Directed by: Nick Tomnay
Written by: Nick Tomnay & Stacey Testro
Starring: David Hyde Pierce, Clayne Crawford, Helen Reddy
I never watched Frasier because it looked like the most boring TV show ever made (and it still does). So although I knew who David Hyde Pierce was, aside from his voice performance in A Bug’s Life, I was completely deprived of the joy and experience of watching this immensely talented, four-time Emmy award-winning actor perform weekly in my college living room. Since Frasier, David Hyde Pierce (or DHP) has found a second career in theater, earning himself a Tony award to place right next to his four Emmys. The Perfect Host marks his first time back on screen since Frasier ended and it could not be a more appropriate return for the actor.
The Perfect Host is Australian director Nick Tomnay’s first feature film, which prompted me to wonder how he managed to snag a talent like DHP to star in his movie. The Perfect Host actually began as a short film in 2001. The short apparently won some awards and attracted attention. Tomnay then began working on expanding his story to be a feature film, and after a few promising production and distribution deals failed to pan out, Tomnay finally had a chance to realize his vision. Tomnay generated a wish list of actors to play the story’s main role and at the top of that list was DHP. Although I don’t know how Tomnay attracted DHP’s attention and interest, Tomnay’s background in commercials and music videos undoubtedly opened up a few doors for him to reach out to people like DHP.
It is going to be very difficult for me to meaningfully discuss The Perfect Host without getting into its spoilers. To prevent any of you loyal readers from accidentally discovering these spoilers, I have reserved all discussion of the spoilers following the huge alert below. The Perfect Host begins with John Taylor (Clayne Crawford), a fugitive who has just robbed a bank. Thinking he has gotten away free, Taylor instead discovers to his dismay that the authorities have his full identity and he’s now wanted. Taylor begins to frantically seek refuge and finds himself in a quiet L.A. residential neighborhood. He picks a random house to hide out in and he sifts through the house’s mail to create an excuse to be invited inside. The house belongs to Warwick Wilson (David Hyde Pierce), a single man who is preparing a dinner party for his friends. Taylor bullshits his way inside by making Wilson believe that Taylor knows Wilson’s friend. However, Taylor eventually finds out that Wilson is not the naïve and kind stranger who took him in, but is in fact, a deeply disturbed serial killer.
I think it is fair to say that Niles ended up being the most popular character on Frasier and even for those, like me, who were not fans of the show, DHP’s performance as Niles was respected. The character of Warwick Wilson is essentially a disturbed, maniacal version of Niles. Like Niles, Wilson is highly educated, cultured, and he appreciates the finer things in life. This character starts off being just like Niles, but once we are introduced to the crazy side of him, you will never see DHP in the same way again. There are moments of humor and creepiness that displays the full range of acting DHP is so wonderfully capable of handling. Every actor has what can be described as a ‘calling card’ performance and so far, The Perfect Host is it for DHP.
It is very easy to write off Clayne Crawford as another pretty boy actor who merely plays second fiddle to DHP. However, such a dismissal would be a huge disservice to Crawford’s impressive performance. He certainly has the less flashy role, but he brings an intensity to his role that is fitting for the roughneck criminal that he is supposed to be at the beginning of the movie. Crawford reminds me very much of Ray Liotta in both appearance and acting style, and he needs just that one breakout performance to really put him in the public sphere.
SPOILERS AHEAD SPOILERS AHEAD SPOILERS AHEAD
Some filmmakers have made a career out of telling stories with plot twists in them. Christopher Nolan (Memento, Inception) and M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Signs, The Village) are prime examples. Nonetheless, it is very difficult these days to surprise an audience. They have seen every trick in the book when it comes to plot twists and even for those they have not seen, they can usually figure out what the twist is going to be halfway through the film. To make a filmmaker’s job even harder, you cannot have your plot twist occur without giving a few clues to the audience before the twist. Otherwise, audiences will call bullshit and say you are cheating. Put simply, the American audience is a sophisticated son of a bitch.
Like any first time filmmaker, Nick Tomnay is not afraid to throw caution to the wind and risk falling flat on his face. Despite what I just described about the finicky U.S. audience, Tomnay takes every character and the entire plot of the movie and up ends it in a bizarrely unexpected and delightful way. For one, we learn that John Taylor did not simply rob a bank to get rich. He did it to pay for the medical attention his girlfriend apparently needs. We discover that even that is not true – the girlfriend lied to Taylor about being sick to use him to rob the bank and get rich!
As for Warwick Wilson, he is still maniacal, but he is not a murderous one. Throughout John Taylor’s ordeal inside Wilson’s home, Taylor is beaten (true), drugged (true), and sliced up (not true). Wilson makes it clear that by 3:00 A.M., he will finally slice Taylor’s throat and leave him out in the alleyway. He does so…sort of. Taylor awakens the next morning in the alleyway wondering why he isn’t dead and finds out that all the “bruises and cuts” on his body are theater makeup! Wilson also turns out to be a police detective who…drum roll…is assigned to investigate the recent bank robbery that Taylor committed.
Critics have dismissed The Perfect Host for its implausibility and twist overkill. I can certainly understand those sentiments – the filmmaker is asking us to suspend any notions of logic and plausibility when he finally leads us through all the twists and turns contained in the second half of his film. However, such a critique can only be held against this film if you expected The Perfect Host to somehow be a realistic portrayal of what it would be like for a bank robber to be held hostage by a crazy person. The filmmaker obviously did not intend his story to be realistic and you can tell that simply from his outlandish setup.
If there is anything worthy of criticizing in The Perfect Host, I wish we saw less of Warwick Wilson’s delusional imaginary dinner party friends. I did not so much mind a few such scenes (e.g. the dance sequence), but too much of Wilson and Taylor’s interaction was seen through Wilson’s perspective. The film also suffers from a poor supporting cast of actors whose characters are underdeveloped and totally forgettable. This is especially noticeable with Wilson’s imaginary friends.
The Perfect Host is a wildly entertaining comic thriller (that also contains a nice music score by John Swihart – the complete score can be heard here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7nyLdYAhM_M) that marks a strong start for first time feature director Nick Tomnay. Although this film depends very heavily on the talents of its two lead actors, especially DHP, I would be curious to watch Tomnay’s next film to see whether he truly has any writing and directing talents that do not depend on a single strong performance.