For the first half-hour of Mangoshake, I was convinced it was a potential cult classic, the kind of unfairly overlooked no-budget gem that falls through the cracks of festival circuit & self-publishing distribution when it should be making laps at midnight movie slots in every major city. I was sad to lose that excitement as the film continued. Mangoshake is a textbook case of “This should have been a short,” since it has no interest in changing up its methods or sense of purpose after its characters & setting are established in the first act. There comes a point in a lot of movies (especially comedies) where the excitement of entering a new world starts to dull and the story & dialogue need to actually earn every minute of the runtime that follows. Capping your film off at under 40 minutes is an easy way around that necessity, but the problem is that nobody really goes out of their way to watch shorts (unless they’re included as a pre-feature primer at a festival or your friend is the director and begs for clicks on their Vimeo). In that way, I’m glad Mangoshake pushes on to feature length long after it has anything meaningful left to do or say, because I likely never would have given it a chance otherwise and it really is an endearing vision of youthful chaos in its opening stretch.
To the film’s credit, its lack of purpose or narrative momentum registers as being intentional. It functions as a middle finger to the clichéd film fest circuit coming-of-age comedy as a genre, dedicated to “every person who watches a coming of age movie and feels worse after.” The premise is written-on-a-bar-napkin simple: a group of late-teens losers waste a summer hanging around a mango smoothie stand. That’s it. Some romantic jealousies and petty rivalries arise around this low-stakes set-up, but the movie is actively disinterested in pursuing them. In fact, it’s prideful to not explore any one thread that could complicate its central scenario with emotion or meaning, instead fully dedicating itself to evoking the sunbaked boredom of post-high school summers. When a love triangle threatens to form, the mango smoothie stand’s operator interrupts on a bullhorn to chide “This is not Degrassi!”, immediately cutting the tension. When the stand’s cofounder breaks off the friendship that inspired the mango smoothie business in the first place, he only goes as far to open a rival chow mein stand mere feet away from his ex-bestie, so that they’re practically still hanging out. It’s an aggressively purposeless, inert film, which is amusing until it isn’t.
Mangoshake almost gets away with its directionless slackerdom the way a lot of films do: it’s funny. Every character reads their mundane, petty dialogue about go-nowhere romances and subpar mango smoothies with explosively nervous energy, as if the crew’s acting coach was the Chester puppet from The Sifl and Ollie Show. There’s also a distinct Jackass-flavored pranksterism that occasionally cuts through their anxious mumbling, often with an eardrum-destroying spike in volume. It’s as if the film is actively making fun of its own existence, like it resents having to go through the motions of the coming-of-age comedy template just so it can tell some inside jokes. The charm of that bratty insolence can only carry it so far, though. I still laugh every time I watch Paul Rudd throw a sassy temper tantrum about having to clear his cafeteria tray in Wet Hot American Summer, but I doubt I’d ever revisit the film if that were the central gag in every scene. Mangoshake made me laugh quite a bit before my enthusiasm waned. After that point, I was just waiting for it to be over, like a sweaty summer where nothing interesting’s happening and all my friends are on their worst behavior.
I wish I could be more enthusiastic about Mangoshake as an overlooked gem. It’s the exact kind of no-budget D.I.Y. filmmaking I strive to champion. It’s a film that seemingly doesn’t want to be loved (or to even exist), though, and I have to respect that self-loathing thorniness for what it is. It likely could be edited down into a tidy little summertime prank comedy at half its length, but then it would no longer be its misanthropic, Indie Film-spoofing self and might lose some of its charm in the process. It’s probably best that it’s imperfect and overlong, then, even if that quality keeps the audience at an arm’s distance.