Dir: Alan Cumming. USA. 2007. 92 mins

Suffering Man's Charity is one of those films that attempts to hide humourless and cruelty behind the generic label 'black comedy'. Instead of being funny, it is rather a relentless harangue, an assault of over-the-top acting that attempts to disguise or make up for a script that is seriously lacking in either depth or delight. Director Cumming has an extensive background in the theatre, and this might excuse the highly uncinematic nature of this putative film, but doesn't make it any more pleasant or compelling to watch.

John Vandermark (also Cumming) is a twisted opera composer who reluctantly gives music lessons to untalented children at whom he unpleasantly snaps. He also takes in strangers whom he befriends in a most possessive way, claiming to have 'made' them when they become successful. One of these, a wannabe writer named Sebastian (Boreanaz), is really more of a handsome hustler than anything else, and when he egregiously takes advantage of Vandermark's hospitality, the latter turns bitter, ties him up in Christmas tree lights and tortures him for much of the remainder of the movie. A series of purposely improbable plot developments come quickly at the end but do little to lighten the general opprobrium.

Lighting, set decoration and editing are all top-notch, but unfortunately are not sufficient to breathe life into this repetitive, brutalising process masquerading as a no-holds-barred film experience. Nor do cameos by the likes of Anne Heche, Carrie Fisher, and Karen Black add much to the proceedings. Sight gags and repeating schticks (like Vandermark's limping) do little to bring any variety, and certainly no humour, either.

Cumming is undoubtedly a fine actor on the stage, with an immense arsenal of facial expressions at his disposal, but in Suffering Man's Charity many of his extended speeches turn into repetitive harangues that quickly begin to bore. You almost feel that he is trying to bring off this film through the sheer force of his own personality, but it's not enough.

The little variety that does occur comes when the confrontation between Vandermark and the trussed Sebastian is upgraded from mere humiliation to downright sadism. Some will regard this as a delightful change of pace, but most will be further turned off. When it's time for the plot to turn suspenseful, Cumming frenetically employs various camera and editing tricks but alas they don't work either. The ending is clearly meant to be ironic, or even sardonic, but as the script moves closer toward surrealism as it nears completion, we care even less about the ranting Vandermark or the ranting movie he's in.

Production companies/backers
Sixth Way Production

Thomas Gallagher
David Gorder
Jeremy Rubin
DJ Paul
Craig Snider
Donald Zuckerman

Executive Producers
Alan Cumming
Ken Adelberg
David Matthews

Thomas Gallagher

Keith Reamer

Main cast
Alan Cumming
David Boreanaz
Anne Heche
Henry Thomas
Jane Lynch
Karen Black
Carrie Fisher