"Saturday Night Live" spawned many a memorable comic character, some of whom were exploited in feature films. While "The Coneheads" proved to be popular on the big screen, other TV-to-cinema transfers of iconic "SNL" pop culture figures proved to be duds. Al Franken's memorable incarnation of Stuart Smalley was the subject of "Stuart Saves His Family", a 1995 production directed by Harold Ramis that received some surprisingly favorable reviews but ended up with a North American boxoffice gross of less than $1 million. That ranks as a major success compared to "It's Pat: The Movie", released the prior year and starring Julia Sweeney as the androgynous character that proved to be a popular staple of "SNL" during this period. Pat was a visually unattractive figure with an obnoxious manner of speaking that repulsed his/her coworkers, who were constantly striving to discover whether Pat was a male or female. Inevitably, Pat would provide unintentionally ambiguous answers to leading questions that would only heighten the mystery and thwart those who were seeking to unveil Pat's genetic makeup. As the subject of five-minute comedy sketches the concept worked great and Sweeney's Pat became a popular staple of the show. Then Hollywood came knocking. Fox approached Sweeney to turn the concept into a feature film. Sweeney admitted she couldn't envision how Pat could remain interesting to viewers in any format other than TV skits. After putting some development money into the film, Fox agreed and backed off only to have Disney's Touchstone Pictures ride to the rescue and give the production the green light. The result was a disaster. The film was given some sporadic openings only to be pulled within a week due to complete rejection by audiences. The movie's boxoffice gross in North America stands at $61,000. Although modestly-budgeted, the movie still had cost more than $10 million to make. Time has not been kind to dear Pat, as it boasts a Rotten Tomatoes score of 0%. Now those brave souls at Kino Lorber have released a Blu-ray of "Pat: The Movie" and, consequently, it's time to revisit the film.
The plot (such as it is) opens with Pat alienating everyone in his/her orbit with obnoxious behavior. A local store owner gives Pat items for free just to expedite his/her departure. Pat tries various career moves but inevitably loses every job due to ineptness. Just when things seem hopeless, Pat finds love with Chris (Dave Foley in a role originated by Dana Carvey on "SNL"), another androgynous individual. The two set up house together and live as a normal couple, though both seem blissfully unaware that their sexuality is a mystery to those around them. Are they a straight couple? A gay couple? Two men? Two women? A subplot is introduced in which a hunky new neighbor, Kyle (Charles Rocket) and his wife Stacy (Julie Hayden) find their lives disrupted by Kyle's increasing obsession with Pat. He is sexually attracted to him/her, much to the alarm of Stacy, and that attraction turns into a psychological mania that finds Kyle dressing like Pat and even stroking a doll that resembles him/her. Meanwhile, the hapless Pat blunders into some successful career steps by making an appearance with a rock band that leads to him/ her becoming a media sensation. When he/she drops by a radio station to visit a friend, Kathy (Kathy Griffin), who hosts a popular romantic advice show, Pat unintentionally upstages her and gets the hosting gig. Pat's success has alienated Chris, who breaks up the relationship and decides to move abroad. The finale finds Pat coming to grips with his/her faults and making a mad dash to a cruise ship line to prevent Chris from leaving the country.
The animosity extended to "Pat: The Movie", which was directed by
Adam Bernstein, is a bit difficult to understand. It isn't very good, to
be sure, but it's amusing at times and never veers into the overtly
offensive gross-out humor that characterizes many of today's comedies.
One of the main problems with the film is that there are no sympathetic
characters. I don't recall Pat being an overt narcissist on the "SNL"
sketches but here the character is mean-spirited, self-centered and
devoid of any likable behavior. Kyle is even more repulsive and barely
looks up when his wife leaves him. Now this is an absurdist comedy, to
be sure, but the best comedies allow the audience to relate to the
protagonists on some level. Jerry Lewis and Jim Carrey played klutzes
but they were klutzes you could cheer for. Not so with Sweeney's Pat.
Additionally, Sweeney's fears that the one-note concept could not be
sustained over the course of a feature film proved correct. Even with
the running time of 77 minutes, the movie plods. Still, there are some
genuine laughs, most of them centered on the traditional gag of those
around Pat becoming increasingly frustrated by their failure to
determine his/her sex. When Pat and Chris are presented with a gift of a
sexy corset, they both smile wryly and say "We'll enjoy this!"
There is also some genuine amusement in Pat's physical appearance, a
kind of grotesque version of Jerry Lewis's Prof. Kelp from "The Nutty
Professor". But the laughs are too few even for the abbreviated running
time. There also some annoyances that are due to simple sloppiness: when
Pat tries to escape a pursuer, she randomly enters a building only to
find the place is a night club hosting a packed, on-going, ear-splitting
rock concert taking place apparently in the middle of the afternoon. Such absurdities leave one to think that the film was slapped together quickly in order to make a fast buck.
Julia Sweeney tragically faced more challenges than the complete
failure of "It's Pat" with critics and the public. Around the time of
the film's release, her brother was diagnosed with a terminal illness.
After caring for him, she was diagnosed with cancer. Sweeney beat the
disease and made lemonade from the lemons life had handed her when she
wrote and starred in her acclaimed one-woman play, "God Said Hah!" which
chronicled her personal trials and tribulations through a comedic lens.
(The play would later be the basis for a documentary.) Her co-star
Charles Rocket fared worse, committing suicide in 2005. However, most of
those associated with the debacle of "It's Pat" found their careers
survived. Director Adam Bernstein went on to a highly successful career
in television. Dave Foley continues to work steadily in TV and films and
Kathy Griffin emerged as a popular standup comedienne and pundit on CNN
until her increasingly foul-mouthed rants backfired, topped by sending
around an image on social media depicting her holding the bloody,
severed head of President Trump. That stunt achieved the distinction of
being denounced by even the president's most ardent critics and Griffin
lost her CNN gig.
"It's Pat" opened and closed before the age of E mail and social
media had taken the world by storm. It's failure today would have been
the stuff of snarky jokes and cynical criticisms of all those involved.
However, because the film wasn't highly anticipated, it's failure
occurred without much notice or damage to anyone's personal reputation. There's plenty of laughs left in dear Pat but they can mostly be found in the original "SNL" skits.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray has an impressive transfer, a teaser trailer
for the film and a gallery of other comedies available through the