For what is basically Toxic Masculinity: The Movie, writer/director John Trengove’s sophomore feature, Manodrome, lacks even an ounce of subtlety. What it possesses in spades are solid performances from the cast, including Oscar-winner Adrien Brody (The Pianist, King Kong) and Odessa Young (Assassination Nation, The Stand)—in particular, underrated Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network, Zombieland) wows with his range. What a shame that the feature behind his masterful transformation comes across as lazy and uninspired as it does needlessly grim and bleak. The world is a complex place, but according to Manodrome, corrupting its denizens with dangerous ideology comes easy.
Eisenberg plays Uber driver Ralphie, recently laid off from his maintenance job. Girlfriend Sal (Young) is pregnant with a baby, and soon, money will be tighter than ever before. The film wastes no time establishing a cringe-worthy moment. Opening with a mother breast-feeding in Ralphie’s backseat, the woman demands he pull over when she catches Ralphie checking out her breasts in his rearview mirror. Later, a charity Santa exposes his genitals to Ralphie with no repercussions. In between Uber trips or running to the store with Sal, Ralphie fills his time with pumping iron in the gym. Who doesn’t love a good posed, muscle-bulging post-workout pic snapped in the mirror of a crusty locker room?
Ralphie’s drug dealer, Jason (Philip Ettinger, First Reformed, November Criminals), suggests potential help that could remedy money troubles. Jason claims that he knows several rich people who like to help out “guys like us.” Before long, quiet Ralphie meets the benevolent leader (Brody) of “Manodrome,” and his clan of like-minded, potentially brainwashed brethren. Their meetings are weird, as they talk openly almost akin to an alcoholics anonymous session, and celebrate their months or years of celibacy. In the same breath, one refers to a cheating ex simply as a “cunt.” The distaste of females and weird insistence about the “staggering beauty” hidden inside men would be off-putting to most, but Ralphie finds a strange chosen family in these people.
We never glimpse these men interacting with Sal, nor other aspects of Ralphie’s life. He begins making questionable decision and after questionable decision. So much random rage bubbles to the surface, and it explodes on everyone in Ralphie’s orbit. Eisenberg plays this whole thing incredibly raw and vulnerable. A centerpiece scene where he freaks out and the cult members try to hold him screams ‘Oscars reel.’ The vibe with the Manodrome crew gives major mosh pit energy. While some embrace that sort of unhinged lifestyle and few others take it to terrifying extremes, trying to chart Ralphie’s trajectory through the film confounds. There seems little rhyme or reason as to why he makes the choices he makes. Trengove certainly doesn’t provide flashback or proper backstory context for Ralphie to act the way he does. Are we supposed to just blindly follow along on this troublesome character study?
Innumerable questions arise. Why do so many join up to live together with views this backward? Does anyone really buy Brody as a cult leader? By the time Manodrome arrives at its puzzling climax, the raging homophobia and obsession with the power of man becomes too much to bear. I have no desire to ever revisit anything from the film, and to be honest, it leaves a sour taste in one’s mouth. Despite being set around Christmastime, Manodrome is no Christmas movie. Perhaps people this awful exist in the real world, but I would rather not spend an hour and a half with them ever again.
Embrace the cult of Manodrome, playing in limited release theaters on Friday, November 10th, followed by a VOD/digital debut on November 17th.