Reviewed by Marc Glassman
Leslie, My Name is Evil
Reg Harkema, director & script
Starring: Kristen Hager (Leslie), Gregory Smith (Perry), Kristin Adams (Dorothy), Kaniehtiio Horn (Katie), Ryan Robbins (Charlie), Peter Keleghan (Walter), Don McKellar (Prosecutor), Travis Milne (Bobby), Tracy Wright (Leslie’s Mom), Peter MacNeill (Judge)
Baby boomers remember Charlie Manson and his murderous “family” all too well. The killings of Sharon Tate and her friends in early August, 1969, followed the next day by the murders of the LaBiancas horrified a generation just a week away from its purportedly defining event, the Woodstock festival of “peace and music.”
Manson directed the killings, using members of his tribe of followers, Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie van Houten. All were given death sentences, later commuted to life-terms due to a change in California law. And there they remain, in prison, except for Atkins, who died from cancer fairly recently.
This unsavory but compelling story is the subject of Reg Harkema’s latest foray into 1960s culture. His previous directorial efforts, A Woman is A Woman and Monkey Warfare, were informed by Harkema’s love of French New Wave radical Jean-Luc Godard’s aesthetics and fascination with the fate of revolutionaries from that era.
This time around, he confronts the Sixties head-on, by creating a story where Perry, a young conservative all-American boy has to deal with his infatuation for Leslie van Houten while he’s a member of the jury during the Manson Family trial. The film is outrageously comic in fits and starts, with Perry’s chaste past contrasting with van Houten’s promiscuity–once she meets Manson.
But unlike Monkey Warfare, which mixed the pathos of a couple (Don McKellar and Tracy Wright—both of whom are also in Leslie) tied together by their shared past with a tale of contemporary anarchical excess, this film is a bombastic, openly comic look backwards. And the film is funny—but not that funny. Too much of Leslie, My Name is Evil revolves around an unresolved two-hander: Perry’s lust for Leslie and her oblivious attitude towards him. Their one exchange isn’t meaningful enough to make the strategy work.
Only McKellar as the Prosecuting Attorney, Peter Keleghan as Perry’s very right-wing Dad and Kristen Hager and Kaniehtiio Horn as two of the Manson girls seem to be truly “in” on Harkema’s joking approach to the material. The rest, including Gregory Smith as Perry, play it straight, which is not a good thing. I mean, we all knew that wasn’t hip even then, Man. And that was 40 years ago.
The very talented Mr. Harkema, who is also an excellent editor for other directors including Bruce McDonald and McKellar, will no doubt rebound from this interesting but not ultimately successful excursion into America’s long-lost counter-culture.