Film Review: “Strawberry Mansion”

Starring: Kentucker Audley, Penny Fuller and Grace Glowicki
Directed by: Kentucker Audley and Albert Birney
Rated: NR
Running Time: 91 minutes
Music Box Films

The year is 2035 (although you’d never know it’s even in the 21st century based on the technology you see in the film) and the only thing that appears to have changed are dreams and taxes. Government auditors, like James (Audley), check in on people’s dreams, assessing the costs associated with the various items that pop-up in the person’s brain. We’re not told much about this structure, which I’ll admit I’m disappointed in since the conceit is fascinating, because the real story involves one dream audit in particular. The audit of Bella (Fuller), an eccentric woman that lives by herself, involves James going through Bella’s dreams one-by-one from her youthful era, which have been recorded on VHS tapes to circumvent the establishment and it’s tax system. Nonetheless, she opens up her mind to James who’s about to open up his mind and heart to the surreal visions he’s about to experience.

“Strawberry Mansion” is like a small town carnival funhouse, most people will see it as a cheap excuse for entertainment while those with an open mind will look past the duct taped together bits and fully immerse themselves in the non-sequitur dreamscape. Part of what made me really enjoy this movie is the obvious budget issues. “Strawberry Mansion” isn’t getting a check from Disney or Miramax, but I’m sure the directors had to max out a few credit cards to cobble some scenes together. The story also gives credence to the somewhat patchwork filming because we are in a dream and dreams aren’t necessarily flawless visual feasts, but more or less flawed droplets of our own introspection and self-actualization. So when James communicates with a subconscious advertisement in an entirely pink kitchen or is the captain of a pirate ship staffed by sentient mice, we accept the insanity of the premise and the cheapness of the effects, knowing that James is in a dream state.

Even though James is viewing old dreams, he’s able to interact with the elements, including Bella, who approaches James much like you approach others in dreams, believing they are the real deal. But as the movie progresses it seems like Bella understands who James is, almost as if her dream memories know they’re dream memories. The overall messaging of the film is a little frustrating, but I feel like it’s intentionally set-up for people to take away different concepts and run with them, whether it’s a commentary on obtuse filmmaking or the dreams we attempt to analyze despite their fleeting nature. “Strawberry Mansion” could also be a meditation on humans allowing the noise and clutter of unnecessary things inhabit our lives, like advertising and government influence. I saw a lot of themes and ideas, but none of them were strong enough to sway me one way or another. I wasn’t sure if it was intentional or not by the creators to be like this, but in a film like “Strawberry Mansion,” there may not be a wrong answer, and therein lies the cleverness of the film at moments.

“Strawberry Mansion” is far from being a head trip action-adventure film like “Inception” or “Total Recall,” but feels more like an Adult Swim acid trip because it’s bizarre, crass at times, silly, confusing and oddly heartfelt. If you’ve ever watched the fake “Infomercials” on Adult Swim, “Strawberry Mansion” is for you. Thankfully, “Strawberry Mansion” isn’t be weird to simply be weird, so even people who aren’t the film’s target demographic may be able to take something positive away from it, even if they don’t like the film.