So much of Potty Town comes off as a 10-page script ballooned to 90 pages with much fluff.
Published on May 18, 2023
Rating 2.5 /5
A short film could be weaved out of the tale of a real-life artist and zoning protester. The upstate New York resident Hank Robar had been used to a life where he worked hard for his life of owning property. So when he saw his neighborhood becoming deteriorated of businesses and zoning changes, he staged his form of protest. The protest involved littering lawns with toilets that contained plants. It was an odd means of expression that divided a community, debating on the merits of art and property values.
This is an ideal news story worth following. It might even make for a compelling book as it relates to the development of the area and the ideals of the elderly. Sadly, this documentary film runs over an hour long and stumbles around, trying to fatten up a somewhat simple story. It may have worked more if it focused on the life of Hank, a man who led an exciting life and seemed to have a warm personality that you could talk with him about anything. His interviews are prominent in this picture, and how he speaks about his life and neighborhood is fascinating.
Less interesting are the attempts to make this story seem grander than it is. The absurdity is played with classical music choices, as though the filmmakers hoped to evoke the Ren & Stimpy juxtaposition of class upon gross. Animated sequences attempt to put more perspective on the situation but feel more like wasted opportunities of exaggeration that are far too timid for this material. The strangeness of this developing story only bore so much fruit as to have a viral song and a version of Monopoly made out of the situation. As one interviewer remarks in the film's early minutes, this shouldn’t be that big of an issue.
Trying to find something more, the film tries to dig deeper into surrounding areas that concern this topic. The questioning of toilets as art leads into a discussion of Dadaism that becomes so thematically adrift that it feels like Hank’s story comes back like an anchor for a film’s focus that is floating away. This additionally leads to talk censorship in which the topic of the Red Scare is addressed and then backed away from, almost as if its relation is so tangential that it could’ve been cut. Cancel culture also comes up, leading to the most unnecessary B-roll of Donald Trump and Ben Shapiro gracing the screen.
So much of Potty Town comes off as a 10-page script ballooned to 90 pages with much fluff. Perhaps if the film had a better focus on the zoning problems of America, Hank’s story could’ve felt more impactful, like an Errol Morris documentary. Instead, this unique but small story has a lot of fat. While Hank’s life is worth hearing about, it’s perhaps better reserved for a stellar memoir or a brief YouTube video essay. Everything about Potty Town appears to be a strange true story that’s not strange or unique enough to run over an hour.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.