Searching for Sonny is a pleasant surprise of an indie movie. It’s ridiculous enough to make it stand out from its more measured studio counterparts, but it’s still as relatable as mainstream movies so it’s not asking you to go too far out there.
Elliot Knight (Jason Dohring) returns to his high school reunion to try to make up with his old friend Sonny (Masi Oka), who hasn’t spoken to him since Elliot sabotaged his school play. But Sonny has disappeared leaving only a series of clues about his disappearance. Elliot’s brother Calvin (Nick Kocher) and high school techie Gary (Brian McElhaney) form a mystery trio, the anti-Scooby-Doo. No one’s got a useful specialty, they’re just self-destructive and maybe happen to solve a mystery anyway.
Following clues leads to more shenanigans like covering up a suicide and breaking into a school dance. It’s funny to see a Mission: Impossible approach taken towards ridiculous situations, and their plan is incompetent to boot.
These heightened characters make comedy out of simple situations. Some exposition surrounding a time capsule leads to a struggle between Calvin and Gary, which is way more destructive than it needs to be, which leads to a dead body. Each character is someone you should just avoid, because they are drama incarnate, but put ‘em all together and that’s comedy.
Writer/director Andrew Disney displays a sharp comedy tone in his writing, and especially his editing. Flashbacks to high school and one shot cutaways piece things together one joke at a time. It’s funnier this way. Piecing the backstory together is less important than the random absurd moments. The film keeps flashing back to a high school play at various points, as it pertains to each character, and the individual segments out of context are kind of funnier than the whole. It’s designed that way, because the cliché would be to add nonsense together to make something. This splits up an elaborate sequence into its nonsense bits.
A single scene incorporates flashes that makes it funnier than just revealing the information. The dead body scene even involves a flashback to the scuffle a minute before. Along the way there are some impressive transitions that show a real filmmaking craft. Elliot exits his apartment and walks into an airplane cabin. That might be a digital composite, but it looks like old school building two sets together. Flashbacks explaining the mystery are still shot like a school play. They are inspired by the play Sonny wrote, but it’s also a great surreal touch that’s created in camera without obnoxious special effects. The ridiculousness of them makes them funnier.
The femme fatale character in this crazy comedy mystery is Eden Mercer (Minka Kelly), Elliot’s high school sweetheart who broke his heart and left him for the quarterback, who is the suicide victim the trio finds later in the film. Kelly makes a great femme fatale striking a balance of sympathetic and aloof so you don’t quite know whether or not to trust her. Incidentally, she is hot.
The humor can be just childish. In a gunfight one character yells, “Poop sh*t sh*tty poop!” That makes me smile. Like any comedy, some jokes aren’t as funny as others, but there are far more wins than misses along the way.
The mystery actually does make sense, but not in an “ah-ha” way. More in a “Of course, you morons” way, which is the point. The mystery they solve is far less absurd than the one they think they are investigating, which makes their exploits all the more absurd.
I will be looking forward to Disney’s next film. His debut feature impressed me with a significant vision and sense of humor, one I would love to see applied to other situations. He’ll probably get even sharper as he hones his craft, but this is a great start.