Reviews Short Narrative

The Last Temptation of Lenny (2020) – 4 stars

Director: Timothy Rafferty

Writers: Brian Bourque & Timothy Rafferty

Cast: Arthur White, Timothy Rafferty, Joseph Burns.

Running time: 9mins

One of the true tests of a comedy is whether it can get its spoof TV content right. Long before The Simpsons gave us Dirty Harry send-up McGarnagle or Family Guy supplied the gloriously stupid Fast Animals, Slow Children, Disney’s 101 Dalmations arguably set an early standard with What’s My Crime – a show where sneering aristocrats and public-school broadcasters guess the desperate measures members of the working class have had to turn to in order to make ends meet.

When getting your audience to invest in an absurd story, a little world building is often in order to help settle the audience into their surroundings – even if they are extreme parodies of everyday life.  The above examples tap into our awareness of the ridiculousness in our ordinary lives – from TV’s banal reinforcement of class divisions to its inane churn of ‘reality’ content – and by drawing on these elements of our ‘normal’ before turning them up to 11, the audience is vaccinated against the other absurdities of the plot. We can believe dalmatians can talk, or that Homer Simpson can work in a nuclear power plant.

Timothy Rafferty imbues his knowingly silly parable The Last Temptation with a great deal of unlikely credibility in this manner. The content mill of YouTube has seen us all become our own reality TV producers, and as seen via protagonist Lenny (Arthur White), many of us have succumbed to pumping out ludicrous drivel in the hope of riding the site’s algorithm to success. A Christian comedian, Lenny’s failed attempts to go viral include experiments such as Baptism with Pepsi Soda?!, hot takes such as Can VEGANS be Christian? and ‘skits’ like Jesus Drivethru Footwash – each accompanied by hideous MS Paint thumbnails, and each commendably skewering the mindless depths YouTubers are willing to plumb for their 15 seconds of fame.

Within the first 30 seconds, then, we know everything we really need to know about Lenny. He positions himself as a proud Christian, but clearly has ambitions that might come into conflict with how devoutly he follows that. After all, it is unlikely that Jesus – who so emphatically cast money lenders from the Temple – would appreciate his image being used for someone to shill for Google’s amorphous list of corporate partners. At the same time, the heightened stupidity of Lenny’s previous bids for fame eases us into the nonsense that will unfold throughout the story to come.

The story is well paced, and after Lenny begs God to help him accrue followers on social media, his prayers are not answered by anyone up above. Instead, he finds a malevolent force has taken up residence in his right hand – manifesting in the form of a mouthy sock puppet named Socrates (Timothy Rafferty).

Anyone with the bare minimum of Biblical knowledge can guess what is likely to happen once Lenny’s right hand offends him, but thanks to the interventions of the increasingly unhinged Socrates, the amateur theologians among the audience will probably go along for the ride quite happily. The wayward sock promises to make Lenny “the Jeff Dunham of 13-year-old incels” (though I was under the impression Jeff Dunham was already fulfilling that role) – in one of the moments where Rafferty and Brian Borque’s script really sparkles.

When it isn’t trying to take wittier shots at worthy targets like the dog-whistle racism of Dunham, meanwhile, the writing isn’t above being so stupid that it is funny, either. As Lenny slides deeper into sin, his holier than thou friends disown him, only prompting him to stray further from the Lord – and viewers should keep an eye out for one particularly glorious reference to Robert Eggers’ The Witch which precedes his ultimate descent into cocaine-fuelled chaos.

Taking a line of such gravity and putting it in the mouth of a sock with googly-eyes encouraging a grown man to visit Porn Hub is so obscenely dumb that it prompted my biggest laugh of the whole film. That demonic utterance is then followed by a montage of glorious debauchery set to the riff from The Clash’s epic Straight to Hell – making for a perfect moment of media-literate humour.

With that being said, having seen that Rafferty and Borque have potential in their writing, it is a shame that they do not seem to want to get a little more out of their story. Probably the biggest issue is the film’s ending, which is a little pedestrian for such a left-field concept. As the film draws to a conclusion, all seems to be right with the world again – but if the filmmakers are citing people like Eggers, they are aware of the conventions of horror (and particularly possession) movies, and that they rarely come with such a clear-cut happy ending. Alluding to there possibly still being something wrong would have been a nice little comedic nod to this tradition, and leave us wanting more in the process.

At the same time, Rafferty is clearly having the time of his life as the voice of Socrates, while Arthur White has decent chemistry with his opposite number – in spite of the fact it is a sock he is puppeteering. More might have been made from this, with more intense back and forth seeing Lenny confused and ultimately convinced to dabble in the dark arts of YouTube vlogging.

It feels a little mean spirited of me to end the review on such a downer, so let’s be clear, I really enjoyed this. This film is idiotic in all the right ways, but with enough self-awareness to let a little wry wit creep into proceedings once in a while. It reminds me of Autumn Never Dies in that way – putting it among very good company. In the end then, The Last Temptation of Lenny is a marvellously enjoyable exploration of stupidity, and the vapid fame-chasing culture the modern internet has exacerbated among vast swathes of society.

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