Review: Itchy Fingers (CUFF 2021)

Title: Itchy Fingers
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Marco Jake, Anna Nilles
Starring: Zachary Shultz, Elsa Guenther, Jeff Prather
Runtime: 1 hr 47 mins

What It Is: It’s the age of the Internet, and Ernie (Shultz) is a kind and awkward high school graduate who aims to become a standup comedian as a way to cope with his perpetually disappointed father, a working clown (Prather), and the void his mother left behind. Ernie, like any other millennial or gen Z person, is a consumer of Youtube, Vine compilations, memes, and other forms of comfort comedy. When uploading a rough standup routine he recorded in his room, he finds nothing but cyberbullying and an ad invite for a theatre group. Pressured by his depressed and concerned dad to commit to something in order to find direction, Ernie finds himself on an emotionally tumultuous project in which the theatre group, led by the passionate perfectionist actress Ms. Reddy, tries to create a play about a school shooter. Being the unfunny outcast of the group, Ernie is uncharacteristically made to play the role of the murderer.

What We Think: Remember when Joker (2019) was released in theaters? This might be an on-the-nose way to ease into this review, but it’s a fascinating point in recent film history to look back on, considering how the tragedy was not only expected due to events in the past but essentially manifested due to media and paranoia feeding on the prospect of death and violence. Not saying that had there been no media coverage, nothing would have happened, but considering that so much unnecessary implied pressure was put on the film to re-create an environment in which people are in danger only really contributed to the potential of violence.

Not only does Itchy Fingers share many themes with Joker and films like it, but it does so on a much more relatable level and tackles the reality of setting up dangerous expectations. This film was not just tangible, it did not just feel eerily real–it recognizes and juggles the many very dark truths about youth and being an outcast in the face of media today. In the setup of a theater troop consisting of people trying to act out the horror of school shootings and being caught up in the ‘art’ of performance and themes, they carelessly and collectively demonize one of their own group members by typecasting him because of his naivety and current inability to relate to them on their level, even going as far as referring to his killer character by his name. It’s amazing how the director/writers tackle how people see tragic events happen and can negatively apply it to others in their lives.

We see it all the time in real life, how many are quick to profit in any way they can off of real-life stories of death, sex, and violence (one glance at any Lifetime biopic will tell you that), exploiting real the real pain and suffering of people and leaving the human details behind. Out of all the characters, we know Ernie is one of few who have actually experienced real pain, loneliness, and dejection. He’s not old enough or experienced enough to speak up for himself, but keeps pushing for his dreams nonetheless.

This film offers a loveable character who would appear otherwise, out of context. Shultz is amazing in his deliverance of Ernie, a character who is fun, flawed, and someone we all likely knew out of high school or college (hell, a lot of us were or still are Ernies). The character of Ernie is someone we all can immediately recognize and relate to in this age, someone who has TV shows posted on their wall, gets inspired through others on social platforms, and lives through memes (he literally is always wearing meme t-shirts, which I loved). Ernie notably surrounds himself with things that comfort him; it’s clear he’s just another kid looking for their breakthrough.

The following cast members are also all fantastic, surprisingly most of which have few titles to their names. Everyone, from the cast to the composer, editors, designers, and directors, is all amazing in creating this piece motivated by angst, discomfort, humanity, humor, and betrayal with just enough subtlety and more than enough para-social awareness.

Our Grade: AA joy and a horror to watch. This dark comedy is a painful yet entertaining reminder of why any person of any age like Ernie deserves to be heard. Disturbed, smart, funny, and efficiently told: Itchy Fingers is the perfect portrait of what happens when people’s intentions bear false sympathy and cross the line into creating the very thing they aim to simulate.