What does a bachelor’s degree in art history get you in today’s economy? A hundred thousand dollars worth of debt and a dismal, soul-crushing day job. That is, unless you’re lucky enough to stumble upon a magic teapot.
Alice (Juno Temple) and John Macy (Michael Angarano) are a young couple financially underwater and desperately out of hope. She’s a recent college graduate unable to get a job, and he’s a telemarketer who can’t close deals. The pair have barely enough food to survive and live in a shabby house managed by their former classmate and long-time bully Arnie (Billy Magnussen). They are constantly belittled by their in-laws, their former classmates and their employers.
Their circumstances change, however, when Alice discovers an ancient teapot that produces cash whenever the couple hurts one another. Thus begins a quest where Alice and John must discover how far they are willing to go in order to achieve the American dream.
Though The Brass Teapot is Ramaa Mosley’s first feature, it feels as if it’s steered by a much more experienced hand. The story is set up and unfolds in a very subtle, nuanced manner that enriches each reveal. Though the story is sweet, Mosley mostly avoids sentimentalism and keeps the plot grounded, despite the supernatural elements.
The cast is charming. As Alice, Juno Temple seems like something of a mix between a young Renée Zellweger and Jennifer Lawrence. Michael Anagarano, who plays John, manages to find specificity and truth in situations that might throw a less talented actor.
However, the film is, in many ways, racist. There are crowbar-wielding Hasidic jews and Chinese doctors with mystic powers and offensively stereotypical accents. It’s meant to be funny, and in some moments it is, but mostly it takes the viewer out of the story. With situations increasingly outrageous, Mosley might have been better served by presenting her supporting characters as honestly as possible instead of seeking cheap laughs with two-dimensional caricatures.
On top of this, there’s a strange endorsement of gender stereotypes. Alice stays home so she can pursue a degree in art history while John works to support her. Alice’s rival, Payton, is portrayed as vapid and shallow—successful and beautiful only because her father gave her a high-paying job and paid for cosmetic surgery. Alice’s sister, Mary (Lucy Walters), encourages her to find happiness in pregnancy, which both she and John initially mock. Yet the final scene of the movie reveals that Alice has indeed become pregnant and through this act found freedom and happiness. The non-ironic glorification of this role seems to speak to an out-dated perspective about the role of women as housewives and child bearers.
Along with its occasionally racist and outdated undertones, The Brass Teapot does critique the American dream and touch on the struggles of youth in today’s economy. Overall, the film is an enjoyable experience that follows the rules it sets up in the beginning as it travels an interesting and unconventional path to a satisfying conclusion.
Director: Ramaa Mosley
Writer: Tim Macy
Stars: Juno Temple, Michael Angarano, Alexis Bledel
Release Date: April 5th