Beyond its fairly appropriate and much effective silliness (one of which the film’s very self-aware), Man and Witch carries joy like few films of its nature currently do. I allowed myself to let go of pretenses and cozily enjoy the warmhearted premise of a comedy fantasy film that fortunately never takes itself too seriously. This isn’t the perfect Hollywood adventure that’s riddled with special effects and uses tragedy to turn the scale towards familiar narrative structures. There’s nothing to be sad about here. It’s just that there’s no time, since Man and Witch wastes no resources in trying to be something other than what it is.
Writer Greg Steinbruner and director Michael Hines teamed up to give some shape to influences. Think of The Princess Bride, and a pure extract of its mood and humor. Now mix that with some of the limitations of indie cinema and you get something consistent that feels as if it’s made by people who truly understand what kind of movie they’re participating in. You can call it cheesy, and you can accuse of it being too silly at some point, but films made with passion should always be celebrated, as relative as that is.
In Man and Witch, a grown goatherder has little to no luck. All he wants is to fall in love. His relationship with his mother is awkward enough to see this has been taking place for a long time. He’s weak, clumsy and smells like goat piss. He’s also quite unsure of himself. When he meets a witch, who promises to get rid of the curse, he sees some distant light in the end of the tunnel. It won’t be an easy feat, but he will try everything at hand to find a partner that can love him for what he is.
Or will he? One of the peculiar aspects of the film is that it never plays like the common “polishing” of characters who find happiness if only they’re willing to change a few things about themselves. Man and Witch is more about a secondary character who chooses kindness above anything. This time, the witch is a lovely woman who goes for honesty and shatters the standards of the genre. The third act is a celebration of finding true love in the most improbable of places.
A cast ensemble is good enough to keep you hooked and laughing all they way through. I won’t dissect them because it’s something better seen than told. Just know that familiar faces show up. Christopher Lloyd, Michael Emerson, Shohreh Aghdashloo,Eddie Izzard, Sean Astin,Jennifer Saunders are some of those you will instantly recognize, even if it’s only through their voices. But it’s Tami Stronach playing the Witch who really outshines the casting call for cameos. You may remember her from The NeverEnding Story, but there’s nothing of that role here. This time she plays a lovely character who falls for the right guy when she’s not supposed to.
Man and Witch covers the cliches you’re thinking of. Talking animals, a musical score that’s reminiscent of a movie era that we truly miss, and the “once upon a time…” elements that make fantasy films so endearing. For 99 minutes, you won’t ask for anything else.