Note: This contains a mild spoiler for Season 3 of Stranger Things. Sorry, David, we can’t talk about you without talking about Hopper.
My first thought when I started watching FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER’S MONSTER, FRANKENSTEIN was — thirty-two minutes? THAT’S IT? How are you going to give me 8+ hours of Hopper, but only thirty-two minutes of David Harbour being fucking ridiculous? Not to say that I don’t love me some Hopper, I do, but honestly, as soon as I saw that thirty-two-minute marker — I knew it wasn’t going to be nearly long enough.
*extremely Ron Howard voice* It wasn’t long enough.
The synopsis is fairly succinct: David Harbour III (played by David Harbour) comes from a long lineage of prestigious actors. He’s recently found tapes in his mother’s attic featuring an old made-for-TV play his father, David Harbour Jr. (played by David Harbour), starred in. Now, he’s looking for insight into the method behind his father’s madness. We’re shuffled quickly back and forth between the grainy, VHS recordings of Harbour Jr.’s televised play Frankenstein’s Monster’s Monster, Frankenstein, and the present-day Harbour III interviewing people involved with the production about his father.
This mockumentary’s release date is a power move of sorts; most of the nation is reeling from the ending of the last season of Stranger Things. And it seems like Netflix determined this was the perfect time to showcase Harbour’s acting chops beyond making us all extremely thirsty. Luckily for Netflix, the move is a good one — FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER’S MONSTER, FRANKENSTEIN feels like someone took one of my favorite tweets and transformed it into a hilarious homage to Acting™. To boil it down even further, it’s a half an hour of David Harbour doing an extended Orson Welles bit. And it’s fucking brilliant.
There are so many gut-busting moments in the movie it’s hard to believe it actually only ended up being thirty-two minutes long. One of my favorite scenes is when Harbour is talking with his father’s former agent Bobby Fox (cooly played by the incomparable Michael Lerner) about how he made his father’s chili in the hope it would rouse memories of his father — and it does. Fox trails off, wistfully with an, “I remember! I remember!” as we’re hilariously catapulted into a video flashback of Harbour Jr.
It’s consistently absurd and hilarious the whole way through; but, what’s ultimately great about FMMF is how it focuses a critical eye on those keen keeping an air of importance around a work/production/actor that’s probably not that good or important. By the end of the movie, it’s clear Harbour Jr. — who you’ll never be able to convince me isn’t a representation of Orson Welles — was a shitty, washed-up has-been who lied about his prestige and just plainly wasn’t that good an actor. So it’s clearly with a sense of irony at the very end when Harbour III — knowing and seeing all of this — looks straight into the camera and says ‘My father was a monster. But in the years to come, I’ll work to preserve his legacy. And present it in the best possible light.”
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t speak to the comedic genius that is Kate Berlant — she needs to be in everything. How do I find out how to make sure she’s in everything?
Though it feels at points it’s trying to cram in too much per scene — I cannot stress this enough: It should have been longer — FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER’S MONSTER, FRANKENSTEIN is a solid mockumentary and something I will likely watch again and again and again. In fact, I’m going to watch it again right now. FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER’S MONSTER, FRANKENSTEIN premieres Tuesday, July 16 only on Netflix.