Time travel is a long and storied genre, but one that seldom seems to tell the stories of women. Instead, it has historically revolved around men and their desires. Back to the Future, Terminator, 12 Monkeys, Looper, Hot Tub Time Machine, Interstellar, The Fountain, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and dozens more all feature male protagonists messing around with technology in, generally speaking, traditional male ways that boil down to either saving a girl, getting a girl, or making sure a girl sleeps with your dad to ensure one’s future existence. Women have it so rough in the genre that a movie mostly about them and time travel is titled The Time Traveler’s Wife. However, this week’s Staff Pick Premiere, aptly titled “Ugh!”, is an antidote of sorts for the frustrated feminists looking for quality content about female inventors. The film fights for not just equal respect for genius inventions by women, but the equal right to be an airhead teenager obsessed with butt collages.
Directed by Jimmy Marble and co-written with Doug Sacrison, “Ugh!” follows the misadventures of Tanya, an unpredictable and selfish teenage inventor, and her best friend Sticks as they mess around with time in their bedroom in the mid-1990s. Centering around Tanya’s newly invented future-seeing machine, which allows her to see just 15 seconds into the future, the short weaves a complex web of past, present, and future tense jokes and insults revolving mostly around the girl’s past, present, and future gross appearances and annoying attitudes. When the future machine gets stuck in a loop, the bird Tanya’s babysitting for her boyfriend finds itself dying over and over again. The girls begrudgingly appeal to their past selves to save it, but find that messing with time is as chaotic as messing with themselves. With a disarming combination of extreme self-confidence, utter vanity, selfishness, righteous indignation, privilege, and idiot savant, the teens’ terribleness somehow charms the viewer and makes their friendship work. It’s particularly ironic as they’re only ever complimenting or cutting down themselves. “They’re cruel to their past and future selves, not to each other,” Marble says. “And it’s because they have loyalty only to themselves, and that pertains to time and space, not to parallel universe selves.” If that’s a head scratcher, it will all make sense when you see it unfold on screen.
Completing the short was not necessarily an easy task, but it was a dream to work on according to Marble and Sacrison. The two have been working on projects together since they were 16 years old and the characters of Tanya and Sticks have been at the core of that. “I would say that writing Tanya and Sticks has been the most pure fun creative project I’ve ever been part of. I don’t know if they’re extensions of Doug and me, like our Id’s are two girls living in this weird 90s Los Angeles universe, but we were able to access them really quickly and their whole universe made a ton of sense to us from the beginning.” For Doug, writing the story was a trip because of the complicated time travel structure and because the characters are so unlike him. “These are people who would scold me for the way I do most things. It’s funny to think about people like that. Everyone else is always wrong. They are always right. I don’t go about my day like that. And maybe because I don’t, I find people fascinating who are like that. At least when they are in a script, not when they are the president.”
The two originally envisioned “Ugh!” as a series and had written them as such, but it was this standalone concept that finally got the ball rolling. After premiering the short at the Tribeca Film Festival this April, Marble and Sacrison are actively talking to partners about developing their wacky Tanya and Sticks adventures from an invisibility machine to a wine machine (with no intention to market it, just to drink free wine), to another machine that turns wine into espresso because they have too much wine. Tanya’s inventions are as freewheeling and specific as Marble and Sacrison’s stories, because like her, they don’t care about other people, they really just want to make stuff that makes each other laugh. “I respect [Jimmy’s] sense of humor, so with no real vision of an audience sitting down to watch this, I’ve just decided to try to make him laugh,” Sacrison says. “And when I do, I feel accomplished!” Packed with visual gags, hilarious dialogue, subtle asides, and a healthy amount of cute male butt collages, “Ugh!” is a delightful screwball comedy that will have you quoting insults and crafting in no time.
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