sundance 2016

Yoga Hosers Is Vintage Kevin Smith, for Better or Worse

Harley Quinn Smith and Lily-Rose Melody Depp, two people who will never have to work in a convenience store. Photo: Destro Films

Yoga Hosers is the best film Kevin Smith has made in a long time, which admittedly isn’t saying much. But this new cult comedy-thriller may well represent a turning point for the writer-director. In recent years, Smith has strayed from the ambling, lo-fi talk-fests of his early career (Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, etc.) into tongue-in-cheek shlock. The work hasn’t been without interest (I still maintain that 2014’s Tusk, while not good, is the director’s personal nightmare about losing his voice), but it’s also been pretty rough going. Even the most ironic cult movie needs a little suspense, and Kevin Smith doesn’t do suspense; he doesn’t do a lot of things. But Yoga Hosers brings back the thing that he does do well. It’s a variation on the old Smith voice — callow, withholding, stupid, and funny — but it blends that with some of those midnight-movie shenanigans he clearly can’t let go of. It will probably be widely hated. But sue me; I found it is a surprisingly fun, bizarre hybrid.

Back in the day, Smith’s young, chatty characters were supremely annoying, but, like a friend who makes the same idiotic joke over and over again until it just becomes its own dumb, funny little thing, they could win you over. In Yoga Hosers, two young Manitoba convenience-store clerks (Harley Quinn Smith, the director’s daughter, and Lily-Rose Melody Depp, the daughter of co-stars Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis), both named Colleen, spend their days wasting time behind the counter, Instagramming everything and everybody they come across, taking yoga classes with an overzealous, pretentious yogi (Justin Long, funny), closing the store temporarily so they can rock out in back with a 35-year-old drummer named Ichabod (Adam Brody). “Soorry aboot that” seems to be their mock-apologetic mantra whenever something goes wrong at the store. (The store, by the way, is called the Eh-2-Zed. The film is filled with “eh”s and “aboot”s and disses on Canada — pretty much the easiest laughs in the world to get, but again, Smith’s commitment to the gag eventually becomes its own thing.) The Colleens’ other mantra, when things don’t go their way? “That’s so basic.”

It’s interesting having two young girls do a variation on the signature roles of Smith’s career. Their gags are less ironic than those of Clerks and Mallrats. Those old Smith slackers held the world back with their quips; there was something confrontational about their demeanor. These girls don’t confront anything. They appear to be on another wavelength entirely, transmitting their thoughts and feelings via social media (with emoji and exclamation points and hearts all over the place), as if it were a different dimension. There’s nothing realistic about the performances, either. If Smith’s previous films existed in a quotation-marks world, this one’s a quote inside a quote. Though it presents itself as being from the perspective of two teenage girls, it’s hard not to feel as if it’s really the perspective of an adult, bewildered at how alien these girls’ world seems to be.

There are a lot of little plot elements swirling around Yoga Hosers, few of them ever developed enough to really seize our attention. The Colleens are invited to a grade-12 party with a local hunk (Austin Butler) and his gastrointestinally troubled best friend (Tyler Posey). Their high-school yoga teacher (who takes exception to their yoga snobbery) confiscates their phones, leading to a minor nervous breakdown. Vanessa Paradis goes on a long, bizarre digression about the history of Nazism in Canada (prompting a funny flashback featuring Haley Joel Osment as Canada’s answer to Hitler). Meanwhile, people have been discovering body parts strewn around Winnipeg for months. The two Colleens also made a brief appearance in the earlier Tusk, and are visited by the Quebecois investigator Guy LaPointe from that film. The latter is played once again by Johnny Depp under heavy makeup and a ridiculous accent, but while his appearance was one of the most irritating elements of Tusk, he’s unexpectedly funny here.

Yoga Hosers is reportedly part of a planned trilogy that began with Tusk, although it’s quite different from the previous film in tone and effect. Still, it, too, eventually dissolves into genre silliness, as the Eh-2-Zed is attacked by a small army of deadly, homuncular foot-tall Nazi sausages called Brat-Zis that like to go up people’s rectums (don’t ask [they’re played by Kevin Smith {no, really, don’t ask}]). But unlike Tusk or Red State, there’s little attempt to disturb, or gross out, or evoke suspense, or even make a statement. For once, it feels like Smith can actually indulge in the utter, idiotic silliness of his premise. The Brat-Zi scenes are gruesome and random, but also hilarious.

Does he want the film to have some deeper meaning? Who knows? There are some digs at critics, which will probably get some people talking, but they’re done in a good-natured way. More than anything, you sense that this is a filmmaker having fun, which is an element Smith’s work has been missing for some time. If you hate Kevin Smith movies, you’ll want to steer a hundred miles clear of Yoga Hosers. But get on its curious wavelength, and you might be startled at how much it makes you laugh.

Sundance Review: Kevin Smith’s Yoga Hosers