The Christmas movie genre is certainly not exempt from some mind-numbingly baffling stories; there's the death-filled Santa Clause trilogy, the convoluted Christmas Chronicles franchise, and presumably Charles Dickens got some weird looks when he first pitched a new holiday tale about three ghosts scaring an elderly man into not being such an asshole all the time. But arguably none of those hold a cinnamon-scented candle to Pottersville, the 2017 yuletide comedy that you very likely have never even heard of until this very moment.
Judging from the poster, you might expect Pottersville to be simply just another treacly dose of Hallmark-esque holiday pablum. But the artwork doesn't come close to communicating how surprisingly messed-up this movie is. For starters, the cast of actors adorning said poster isn’t what you'd expect from a schmaltzy Christmas movie; instead of Danica McKellar or Candace Cameron Bure, our lead character is played by 'ol granite-faced, murder-eyed Michael Shannon. His romantic interest is played by the criminally-underused Judy Greer, and the rest of the cast was seemingly plucked from a 2008 TV Guide; there's Mad Men's Christina Hendricks, Sons of Anarchy's Ron Perlman, Deadwood's Ian McShane and Thomas Lennon from Reno 911!
Of course, the film's title refers to the alternate reality version of Bedford Falls from It's a Wonderful Life for ... reasons? This particular Pottersville is undergoing economic troubles; the local mill has closed, and the town is in a state of both economic and emotional collapse. But the proprietor of the general store, Maynard Greiger, remains a kindhearted, do-gooding optimist. In one of our first clues that this movie is about to take a left turn into crazy-town, the George Bailey-esque hero is portrayed by Shannon -- who's a terrific actor, but can't help playing the role like a psycho killer who might rage-explode at the drop of a Santa hat. It's like remaking Miracle on 34th Street with Willem Dafoe as Kris Kringle.
When Maynard leaves work early to surprise his wife (Hendricks) with fresh elk meat, he discovers that she's having an affair with the town Sheriff (Perlman). Oh, and they're both secretly furries.
Just to reiterate, this is a Christmas movie in which Ron Perlman is caught humping a woman in a cartoon wolf costume. Maynard freaks out and promptly gets shitfaced on moonshine, at which point he devises a plan to win his wife back. This plan, of course, involves cobbling together a makeshift gorilla costume.
After drunkenly running around town dressed like an extra from a Planet of the Apes fan film, the locals come to believe that it was, in fact, the mythical beast Bigfoot. The formerly despondent townspeople are so excited by the newfound tourism and media attention their Bigfoot sightings have generated that Maynard decides to continue dressing up like King Kong's meth-head cousin. And in doing so, the citizens of Pottersville discover the true meaning of Christmas, for some goddamn reason.
And Maynard's wife, unsurprisingly, is super-into the idea of banging Sasquatch -- but she doesn't know that it's actually her husband in disguise, setting up a bizarre Lois Lane/Clark Kent/Superman-esque love triangle. Then Lennon shows up as a TV monster hunter with an Australian accent that can only be described as a crime against humanity. Thankfully we later find out that the accent is fake so it's likely an intentionally bad accent. In retrospect, maybe Disney could similarly add a scene revealing that Dick Van Dyke's Mary Poppins character was an American spy working undercover as a cockney chimney sweeper.
This is around the point when the movie segues into an extended reference to one of the greatest films of all-time: Steven Spielberg's Jaws. The town's resident grizzled badass Bart, played by McShane, offers to catch Bigfoot for a price, not unlike Quint the shark-hunter.
And so the tough guy, the Sheriff, and the softie outsider with a trunkful of gadgets go on a journey to catch the troublesome beast, and get hammered along the journey. Eventually they follow a mysterious noise into the middle of the woods where they discover ... some kind of outdoor orgy-like furry grope-fest. We ... don't think there's a Jaws analogue for this part.
Fearing that a lack of evidence will disappoint the town, Maynard heads out in the woods in his Bigfoot outfit once more. But because he's just a small-town store clerk and not a professional cryptozoological impersonator, he promptly gets shot and dragged back into town where his hoax is exposed. And the townspeople are pissed. Then the citizens of Pottersville later feel bad and gather in Maynard's store, not unlike the climax of It's a Wonderful Life -- except that, instead of chipping in money to keep him out of jail, they pay him back money they already owed, and offer half-hearted apologies for verbally abusing him earlier.
And as further evidence that this movie was written by a dude and directed by some other dude, the movie ends with this creepy loner torn between two beautiful women who want him desperately. He chooses Judy Greer over his wife and together they turn the old mill into a Bigfoot museum. At which point you may wonder what the hell any of this has to do with Christmas.
Pottersville has the distinction of holding a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics called it: "one of the worst Christmas movies ever made." So how did this goddamn thing ever get produced in the first place?
Well, it turns out that the writer and director are both old "buddies" of Michael Shannon's, and he was happy to help them "accomplish their dream in life." Which is sweet! The film was partly financed by SUNY Polytechnic Institute "enabled by New York state's film tax credit." This investment was part of the school's Central New York Film Hub, a studio near Syracuse built to "attract filmmakers to central New York."
Funding Pottersville was meant to kickstart "the film industry in upstate New York" but it was later discovered that the state university actually lost $750,000 on their investment in Pottersville. Ultimately, the $15 million Film Hub was sold off for just one dollar (presumably to the Robocop guy). That's a lot of collateral damage for what began as the simple story of an ordinary man getting drunk and dressing up as a gorilla in order to seduce his unfaithful wife on Jesus' birthday. Merry Christmas, we guess?
Top Image: Echo Bridge