By GWEN OREL
For Montclair Local
It’s a bit like “The Munsters” — one normal person in a family of bizarros. In “Crappy Mother’s Day,” a new film written by Bill Rutkoski and directed by Montclairian Dan Karlok, the normal person is Sarah (Kristen Krak).
Her family is so awful that for years she has lied to her fiancé and told him her mother was dead.
Then mom Totie (Jackie Debatin, who has appeared in “The Office” and “Pretty Little Liars,” among others) shows up, heavily pregnant, as the two sit at Ruthie’s Bar-B-Q & Pizza and discuss apartment hunting.
Then whose grave have we been visiting, wonders James (Addison Anderson).
The entire film, which was released on streaming platforms on Tuesday, May 4, was made in Montclair.
The family’s house is on Forest Street, and some rooms in the director’s home also were used.
A store where Grandma (Vivien Landau) disrobes in the main area, refusing to use a dressing room, is Barbara Eclectic on Valley Road.
In addition to Totie, Sarah’s family includes two uncles obsessed with the original “Planet of the Apes” (played by Rutkoski’s brothers, John and Mike) and Grandma, who in addition to trying to undress in public threatens to kill her sister Sunny (Marie Lenzi). Veteran actor Lou Mustillo (“Mike and Molly,” “The Sopranos”) plays Sarah’s father, Rodger. Rutkoski himself plays Dimpy, Totie’s eye-patch-wearing boyfriend, who looks forward to naming the new baby “Stalin.”
Maywood resident Rutkoski took his inspiration from his own mother and her fights with her seven sisters.
“I just copied everything they said, and put it into a movie,” he said. He was also inspired by some holidays that did not go so well.
The film takes place over the course of a Mother’s Day that, at least at first, does not go so well.
“Crappy Mother’s Day” began as a one-act play in 2002, performed by the Aching Dogs Theater Company at the Producers Club Off Broadway.
Rutkoski approached his friend Karlok, an Emmy-Award-winning member of the Directors Guild of America. Karlok read the film, and agreed to work on it. It is Karlok’s first feature.
The two made the low-budget film in just eight days in 2018 (hence the pre-COVID lack of masks).
Rutkoski, who previously worked as a comedian, financed the film. “My wife wants the money back,” he said.
The two held auditions in New York City, edited the film over the course of a year, and applied to festivals. They got into a few, and became an official selection of the Manhattan Film Festival 2020 and the Dumbo Film Festival 2020 — but then COVID-19 hit.
While not schmoozing at festivals has been a blow, the fact that everyone is still largely watching movies does not hurt them, Rutkoski said. Their distributing company, Uncorked Entertainment, has the film on Amazon Prime, On Demand and other services. More people might tune in, he pointed out.
‘Everything fell into place’
One of the striking production elements of the film is the score: Jazz, particularly standing bass, pervades the film. Karlok himself is one of the musicians: He has a rockabilly band that plays at Ruthie’s, and his stage name is Eugene Chrysler.
George Calfa did the score, and wrote the song “Tik Tok,” which reminds people that they will die — it was the late Grandpa’s favorite song, sung by the family in the backyard, where his remains are buried.
Calfa was sent scenes as they were edited and scored them, Karlok said.
Another striking element of the film is the use of old footage to go with a “newsreel” (fictional) announcing the declaration of Mother’s Day.
The footage is old home movies of Karlok’s and Rutkoski’s families.
Karlok said the team was lucky in filming, because everything fell into place. “The weather cooperated on days we were outside,” he said. “We kept it to 10-hour days, which is not a normal thing in film, especially with this low of a budget.
“And it was such a short time frame. I promised the crew we would keep the hours regular and we would have good lunches.”
Rutkoski’s wife supplied the lunches. They used Karlok’s car for the young couple’s car.
They built all the props, because licensing official merchandise from “Planet of the Apes” would have been much too expensive.
Though much of the film is exaggerated comedy — including a disgusting pot of “Forever Stew” on the stove (they just keep adding to it, never throwing anything out; “a little E. coli is good for you,” one of the uncles says) — there is some sentiment, too.
A scene between the daughter and the mother toward the end is played straight, with pain and love.
“When I watch this, I still get teary-eyed,” Karlok said.
For Rutkoski, a sentimental moment is when Sarah puts James, drunk on homemade vodka, to bed, as he tells her she’s his Nova (the love interest in “Planet of the Apes”). “It’s funny and tender,” he said.
“That was shot in my bedroom. And there’s a little stuffed animal, which is my son’s stuffed animal,” Karlok said with a laugh.
Being on a short shooting schedule with a low budget forced them to be creative: The Forever Stew was invented on the fly.
“It was very hard to get rid of afterwards, too, because I let it sit after we shot it. It festered and took on a life of its own,” Karlok said.
Now that playwright Rutkoski has had a chance to be in the movie biz, he thinks he’ll continue. There might be a “Crappy Father’s Day” in the future.
And a new project about an aging rock band that has an early song taken up is in the works.
Unlike plays, film is lasting, Rutkoski said. “When I’m 90 years old, I can book back, ‘Oh, I did that. I did that.’ And look at them again and see them and laugh and have a good time.”