The title and premise of “Be A Man,” the new, low-budget documentary from comedian and Maine native Ray Harrington invites skepticism. After all, how many movies about white males baring their souls does the world really need at this point? But Harrington’s film is a thoughtful, sweet, and very funny chronicle of the burly, baby-faced comic’s attempt to master the “manly virtues” he feels he’s lacking. Spurred into action when he finds out his wife is pregnant, Harrington and fellow comic and friend Derek Furtado brainstorm a list of skills (including fighting, knowledge of cars, cocktails and grooming) and send Harrington on a series of variously ill-fated tests (including climbing in the ring with still pugnacious champion boxer Vinnie Pazienza). Famous fellow comics like Kyle Kinane, Tom Wilson, Steve Rannazzisi and others lend their comic insights as well, adding perspective to Harrington’s endearing, very personal tale. I spoke to Harrington from his home in Rhode Island.
As a standup comedian yourself, what special insights do you feel comics bring to the discussion of masculinity in your movie?
Working with comedians, it’s a luxury to have access, to have them talk on a social topic like that. They get paid to talk – they know what they’re doing. That being said, Derek and I were very aware that we didn’t want the whole thing to be forced or gimmicky in the comedy, but genuine. We allowed honesty to trump everything. Instead of trying to manufacture comedy, we trusted that if you put funny people in a situation, they’ll bring the comedy out of it.
The film is structured around these topics you felt you needed to understand. How did you choose them as signposts of masculinity for you?
They were things that really I felt a connection to when I was a kid. My entire concept of what a man is came from pop culture. I was raised by women, there were no male role models in my life other than TV or movies. That sense of adolescence and masculinity are very connected. That’s what you do when you grow up. Those are manly things. The closest thing I had to a father figure was John Goodman on Roseanne – a man can build a motorcycle. Action movies taught that being a man was shooting guns and kicking things.
So what do you think your experience making Be A Man taught you in the end?
The biggest thing I learned, ironically, was something I already knew. The most manly thing I’ve done now is go from an idea to a finished film, something I really believed in. It was doing it and believing in it and making it into this finished product that [my child] can see. I think, luckily, my son will grow up with a different climate, both personally and culturally. He’ll grow up in a world where gay marriage is not an issue, where the transgender community is where we have a public dialogue happening – that’s it’s not just some urban legend thing. The very phrase “gender identity” was not thrown around in 1998. He’s growing up in a more open culture. All I can do is just be present and be honest and supportive, and I don’t think you can really screw that up. I’m gonna be there and try not to be a jerk, basically.
Harrington’s film Be A Man will screen at the Nickelodeon Cinema in Portland for one show only at 7 p.m. August 19. Tickets are $10, and the film would be rated R for language. I highly recommend you see it.
COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS
SPACE Gallery, Portland (space538.org)
Friday: “A Pigeon Sat On A Branch, Reflecting On Existence.” The films of Swedish director Roy Andersson (“Songs From The Second Floor,” “You, The Living”) are darkly comic, surreal masterpieces of strange, strange brilliance. Here’s his new one, another episodic, near-indescribable film about a pair of novelty salesmen taking an absurdist tour through humanity.
Frontier, Brunswick (explorefrontier.com)
Starting Tuesday: “The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.” Stay in Sweden with this heartwarming comedy about a colorful centenarian who decides to climb out of his nursing home window in his birthday and have an adventure.