Onur Tukel’s APPLESAUCE is a mess. But the problem is that I’m almost certain that it was intended to be a mess from the very beginning.
Like an Ornette Coleman record, the unity comes from the disunity and spontaneity of non-harmonious elements blended together around a central theme. In the case of APPLESAUCE, that theme is perhaps the necessity of empathy.
Spurred on by a controversial radio host who encourages people to call in and share the story of the worst thing they’ve ever done, Ron Welz (Onur Tukel) shatters the foundations of his marriage and friendships by recounting the time he accidentally sheared the fingers off a frat-boy at a college party. Soon his friends and spouse are trading secrets, insults, and bodily fluids in a never-ending game of petty one-upmanship as past abuses and illicit liaisons are dredged back up to the surface.
But suddenly body parts start appearing in Ron’s stuff: a severed foot in his laundry; a penis in his Chinese take-out; and, most suspicious of all, a finger in his mail. The juxtaposition of dialogue-heavy comedy based on behavioral minutia with graphic, deliberately shocking imagery doesn’t quite work. Imagine an episode of Seinfeld where Kramer finally snaps, decapitates Newman, and mails the body parts to Jerry.
But, again, this was probably the point. Tukel’s history of juggling genres is well-established. But I can’t help but feel that his central message of the importance of empathy gets muddled by the slapdash storytelling.
I left the film feeling confused as to many of its narrative developments: why did the one friend suddenly decide to throw paint on Ron’s wife; why did we keep returning to the radio host considering his connection to the story was tenuous at best and superfluous at worst; and how the hell was an inner-city schoolteacher capable of affording such a nice apartment?