Film Review: The Brass Teapot

Wish-fulfillment black comedy engages through its winsome (if violent) premise and highly attractive leads, but shows some strain towards the end.

When Alice (Juno Temple) stumbles upon a magic teapot in an antique shop, the eternal financial woes she shares with her young husband, John (Michael Angarano), seem miraculously lifted. This particular Aladdin’s lamp, however, requires more than mere rubbing. To make it wondrously sprout hundred-dollar bills, human physical—as well as emotional—pain is required, sending the couple into an orgy of masochistic self-torture, the end result of which lands them in a palatial mansion on the right side of town, with all the attendant cars and toys their rich, formerly sneering friends enjoy.

Few farces have started out with such an outlandish premise, but director Ramaa Mosley has complete conviction in it that, along with the engaging lead performances, keep the comedy percolating until it runs out of steam and goes on too long. Mosley has a nice sense of fun, which softens the many, many blows her protagonists endure, and also sexiness, making the most of the adorable Angarano’s and bodacious Temple’s physical assets, often perkily keeping them in their underwear. She has a good eye for the pretensions of the American nouveau riche and the hurt caused by our money-fueled class system, but I could have done without the torturous immigrant accent of Steven Park, playing one of those ubiquitous, omniscient Asians who alone knows the real secret behind the teapot. Another ethnic imposition—a pair of violent Hasids bent on recovering the teapot which, of course, has Holocaust origins—adds to the feeling of comic strain.

Again, without the natural charm and easy chemistry of its stars, I doubt that The Brass Teapot would work at all. Angarano, with his puckishly bemused good looks, basically plays Alice’s stooge, but does so with maximum Everyman likeability—reveling in his good fortune—and dry, antic wit. Temple seems at first mousy and constrained as a woman who blew $40,000 on an art history degree and cannot get arrested, job-wise, but once the money starts rolling in, she taps into her entertainingly flamboyant inner wild child, which was also so effective in Dirty Girl. (When she breaks into a heady dominatrix dance during a piquant S&M sex sequence with John, the movie really kicks into high gear.) As far as inanimate objects go, that teapot also becomes a pretty strong character in itself, with its hilariously belching lucky-green responses to bikini waxing, dentistry sans anesthesia, tattooing, skateboard injuries, ultimate-fight matches and kicks to the groin and ego.