Percy Adlon may be the last true flower child of the cinema. His films are about lovable nonconformists, and they have their own entrancingly daft rhythm and look — a late-’60s flakiness. Born in Munich in 1938, Adlon worked in television and radio and made more than 100 documentaries before coming to prominence with Sugarbaby (1985), a delightfully farfetched comedy about an obese, depressed mortician (Marianne Sagebrecht) who successfully woos a dashing young subway conductor. Made in Germany, the film was successful enough to be turned into a 1989 American TV movie. But Adlon, who has since worked in the United States (and in English), found more than an audience with Sugarbaby. He found his style — and his star.
Using an array of gels and filters, Adlon now photographs all his movies in a rainbow of psychedelic pastels. The look says, Life is beautiful — and beautifully silly.” What’s more, in Sägebrecht, a porcine Kewpie doll who suggests what Madonna might look like if she gained 300 pounds, Adlon has the kind of warmly freaky heroine who can win over audiences with a glance.
Yet Adlon may be a little too in love with his own whimsicality. Beneath the candy-coated surface of his new Rosalie Goes Shopping, there lurks a rather flailing satire.
Sägebrecht plays Rosalie, a housewife living in Stuttgart, Ark., with her good-ole-boy husband (Brad Davis) and seven kids. Rosalie maintains an insanely consumerist lifestyle through a series of fly-by-night financial schemes. She delays bill payments by forging huge checks, keeps herself leveraged with 37 credit cards, and finally gets involved in home-computer hanky-panky. Does this sound like a certain credit-mad country of 250 million people you know?
As a satire of America in the buy-now-pay-later ’80s, Rosalie Goes Shopping is innocently toothless. Adlon isn’t pointing any fingers (he likes Rosalie), yet he’s not scoring any points either. This weirdly tranquil movie can best be enjoyed for its multicolored Jell-O look and as a kind of lunar Bavarian- American sitcom. Funny bits include Rosalie and her family sitting around the tube watching videotapes of their favorite commercials; Rosalie confessing her financial sins to an exasperated priest (Judge Reinhold); and Brad Davis’ entire performance — with his demented cracker-barrel grin, he’s like L’il Abner on magic mushrooms. C+