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One facet of our popular culture that I detest entirely is the current trend of celebrity reality shows. It's not enough that our society lifts nobodies like Jessica Simpson, Flavor Flav, Anna Nicole Smith and Paris Hilton to the heights of celebrity, but we then devote entire brain-cell depleting shows to their everyday lives? Rhetorically speaking, what kind of sick and twisted country am I living in? Lucky for me, underground filmmaker Wayne Alan Harold has made a film that lets us spend seventy one minutes with a surprisingly unique and unforgettable personality worth documenting: genuine nerd, Toby Radloff.

If you saw 2003's cinematic gem American Splendor, then you've already seen the star of this documentary. If you're unfamiliar with American Splendor, it's a semi-biographical tale about off-beat comic book writer, Harvey Pekar and long-time friend, Radloff. It features dramatic recreations of Pekar's life interspersed with footage of the real Pekar and Radloff. When the credits began to roll, I wasn't exactly left thirsting for more of the real-life Toby Radloff, but the idea of a documentary on him didn't put me off at all. If anything, I was curious to see what it was all about.

Genuine Nerd
Feature
Unlike most celebrities, Toby never aspired to be quasi-famous or gain notoriety. Fame found him through his appearances in Harvey Pekar's comic books as well as his roles in B-grade Troma-esque movies. Without narration, the documentary for the most part, just lets Toby talk about his life. There is the occasional interview, but they're short and it's not long before we're back to Toby speaking again.

I found Genuine Nerd to be an unusual and enthralling piece of low-budget cinema. Director Wayne Alan Howard has chosen a great subject for his film as Toby Radloff is a genuinely interesting person who's lived an equally interesting life. I wouldn't call this documentary great, because from style to substance, it's really not. It is however, good fun and in the same strange spirit as American Splendor. It even features an appearance by Splendor's creator, Harvey Pekar. The interview is only a few minutes long and not exactly earth-shattering in terms of information given, but his inclusion is a nice touch all the same.

The film is divided into segments, my favourite of which dealt with Radloff's acting career in such campy B-films as Killer Nerd, Townies, and Bride of the Killer Nerd. I can't say the clips shown from these films make me want to seek them out, but they're good for a chuckle. The behind the scenes footage and outtakes given here eloquently illustrate the humorous and gentle nature of Radloff. Other fun segments include his nerd mobile, high school experiences, and a trip to White Castle for hamburgers. If this were turned into a television show like Nick and Jessica: Newlyweds, things might turn stale after a few episodes. But for the duration of the film, these weird segments are strangely entertaining and none overstay their welcome with my attention span.

Genuine Nerd
The most awkward part of the film was the segment dealing with Judah Friedlander, the actor/comedian who played Radloff in the film adaptation of American Splendor. Friedlander speaks to the camera presumably before an apartment complex, and has trouble standing still, blatantly unprepared for the interview. When Toby comes out and they converse, Friedlander seems uneasy and doesn't improvise conversation very well. If anything could've been trimmed off the film, it would've been this. But for a documentary that's already low on recognizable faces, I could see why director Wayne Alan Howard left this in.

An admirable aspect of the documentary is the respect it has for its star, Toby Radloff. You don't need a vivid imagination to see how easy it would've been for the filmmaker to have made jokes at Radloff's expense. He could've been an easy target for ridicule, but he's in on every joke, and cracks a few himself, making it a more wholesome and enjoyable experience.

For a documentary with no purpose other than to let the audience spend an hour or so with it's star, Genuine Nerd needed a strong ending to make an impact. It's a film that doesn't fluctuate in tone or emotion for its entire duration and for it to have ended without making any kind of a point or statement would've been incredibly dull and unsatisfying. It attempts such a strong ending, but fails terribly. Radloff goes on a rant about the current world political situation, and then talks about reincarnation. It just doesn't fit with the rest of the film and didn't leave a good taste in my mouth. Luckily, the rest of the picture overshadows the ending and overall, I consider it an enjoyable documentary.

Video
Genuine Nerd is an absolute eye-sore in 1:33:1 full screen ratio, just as it was shot in. There's nothing here to convince me that this wasn't made with a home video camera and edited in Apple's iMovie, especially when I look at transitions and title screens. The video is soft, grainy and, worst of all, there's a tracking line, like those you'd see on poor VHS tapes, menacing the top few lines of video throughout the entire feature. Much like its star, Genuine Nerd is not a handsome subject to look at, rather it's what's inside that counts.

Genuine Nerd
Audio
Audio is slightly more impressive than video, but that's not saying much. I listened to the films only audio option, Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. There's little music to be heard in this dialogue heavy film, so there's not much need for better treatment, the track wouldn't put it to good use anyway. Given that this realistically may have been made in iMovie or a similar program, I'm guessing Tempe DVD didn't have much to work with.

Extras
The bonus materials for the disc include the theatrical trailer, two deleted scenes, and two web clips. I'm not sure why the deleted scenes were trimmed, as they're just as trivial and random as the material left in the film. The disc also has DVD-ROM content, surprisingly. It contains over ten hours of podcasts featuring director Wayne Alan Harold and Toby Radloff. I don't have any immediate plans to dive into these podcasts, but it's nice to know that they've been included. Genuine Nerd's die hard fans should be satisfied. I was happy that for once, DVD-ROM content was accessible for both Windows and Macintosh computers.

I'm with most people when they bellyache and groan about DVD companies listing 'Scene Selections' as special features on DVD cases. Most of us no longer consider them special, but rather obligatory. Now that I've seen a disc without scene selections, I appreciate them as a feature that's not only special, but practical. Genuine Nerd is still divided into chapters, but how am I to know what's in each chapter? If I want to skip ahead to the part with Harvey Pekar or the segment about the nerd mobile, how am I to know if I've gone too far?

Genuine Nerd
Overall
At its suggested retail price tag of $19.95, I cannot recommend Genuine Nerd. It's simply not worth that much. The resourceful can find it online for just under $10 (including shipping), which makes for an okay investment. It may not be high art, but this look at the life of Toby Radloff is an hour and some change worth of honest entertainment. If you enjoyed American Splendor or like your entertainment off the beat and track, then I'd advise you to give this a try, if the price is right.

I ordinarily wouldn't do this, but I feel it necessary to sing directorial praise. This film appears to have been the single-handed effort of director/producer/camera-man/editor Wayne Alan Harold. Although this disc has flaws in both content and presentation, I have to compliment him on his creation. With several B-movies and a documentary under his belt, I'm interested to see where he goes from here.


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