Directed by Andrew Lawton
Starring Ted Lewis, Jeremy Folmer & Sara Antkowiak
Short Film Review by Chris Olson
Family pets often make for some of the most heartwarming, poignant stories that translate to film fantastically. Not only do audiences connect with characters that resemble their own loved ones, but the perilous journeys which can ensue when a pet gets lost are regularly filled with all the ingredients of a great movie, such as: action, adventure and danger. Not to mention the satisfying feeling during the inevitable reuniting which, when done right, should shed a bucket load of tears (damn you Homeward Bound). Andrew Lawton’s comic short film, Have You Seen Calvin?, comes at this beloved genre with a rather unorthodox twist. Instead of a fluffy house cat or wise cracking dog, this family’s pet is an S&M gimp (yup, you read that right).
At the beginning of Have You Seen Calvin? we are introduced to a family that look like a 2.4 version of The Brady Bunch stepping right out of the 50s. Their white picket lifestyle and idyllic homelife appears to be a poster of normality, if you needed one to promote the American Dream. The only sign of strangeness in this otherwise picture perfect family is their pet gimp Calvin (Ted Lewis), who crawls the house like a dog in a fetching leather outfit, complete with gimp ball and spanking paddles. When Calvin goes missing, the family are distraught, losing a cherished member of their homestead. Meanwhile, the eyes of Calvin the gimp are opened to a whole new world, as he tourists around the sights and explores The Big Apple.
Viewers may initially write this off as simple gimmickry (or gimpickry if you will), thinking that throwing something as odd as a sadomasochist enthusiast into the role of a family pet is enough to make a film, but Lawton’s story does journey into an entertaining yarn that treads steady, if familiar, paths. Calvin is a genuinely interesting character that is delivered sympathetically, with Lewis making the most out of facial expressions and body movement. The father character, played terrifically by Jeremy Folmer, is also a bit of a scene stealer, serving up some well crafted lines about the perils Calvin faces in the real world.
It seems an odd thing to have to mention the tone in a film starring a gimp as a pet, but there is a slightly jarring atmosphere to Lawton’s film which, ironically, is not due to the S&M character. It actually comes from the confusing mix of 50’s American family values with the modern elements of society. In the original cut of the film I saw, the complex mix between 50s and present day was completely confusing. It was difficult to immerse yourself into the film’s environment when you keep being given such conflicting tones. The newer cut explains the family is actually living in the present day. This felt disappointing still, as it was enough to have Calvin as a catalyst for the movie, and the whole thing could have existed as a period piece, rather than a cocktail of genres and aesthetic choices that only really existed to highlight the dramatic contrast.
That being said, Lawton shows utter prowess when it comes to comic delivery. This film has a razor sharp script from Lawton himself that will tickle viewers like a feather on your undercarriage, and the timing of scenes is a perfect pace. In particular the editing of Calvin’s montage through the city, which delivers some brilliant laughs without overstaying its welcome.
Short film comedies are difficult to thread a narrative into, and the final result can often resemble a sketch from a much larger piece. Fortunately, Have You Seen Calvin? operates with a naughty and nice balance, between jaw-dropping antics and an engaging plot. Like being spanked with a good book.