‘Stanleyville’ Opens the Door to Self-Discovery and the Meaning of Identity, With a Game Show Hook
That reality show you like is back in style. Maxwell McCabe-Lokos’s feature length debut Stanleyville takes a stab at the dichotomy of humankind’s primitive drive to compete and the culture of respect within that bubble. It doesn’t matter what the fine print is, so long as one of the rules is to do “whatever it takes” to win.
Maria Barbizan is a woman unnoticed by her coworkers, husband, and daughter and is facing an existential crisis. She suddenly leaves home, dumps all her belongings and money into the trash and plants herself in a massage chair at the nearby mall, waiting for something to materialize. Enter Homunculus, a strange man who tells her she has been chosen to participate in a once-in-a-lifetime competition, where the end prize is a “slightly used habanero-orange compact sports utility vehicle, international import,” which the winner is said to be able to drive as soon as they win the challenge. But Maria knows that the journey is worth more than the destination, and Homunculus’s real selling point is the chance for self-discovery rather than the new car he insists is real.
Who is the true “you” that cowers inside the “you” you? Would only “you” know or would it take a construction of another “you” around others, strangers, so that you can visualize a goal and work to actualize achieving it? There’s a lot of philosophy at the center of Stanleyville, which mixes in dry sardonicism with a delightful aftertaste of misanthropy. It’s a recontextualized treatment of existentialism that figures in a kaleidoscope of human behavior which bends that opportunistic light given towards entitlement, greed, and hostility. Throughout the contest the competitors all generally construct their own endgame, planning for their own success or another’s failure.
Homunculus provides a much needed breath of fresh air whenever he’s on screen and presenting to the overly hellbent and frustrated competitors. He seems characteristically and humorously detached from the interpersonal drama between them all, as if he were putting this whole thing together merely for his own amusement. Nevertheless it’s hard not to smile every time he makes an announcement or even just talks to one of the contestants.
The contest is filled with various unconnected challenges, mostly verging on the nonsensical and Homunculus proves himself to be the least biased judge, even forgetting details about his own competition. Just as Maria figured on her own, this contest is everything she needs it to be and casually excels herself in many surprising ways, in the end discovering that she chose for herself what she needed most. The film takes some dark turns but always casts its net for those who deserve it next, and with its healthy sense of humor softens the blow against an argument for nihilism, despite how enticing it might seem these days. We all need a bright spot to focus on.
Stanleyville opens theatrically starting Friday, April 22nd in New York and other selected locations through Friday, May 6th.