Published Nov 29, 2018Stephen Groo is either an inspiration or a fool, depending on your point of view. Sure, the filmmaker has made an impressive number of films (180!) in his relatively short career — all of which were shot extremely quickly on the most shoestring of budgets — but not one of these films has made him so much as a dime.
The Insufferable Groo is a funny and sometimes cringe-inducing documentary that ultimately leans a little more toward Groo's inspiring nature, rather than his shortcomings, but allows that he may at least be fulfilling a definition of insanity by endlessly beating his head against the wall and somehow expecting different results.
Groo approaches movie-making with a strange mixture of passion and disdain for the craft, shooting an astronomical number of scenes in a day with an impressive efficiency, but doing so with little care or consideration for some vital aspects of the process. He's fond of using natural light, regularly gets shut down for shooting on locations without permits, will sometimes do just a single take of a scene, and gives his unfortunate actors such directions as, "3, 2, 1… and you've just found out your dad is dead."
He makes movies of all kinds too, including inexplicable ones that have obvious copyright issues like Resident Evil and Street Fighter. Oh, and he also makes unsolicited music videos for other artists (like the Backstreet Boys) that often involve himself lip-syncing to the song.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Groo has developed a bit of a cult following over the years, most of which is from the reliably enthusiastic "so-bad-it's-good" crowd, but there are some who genuinely appreciate Groo's voice as an auteur. One of these people is Jared Hess, director of Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre, who went to BYU just as Groo had, and learned about the director while there. When Groo secures a slightly higher budget to re-make a previous movie of his called The Unexpected Race, an ambitious love story about elves in the modern world, he sets out to land Nacho Libre star Jack Black, for a role — who was turned onto Groo's work by Hess and became a fan himself.
The filming is not without its challenges. Groo hires a student cinematographer with whom he butts heads almost immediately, largely because she has aspirations to make the movie look a little better than his usual work, and he's afraid she won't be able to keep up with his hectic pace. She initially talks her way out of being fired by Groo, then threatens to quit after being subjected to his usual 18-hour shooting days that involve him treating his volunteer crew with a complete lack of respect, at times. But she remains steadfast in her insistence that she will not be cowed by her director's natural aversion to collaboration and her tenacity and talent seem to eventually win over Groo.
When Jack Black does eventually show up to shoot what amounts to little more than a glorified cameo, it's treated as if it's the crowning achievement in Groo's career, and validation for all of his efforts over the years. For his part, Black seems genuinely excited and even honoured to be appearing in one of Groo's films, but toes the line a little on how seriously he's taking the role. He scraps a Southern accent he had considered for the part, yet somehow keeps returning to it and, at one point, is admonished by Groo for smiling during what should be a serious scene.
This would all be considerably less distressing if Groo didn't also have a wife and kids who depend on him to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. They are as supportive of his dreams as they can possibly be (his wife even makes costumes for his movies) but there comes a point where you wonder if the family wouldn't perhaps be better off if Groo found a more stable and lucrative job. Still, there's plenty to admire about Groo's ambition and resolve. They may not ever make him any money, but that doesn't make him any less accomplished.