Do your ‘wurst…
Kevin Smith was a late-comer to the world of American indie cinema. Jim Jarmusch had been in the trenches a decade, and Richard Linklater was a film or two into his career before Clerks was released. But where Smith pulled ahead of his colleagues was in the realm of the internet. He had a website and an internet “brand” long before social media was a thing. It helped the writer/director maintain a relationship with his audience between movies, and when the world of indie financing shifted out from underneath him, Smith was poised to do something different. He started a podcast empire, launching multiple shows with various co-hosts, and using social media to keep his fans informed even while he avoided spending time behind the camera. It didn’t take long until it felt like if podcasting had been an option back in 91 that Smith would never have picked up a camera in the first place. But ironically, it was podcasting that led Kevin Smith back to cinema. After using the audio-only platform to rehearse story ideas with his cohorts (primarily long-time producer Scott Mosier), Smith conceived his “True North” trilogy that started with Tusk and now continues with Yoga Hosers. It’s an odd film that’s aimed at Smith’s faithful, but its fitful construction works against even die-hard fans.
Remember the mouthy teenage convenience store clerks from Tusk? It was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, with Lily-Rose Depp and Harley Quinn Smith playing rude Canadian stereotypes, but they get their own movie here, where in between band practice and working at the convenience store they find out about Canadian Nazi’s and epic parties.
If we’re being honest, Kevin Smith’s gift has always been for character and dialogue. You could take the most outrageous plot elements out of his films (like sex with a dead guy in Clerks) and the characters and their unique way of talking would still make the films worth watching. That’s one of the reasons his podcasts can be so fun to listen to. When he’s riffing on characters with Scott Mosier, unencumbered by concerns about budget, Smith invents characters that sound crazy and fun. Like Guy LaPointe, the famous Canadian Mountie who proves so crucial in Tusk (played there and in Yoga Hosers by Johnny Depp).
The best thing about Yoga Hosers is that it translates a lot of that riffing energy from Smith’s conversations with Mosier into a film. The characters are all wacky and fun, from the rude teenagers in the convenience store to Justin Long’s spaced-out yoga instructor. The flow of these characters’ interaction owes something to Smith’s prior writing as they bounce from scene to scene, but it’s also pretty easy to detect the logic of Smith’s late-career adoption of weed in the mix.
Smith also deserves a bit of credit for pushing himself a bit with recent films. In the 90s, he was known as a guy who didn’t care about the look of his films. As long as the dialogue and performances were there, he was happy. But since Red State, Smith has been a bit bolder in his visual choices and his use of genre conventions. He continues that here with Yoga Hosers. Characters are introduced on-screen with a kind of video-game style screens (reminiscent of Scott Pilgrim Vs The World). The film also plays around a bit with flashbacks and other trickery that feels like a new addition to Smith’s repertoire.
The film’s Blu-ray release is presented pretty well. The 2.35:1/1080p transfer looks good. It’s encoded with MPEG-2 instead of the more usual AVC codec. Despite the use of a less popular codec and the film’s digital capture methods, the image is well-detailed, with no significant compression anomalies. Close-ups show plenty of resolution, and colors are generally bright and attractive. The black and white sequence that gives us some Canadian Nazi history showcases fine blacks and good contrast. The set’s Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is fine. Some fans will lament the lack of a lossless audio track, but what’s here does the job. Dialogue is always clean and clear. The music has some good dynamic range and clarity, but never really soars like the best audio tracks out there.
Extras start with an EPK-style featurette that runs eight minutes, and the film’s trailer. The featurette is fine, for what it is, including some decent interviews and footage. A DVD and Ultraviolet Digital Copy is included as well.
Kevin Smith is usually a garrulous presence in his home video releases, and it’s a tragedy that he’s not more present for this release. There’s no commentary, no significant interviews, no in-depth making-of. Not even excerpts from the podcast that inspired the film and birthed the term “yoga hosers.” Hopefully when Smith finishes his “True North Trilogy” with Moose Jaws he’ll be able to sit down and give fans the impressive special edition of all three films that they deserve.
The danger of smoking too much weed and starting all your films from improvising on a podcast is that they can take on the flavor of both those activities. Even without chemical assistance it’s easy to see the genius in tiny sausage Nazis called “Bratzis,” but Smith’s always-tenuous grasp on narrative drive has only been further eroded by all the smoking. That means that Yoga Hosers plays like a series of vignettes rather than a coherent narrative that builds to a satisfying conclusion. Many fans will want to take the journey anyway, but those not already fans of Smith’s brand of wackiness will probably find the lack of forward momentum and overly-stuffed moments to be a bit too much.
Yoga Hosers is a weird entry in Kevin Smith’s increasingly-odd catalog of films. It’s got a bit of visual invention, a few crazy moments, and some fun performances. But this brand of lunacy isn’t for everyone, and even Smith fans will find themselves tested by the weirdness this time out. The so-so Blu-ray release makes this one hard to recommend for more than a rental.