Jared and Brandon Drake have accomplished something unequivocally transcendent with their first feature film. Putting Visioneers together with a limited budget, filming a variety of scenes in their parents’ palatial estate, and relying on the passionate work of interested and talented actors, the brothers Drake set out to completely nail everything that is good about dystopian black comedy cinema. The film is a simple story of identity and repression that exists within a not-very-alternate reality dominated by a dismal global corporation, where dreams have gone the way of the pay phone and the simple stresses associated with everyday life can result in "explosions" -- that is, spontaneous human combustion. The fantastical nature of the story works at every turn because of the complete seamlessness of the world the Drakes create.
Zach Galifianakis, who most viewers will recognize from his brilliantly awkward and sometimes illuminating stand-up comedy repertoire, plays the protagonist to a tee. His George Washington Winsterhammerman is a man completely emasculated by the society in which he lives. The genius of this emasculation is the fact that there isn’t anyone or anything he can blame for his (literal and figurative) impotence, save from himself. Living in a supremely beautiful if sterile mansion inherited from his parents, George works as a Level 3 Visioneer for the Jeffers Corporation, a conglomerate that uses the middle finger as its official salute. We never come close to understanding what he does for the corporation nor do we understand the tasks of anyone who works at Jeffers. The filmmakers are clearly trying to impart a sense of the complete meaninglessness of middle management.
George is married to the Stepfordish Michelle (Judy Greer), whose obsession with an Oprah-esque afternoon television program offers plenty of opportunities to critique the foibles of the suburban housewife. Of course, George and Michelle barely communicate, occupying their pristine and depressing home without any type of meaningful exchange, physical or intellectual. The film becomes more than just science fiction when George starts having some troubling dreams. In his sleep, he is George Washington, leading his troops across the Delaware, this heroic action substituting for anything requiring the effort that George consistently shuns both at home and at work. Apparently, in the Jeffers world, dreams are a sign of immanent explosion. This leads to a hilarious subplot involving George and the ultimate “fired-up” life coach, Roger, brought to glorious life by an over-the-top performance by Matthew Glave, one of Hollywood’s most underappreciated character actors.
The real meat of Visioneers’ story lies within the relationship George attempts to establish with a former co-worker, Charisma (Mia Maestro), who symbolizes a healthy, holistic approach to life. Through his mostly unsuccessful meanderings with Charisma, George begins to question the validity of the Jeffers Corporation, which by this time in the story is telling even the President of the United States what to do. George begins to loathe The Jeffers Corporation (read: Goldman Sachs), and soon we are offered a truly beautiful example of just how much the creators of this film appreciate human life, as the ending of Visioneers is a resounding testament to the resilience of the spirit and dignity of people.
As far as commentary on society is concerned, Visioneers excels where other dystopian features have faltered. The subtlety and wit of the dialogue are reminiscent of Hal Hartley’s films, blending seemingly inappropriate, blunt pronouncements with telling silences and the mundane utterances of the everyday. This gives the piece a genuinely lifelike quality and greatly reduces the suspension of disbelief required to immerse ourselves in the story. I can say without hesitation that this is the best dystopian work of art since Blade Runner.