Australian director Stuart Simpson’s last feature was the Russ Meyer infused creature feature, El Monstro Del Mar. With Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla, he takes it down a notch with this bleakly funny tale set in the suburbs of Melbourne.
Glenn Maynard plays Warren; a down trodden loner whose everyday alternates between selling ice cream to a modest crowd of druggies and pimps, and in the evening, swaddling himself in his favourite soap opera, Round the Block. He is a wreck of a man, who has just run over his cat when we first meet him. It’s a tough gig for an actor to be in every scene of a film and even tougher on the audience if there isn’t a hook for us. Eating his packed lunch at his beloved pet’s grave, you just want to protect him. This is in a large part down to Maynard who plays Warren with a gentleness that skewers the potential for buffoonery that other actors may have brought to the role.
The script by Addison Heath wants us to understand the cogs and wheels that turn inside Warren’s head and so introduces him to the world of video diaries. Starting off as banal declarations of love and summaries of the latest soap he’s watched, the diaries – which are weaved throughout the narrative – soon peel away the layers of this poor man’s soul. We’re introduced to a past life of bullying and loss, and like the rest of the film, whilst humour is there, it feels like it’s there to lessen the blow of the tragedy. It’s Warren’s cheerful tones, in particular, that disarm as he merrily tells us about the way he’s been used without really realising.
As the film progresses, Warren’s sanity begins to wane. It’s heartbreaking having to sit back and watch, as a man who can’t even handle his scheduled nightly viewing being interrupted by the footy, struggles to come to terms with the rot of the world outside his front door. There is an easy comparison to Taxi Driver to make here, and some critics already have, but that’s not what Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla is. Warren doesn’t want to go on a Travis Bickle rampage of violence. He just wants what we all want: Happiness and to be remembered. And for people to pay for their ice creams; single scoop with nuts – $3.70.
Simpson, Heath and Maynard have created a film that is equal parts sad, horrific and bitterly humorous. We sincerely hope this gets a decent general release. Lord knows, the cinema needs to see more of this kind of independent filmmaking.