez-Saenz) decides to cope with the unexpected death of his wife by cloning her to start their marriage anew. A Brand New You then zings the widower with a Woody Allen joke that’s just a little too soon for comfort and voilà: Santiago’s roommate, Laura (Freya Ravensbergen), becomes a surrogate for Santiago’s baby-bride to be.

Attempting a cloning experiment with one’s roommates doesn’t seem like a smart idea, especially when one has moved in as recently as Santiago has (and tried to commit suicide in the interim). Santiago makes his plot über dodgy, though, by enlisting his other roommate, Murray (Clinton Lee Pontes), to play the role of mad scientist. Murray, a slob who spends the day walking around the house in little more than a bathrobe of body hair, just happens to be a disgraced biologist with a mix of Stephen Hawking smarts and Dr. Nick sketchiness. Pontes is lots of fun as the madcap Murray while Rodriguez-Saenz and Ravensbergen have strong chemistry to sell the messy awkwardness of the roommates’ relationship.

A Brand New You also has a healthy heart, as it gives Rodriguez-Saenz a fine emotional arc on which to take Santiago throughout the experiment. Santiago, for example, carries his iPad around the house to memorialize his dead wife. He mopes about watching videos of Viviana (played in the movies within the movie by Dadal Badr) that he took during their marriage so that he’d have something to remember her by in case the worst happened. The worst did happen, so Santiago fills Viviana’s absence with strange clips of her lying in bed while looking into the lens or uncomfortably giving one side of a conversation while Santiago asks questions from the other side of the viewfinder. Viviana protests throughout these videos and makes clear that she’d much rather spend her marriage with her husband than spend it playing his movie muse. The awkwardness of Viviana’s videos, however, motivates Santiago to learn from the past with his cloning experiment: rather than try to recapture something for later pleasure, he learns simply to appreciate what he has in the present. This lesson fuels Santiago’s push-and-pull relationship with Laura and it teaches him that a fresh start is a better future.

This low budget cloning experiment feels unconsciously meta. Without the means to build a state of the art lab, Santiago and Murray equip the cloning workshop “Breaking Bad” style and scrounge up their tools with five-finger discounts and thrifty good fortune. As the members of the boarding house accumulate equipment for their science project on E-Bay and both harvest and fertilize ovaries in their own kitchen, the quirky antics of A Brand New You make DIY philosophy much of the film’s charm.

Palmateer and Whitney, much like Santiago and Murray, get creative with the tools at their disposal to devise this cloning comedy. The husband-and-wife directing team transforms the intimate space of small-scale comedy into something fresh and new with this cloning caper. Don’t go into A Brand New You expecting newfangled doo-dads and visual gimmicks, for the elements of science fiction exist purely in the amusing dialogue and in the situational humour, which give A Brand New You a fresh generic hybridity and let it stand out amidst other minimalist indie fare. The wacky antics of the trio of amateur scientists are fun, sometimes uproariously so, and it complements the strange and unusual character of the film’s sci-fi premise.

Rating: ★★★ (out of ★★★★★)

A Brand New You has its world premiere at Worldfest Houston on Sunday, April 6 at 7:00 pm.