Harold Buttleman, Daredevil Stuntman sounded like a funny, interesting picture of a man who doesn’t know when to quit. With an interesting cast, it sounded promising in this Leomark Studios re-scan and release from 35mm film of the classic, award-winning comedy. The character was endearingly awkward and shows off the talents of John Hawkes.
The film begins with Harold (John Hawkes) attempting his stunts, like jumping from the roof of his parents’ house to a nearby tree. The only problem is, he isn’t able to make the jump. And that is the story of Harold’s life. He films his various stunts, trying to get on television and go to Hollywood but none of his stunts are terribly difficult nor are they very successful.
His friends help him, even when it’s not a good idea. His best friend, Doug (Stephen Falk), films his stunts with another friend helping to coordinate the stunts. Doug’s sister Nettie (Stephanie Jane Markham) adores him and helps however she can. But his family and girlfriend are another story.
His father (Leon Russom), a pastor, gets a job in another town and his mother (Karen Black), tells him they are moving. Harold has been living in their basement while working in a tuxedo shop. Even as they move, Harold remains in the house while trying to make one more video to get on a local cable show. In the meantime, he proposes to his girlfriend Wendy (Anita Barone), a hairdresser. Wendy implores him to stop making stunts as she worries about him and wants a normal life. But Harold won’t quit even while each of his stunts go wrong and his life increasingly gets worse. It is the story of faith, enduring even in his lack of skill.
First, let me say, I like the thoughtfulness behind this film. The stunts are done for comedic purpose. Each segment in the film highlights how awkward and stumbling Harold is. It is obvious from the very beginning two truths about Harold: He is not very successful but he is hard working. We see the character working on his stunts day in and out as well as working at his day job. He is a man with a dream but without success, can he justify continuing? That is the true theme of this film. How hard would you work toward your dreams? And the writers do well leaving that question to the viewer to answer.
The movie has moments of humor, even when it’s painful. It’s hard not to laugh when Harold misses his mark and falls from the roof of his parents’ house. It’s also funny how shy Doug is with a woman he likes, Harold encouraging him to take the risk or how oblivious Harold is to his girlfriend Wendy’s lack of desire to leave her hometown for Hollywood. Unlike Harold, her dreams are smaller. Yet, he is unable to see the truth.
What is performed better than the humor, however, are those cringing moments of awareness of just how bad a stuntman Harold is and his inability to let go of his dream, no matter what. Even his friends try to save him from the truth, encouraging him or hiding when scenes of his stunts are used as a punchline in a comedy show. Even when everything is at its worst, the viewer is left with the question of whether Harold will ever let go of his boundless optimism and his delusion over his skills.
The actors do a great job with their parts. They come across as real people with flaws and quirks. John Hawkes is the focal point of the film and is sweetly awkward, just the type of man that others want to support, not wishing to crush his dreams. He is so nice, you even feel bad for him when he can’t seem to realize how painfully bad he is at his chosen path in life. While there are some interesting scenes with Dan Castellaneta as the Human Cannonball and with Wendy when she is frustrated with Harold’s lying to her over his stunt work, the true star is John Hawkes.
The film does feel like it drags at points. While filmed realistically, this doesn’t always help, especially when the plot isn’t focused on Harold. Some of the actors are flat with their parts, perhaps intentionally as real people would be, but I wasn’t as engaged with those characters. There is very much an element of Jackass as well which some people find funny but tends to make me cringe when people get hurt for a stunt. Still, there was some in depth truthfulness to the movie and John Hawkes was excellent in the film.
If you like stunts, you might like this movie. It does raise some interesting questions about failure and how far one is willing to go for one’s dreams. The characters make you think and Harold is especially likeable, despite all his flaws. I think if you’re a fan of John Hawkes, watch it for some of his early work, before he made it big. I ultimately found it delightful and lighthearted.
Rating: 3 stars
Harold Buttleman, is a small town tuxedo salesman who thinks he’s the next Evel Knievel, in director Francis Stokes’ award-winning comedy Harold Buttleman : Daredevil Stuntman.
Buttleman is on the brink of TV stardom, a 3 am spot on the late night cable access, but the life of a daredevil stuntman is harder than it looks. Harold’s parents want him to move out of their basement and his girlfriend wants him to settle into a career selling bathtub parts. For Harold, it all depends on his big break. He gathers the entire town for his gala premiere celebration, but there’s a surprise in store. An offbeat comedy about following your dreams, and the finer points of being shot out of a cannon.
Cast: John Hawkes, Anita Barone, Karen Black and Dan Castellaneta
Directed by: Francis Stokes