Last Supper, Directed by Param Gill
The story of Last Supper is as incredible as the film’s plot line, and the career of its director reads like a modern American dream. Param Gill, an award-winning Indian-American filmmaker and the writer and director of the 2014 independent Hollywood film Last Supper, boasts successes in independent film that are international in scope, from Hollywood to Bollywood. But his first steps into the industry were modest.
Born in Moga, Punjab, where his father was a farmer, Gill traveled to the United States in May of 2001 to attend dental school. Penniless and ambitious, he worked his way through a joint masters degree at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and the New Jersey Institute of Technology by working night shifts at gas stations. By 2004 he was a practicing dentist in Northern California, where he quickly became affectionately known as ‘the Story Dentist’ for the stories that he told to his patients to make their visits less stressful. He says that while telling one of his stories, a patient told him that it would make a great film – it would soon become Gill’s first short film, Shell Shocked Hope.
Proud of the honorary title of ‘Story Dentist’ and inspired to learn more about film, he took a leave from his dentistry career and enrolled in the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles, where he received a diploma in filmmaking in 2005. His first film premiered at his local movie theatre in Modesto, California for all his patients; with thunderous applause, they demanded an encore. ‘That was the light bulb moment for me’, Gill said in an interview with CNN. ‘Somehow it verified that yes, I can tell a story’. He was hooked.
Gill’s films include Rockin’ Meera, Hotel Hollywood, DOA: Death of Amar, and most recently, Last Supper. DOA and Last Supper both premiered at the 22nd San Francisco Global Movie Festival in 2014, making Gill the first director to premiere both a Hollywood and a Bollywood film in the same year at the festival (DOA was produced in Bollywood, Last Supper in Hollywood). DOA came away with the festival’s Audience Choice Award, while Last Supper was showered with its own set of awards, including Best Film, Best Actress and Best Actor for two of the film’s lead roles, and Best Editor for the work of Ludmil Kazakov; Gill was awarded Best Director and a $100,000 cash prize for his work.
Last Supper’s star-studded cast includes Eddie Griffin (Malcolm & Eddie, Undercover Brother, Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo), Josh Meyers (Mad TV, Date Movie, That ‘70s Show, Brüno, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon), Najarra Townsend (Me and You and Everyone We Know, Contracted, The Toy Soldiers), and none other than Penny Marshall (as herself). (Lindsay Lohan was originally offered a part as well.) The combination of familiar faces and recognisable Hollywood-style comedic structure makes Last Supper a distinctive work in the independent film world.
Fumnanya (Griffin) and Andy (Meyers) escape from a psychiatric hospital intending to make a movie about a romantic quest to rescue a princess — with the intention of being rewarded for their efforts with a kiss. Fumnanya leads the way, intent to find the right woman to rescue. The women of Los Angeles whom they meet are near universal in their rejection of Fumnanya’s advances, which result in incredulous laughs and occasional slaps across the face. There is one woman receptive to their strange charm, however: she goes by Candy (Townsend).
Though Fumnanya doesn’t realise it, Candy is very clearly a sex worker. Adorned in a luxurious fur coat and a tight-fitting black dress, she casually walks down a dark street of Los Angeles when Andy and Fumnanya catch up with her. ‘That is our princess’, Fumnanya tells Andy, ‘I am sure of it. She looks like she needs to be saved.’
In a way, Fumnanya is right: Candy finds herself in a difficult situation, constantly hounded for money by her pimp and driven by despair to the brink of suicide. The friends’ quest and her own quickly become intertwined.
The film is funny – no small achievement. By the end you will find yourself caring for the protagonists more than you might expect. The absurdity of their quest, their good intentions, and their big hearts have a certain charm. The dark, comedic relationship that develops between Candy, Andy, and Fumnanya creates depth to the film, exploring Candy’s unfolding despair and the deepening empathy of the two friends that accompanies it.
The film never loses sight of its own absurdity, however, and it is first and foremost a comedy. The absurd characters involved, including the hospital’s psychiatrist (Joe Sabatino), his lover, Nurse Betty (Mindy Robinson), and Candy’s grandmother (Christine Kellogg-Darrin) – the last of whom looks remarkably like Jodie Foster – make the drama delightfully ridiculous. The characters are deeply flawed, and their absurd interactions are fun to watch. The film bears the unmistakable marks of modern Hollywood, including absurd humour, wacky and shallow characters, unnecessary nudity, and a formulaic fairy tale plot. By being predictable, the film is also reassuring – it is comforting in its adherence to the inevitable Hollywood ending.
There are unfortunate dark sides to the film’s plot, however; and despite the film’s self-conscious absurdity, the premises of the narrative deserve serious critique. The jokes whose punchlines depend on the apparent mental illness of the protagonists, or on Fumnanya’s foreign name, are tasteless and uncomfortable. They feel like they’ve been lifted from another era. Fumnanya speaks with a heavy foreign accent, which apparently makes this mentally ill character even funnier. (Fumnanya, by the way, is a feminine name in Igbo. Is it also supposed to be funny that he’s a man with a woman’s name?)
Sometimes these jokes appropriately reflect the comic stupidity of the people speaking them, such as when Andy’s and Fumnanya’s quack-of-a-psychiatrist tells the chief of police that his two escaped patients are suffering from ‘sexual delusions’; or when the police chief refers to them as ‘loonies’; or when Candy asks condescendingly about Fumnanya, ‘is he retarded?’ (to which Andy provides the uncomfortable response: ‘Borderline.’). But more often it appears that the film takes these comedic premises seriously. The film’s trailer calls them ‘madmen’ who ‘escape from a hospital’. Whilst inside the psychiatric facility, Fumnanya and his fellow patients drool on themselves and shuffle around like stuporous zombies. It’s a grotesque parody of mental illness, and it is in these moments when the humour becomes psychophobic, mentalist, ableist – and in the case of Fumnanya’s exaggerated exoticism – xenophobic. Revolting, in other words. And certainly unfunny.
Still, the film succeeds in many respects. It has the impressive scope of a Hollywood film with the budget of an independent one. Humour is not easy, and neither are lovable characters, and this film has both. The editing (by Ludmil Kazakov) and cinematography (by Rudy Harbon) are smooth, the music (composed by Thomas Andrew Gallegos) fits delightfully with the plot, and the actors give professional performances. The awards that the film has already won testify to the quality of the crew’s execution and to the abilities of the film’s director. Param Gill is Hollywood’s next big independent filmmaker. It will be exciting to see what he comes up with next. ■
Runtime: 1 hour 30 minutes
Genre: Dark Comedy, Feature
Country: United States
Find out more
Find out more about this film and award-winning independent Indian-American filmmaker Param Gill on the pages for Last Supper and Param Gill in the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), in the encyclopaedia entries for Param Gill and Last Supper in Wikipedia, from the film’s page on Facebook, and from the film’s website.
Param Gill is an independent filmmaker active in Hollywood and Bollywood. He is the recipient of various international awards for his work, including Best Director at the Los Angeles International Film Festival and the San Francisco Global Movie Festival in 2014. His films include Shell Shocked Hope, Rockin’ Meera, Hotel Hollywood, and DOA: Death of Amar. Last Supper won Best Film at the Los Angeles International Film Festival and the San Francisco Global Movie Festival in 2014 and is the recipient of numerous other international awards.
A trailer for Last Supper can be viewed below:
This critical review was commissioned and sponsored by the filmmaker.
Featured Image: A scene from ‘Last Supper’. Young N Free Films.