Sylvio (NR)

Comedy 80 min. November 10, 2017
By Danny King
A work of gentle whimsy and surprising pathos, Sylvio proposes a buddy-comedy scenario involving a most unlikely screen pair: Al Reynolds (Kentucker Audley), the meek host of a middling daytime talk show that he stages in his basement, and Sylvio (Albert Birney), a mild-mannered Baltimore gorilla holding down a job at a debt-collection agency. (He’s literally a gorilla, with Birney wearing a gorilla suit beneath his clothes.) Al's program, and Sylvio himself -- a character that Birney, who co-directed the movie with Audley, originated on the short-video platform Vine -- gain brief notoriety after an accidental cameo spurs a widespread demand for segments featuring Sylvio destroying household objects. (One clever tangent finds a local chandelier company initiating a sponsorship.)

But Sylvio’s true dreams as a creative are much more tranquil: His passion project is a series of hundreds of episodic shorts, presented under the name "The Quiet Times With Herbert Herpels," in which Sylvio shows the humble-looking hand puppet of the title enacting mundane tasks, like making toast. Birney and Audley have an impressive visual sense -- the smart framing and thrifty, ingenious production design (by Peter Davis) at times suggest a Wes Anderson–directed installment of Between Two Ferns -- and also the good sense to lean on Birney’s nuanced physical performance. Two generous shots lasting around 90 seconds depict Sylvio unwrapping a “Beefy-Boy” TV dinner and then attempting to switch on a light bulb, and are emblematic of the movie’s modest appeal: Birney plays the turn of the scene -- Sylvio throwing the lamp to the floor after the replacement bulb dies -- not as over-the-top absurdity but as a relatable expression of the strain of even the most boring aspects of everyday living.
Kentucker Audley, Albert Birney Sylvio Bernardi Kentucker Audley, Albert Birney, Meghan Doherty Factory 25

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