Underground Film Journal

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Movie Review: Clean Freak

By Mike Everleth ⋅ November 22, 2007

Clean Freak

Everybody is neurotic to a certain degree. I don’t care who the hell you are, it’s true, which may be one of the reasons why reality shows are so popular on TV. That’s why I watch ’em. You can watch some nitwit exposing themselves in front of a camera and it feels good to think, “Yeah, I’m crazy, but look at this lunatic!”

Chris Hansen didn’t wait to be cast in a reality show, though. Instead he made himself the subject of his own documentary to explore his obsessive-compulsive relationship to cleanliness. Hansen acts like he lives in a total pigsty, but his home is really only casually messy probably like many people’s. Yet, he has the compulsive need to constantly clean up after his wife and his young daughters. We get shots of him doing the dishes, making the bed, organizing “messes” into tidy piles, etc. So, while there never seems to be too much to actually clean up, the fact that he does it constantly leads Hansen to believe that he must be overly neurotic than your average human. We then follow along as he tries to get to the source of his neuroses and then how to fix them.

Hansen previously directed the acclaimed underground mockumentary The Proper Care and Feeding of an American Messiah (you can read me acclaiming it right here and buy it on DVD here) and Clean Freak sets out on the premise that it’s an out-and-out honest-to-God documentary. I don’t think I’m ruining anything by saying that it isn’t, and I don’t feel like leading people on anyway. Oh, I believe the premise is true and lots of the film are cringingly personal and honest, particularly the scenes where he’s interacting with his family. Hansen blames his mom for creating his cleaning obsession and his dad and his brother seem to blame her, too.

The cool thing, though, is that when the film does slip into fictional fare — whether explicitly scripted by Hansen or improvised doesn’t matter — it’s suddenly not clear which parts are totally true and which are “inspired” by the truth. Actually, the film begins with what I thought was a horrifying scene of Hansen blowing up at his kids. Even though his family just kind of laughs at him, and that’s including the kids, the scene comes off as being really uncomfortable. But, did it happen? Has it happened in the past and just re-enacted for a camera? Whatever the truth, it ultimately doesn’t matter because the objective reality of the film is true — even if some of it’s made up.

I also thought it was quite the risky move for Hansen to perform as himself. He’s not an actor as far as I know, but he’s very natural being on camera. So, even when it’s clear he’s hamming it up for a gag, the gag never feels forced or separate from the truly confessional moments. Because of his naturalness throughout the film, it’s easy to slip from real to “imaginary real” without the film suffering from any distracting shifts in tone.

That consistent tone, too, is so important because as with his previous film, American Messiah, and now this one Hansen has proved to be a master of the subtle gag. The jokes come in organically through the set-up of his premise and his scenes, which aren’t really “jokes” so much as humorous moments and they range from producing the polite laugh to the raging guffaw. While many of his set-ups are completely outlandish, and here scenes with a hypnotherapist and a Clean Freaks Anonymous meeting are the real highlights, it’s all played very straight so that the humor is completely organic and not forced.

It’s not easy to place oneself center stage for the express purpose of mocking one’s own foibles and neuroses, but Hansen does it with graceful aplomb and ends up with one heck of a charming short film.

More on this film: Watch this underground movie online

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