This one feels personal to me, because I was one of the only people to see it in its original two-day L.A. run, back in 2000. It was an early lesson in my newfound power as a newspaper film critic – just how many people would turn out on a weekend at 10 a.m. to see a movie I was calling possibly the best film of the year?
As it turns out, pretty much none. I don’t know anybody who actually went to the Laemmle theater to see it as part of their weekend independents series. And it was the wrong time slot for it, as it was more of a midnight movie – but the Laemmles are to be credited for giving it any shot at all, as nobody else wanted to help out a black and white movie starring such then-unknown names as Chuck Sklar, JB Smoove, Wanda Sykes, Steve Carell, Robert Smigel, Nick DiPaolo and Rick Shapiro.
At the end of the year, I wound up placing the movie atop my ten best list, and asked the Laemmles for Louis’ number so I could call and tell him. I did so, leaving a message; he later called me back and said it was the best news he had had all year. Knowing that he was working on a follow-up film for Paramount called Pootie Tang, I decided to do a feature story on him.
It was one of those times where I wish, looking back, that I’d been making a documentary film, because in hindsight, it’s so fascinating that the studio didn’t trust Louis’ sense of humor at all. The film was ultimately taken out of his hands, radically recut with new footage Louis never even shot, and given the kind of annoyingly hand-holding voice-over narration that studios insist on when they’re convinced audiences won’t get it otherwise. Nonetheless, while it bombed upon release, it’s become a much-loved cult hit, though Louis himself still doesn’t care for it. I got to see his early director’s cut once – it’s better, but still a mess. Anyway, my story was shaping to be one of heroic failure, about a brilliant guy who couldn’t catch a break.
Then 9-11 happened. The newspaper business was hit hard. My editor liked my draft but suggested I save it till Louis did something else. Then the paper went out of business.
Over the years, I tried to champion Tomorrow Night wherever possible, hoping maybe the LA Film Critics’ “ones that got away” series might show it. But Louis was burned out on it. Even when slim hopes like that arrived, he acknowledged he just couldn’t work up the drive to try and send it out. I was privy to some of the other scripts he was trying to get made at the time – one was about a woman who eats babies encountering an unemployed robot. It was brilliant and completely unmarketable…and he knew it.
In more recent years, he’s teased a release – today I learn he’s going to self distribute it on his website for $5, as has worked with his stand-up shows. I’d much rather have a DVD (ideally one I’m quoted on!) – I still have my old VHS press screener, but it’s water-damaged – but one way or another, this is your chance to own one of the best, weirdest, most hilarious movies I’ve ever seen. It’s the story of an uptight camera-store clerk with a fetish for rubbing his bare ass in ice cream, who falls for an old lady after her husband gets torn apart by wild dogs one day. The woman’s best friend is either a young man in old-lady drag, or an old lady who just happens to be played by a younger guy – it’s not clear which. Eventually, the awkward couple adopts a fully grown man – a pistol-packing gangsta rapper, no less – as their son. It’s all in artful black and white, with a soundtrack reminiscent of a silent film, and ending akin to parts of David Lynch’s Lost Highway, though coincidentally so as they were made around the same time.
Well, Louis decided he wasn’t going to make it as a filmmaker, so he went back to comedy. In the long run, that decision worked out well…now he has his own show where he gets to write and direct with no interference, and it’s finally being recognized as the filmmaking brilliance I saw in him back then.
I haven’t talked to him in a long time. But I’m so glad people will finally see this: