Perhaps, “Mother Schmuckers” wants to be a cult film. Or maybe it wants to be “Dumb and Dumber” for a new generation. Applying either motive would be a compliment to a film that hopelessly achieves neither. The 2021 Sundance selection is mostly a series of hijinks, both dumb and obscene, poorly masquerading as jokes for an hour and 10 minutes. There’s a light plot hidden underneath layers of antics, essentially obscuring it, reminding one of those higher-brow indie films where nothing really happens (“Slacker,” “Amelie,” etc.) But don’t take that as a value comparison—unlike those actual cult films, “Mother Schmuckers” lived and died at Sundance.
The Belgian-made film follows the exploits of Zabulon and Issachar, two aimless brothers in their twenties with the mental capacity of overgrown teenagers. They’re still emotionally and financially dependent on their mother and spend their time wandering the streets of Brussels, getting into trouble, and dragging others down with them. At one point, they’re given a handgun by a friend and proceed to run through crowded streets with it, aiming the gun recklessly at each other until they accidentally blow a hole through a homeless man’s hand. It’s pretty obvious they’re very unpopular in their community. The boys are also starving, both thematically and literally; their mother, Cashmere, is a sex worker who refuses to go back to work, and the brothers spend most of their time scavenging for food.
Karma finally comes back to bite them when they lose their mother’s beloved dog, January Jack. Cashmere grants them an ultimatum: find JJ or move out, forcing the brothers into a journey that often leads them in danger’s way. Although, actual danger is never felt since even their enemies seem to be in on the joke. The eclectic cast of characters after Zabulon and Issachar all inhabit the same bizarro world as them and therefore mirror their recklessness. The brothers “narrowly” escape a bestial orgy, an angry grocery store employee holding them hostage, and a mob that flips over their car. General incompetence abounds, providing the movie’s sense of conflict.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the movie’s best joke. It’s probably the foolish dance the brothers do after being forced into a random person’s music video or the lost gun that resurfaces during it. But because there’s little reason behind many of the things happening here, the humor is cast adrift into an amorphous body of silliness.
Offensiveness and crudity is the name of the game in “Mother Schmuckers.” A particularly brutal, ongoing joke is the treatment of the brothers’ thankless mother. Cashmere is hardly coherent the entire film but is clearly tired of her sons and everyone around her. She hides from her boss/pimp and is literally dragged back to work against her will. She’s harassed on a few occasions by two different male pursuers. At the end of “Mother Shmuckers,” she dies of shock after perhaps the film’s most impactful antic involving her precious JJ. Attacks against Cashmere and her body are meant as a recurring joke. The film’s title in its original French is “Fils de Plouc” which roughly translates to “sons of a hick.” It’s perhaps a play on the insult fils de pute, which means “son of a whore.” Of course, the producers can’t use a vulgar curse in the title, but the implication is clear.
The issue isn’t whether these jokes are distasteful; that’s kind of the point. To its credit, “Mother Shmuckers” consistently pursues a brand of no-holds-barred comedy and knows what style it’s after, but it isn’t done remarkably. To a novice of the gross-out comedy, the gags don’t feel original or ingenious enough to inspire further exploration of the genre. In the end, “Mother Schmuckers” will have to do with a very niche audience.