Michael Angarano and Juno Temple in "The Brass Teapot," a Magnolia… (Angela Graves / Magnolia…)
The beauty of a well-told fable is typically in its airy brevity, with a moral sharp and bittersweet. Ramaa Mosley's feature debut, "The Brass Teapot," has Aesopian pretensions with its supernatural-themed story about the titular vessel's darkly magical effect on the lives of a young, financially strapped married couple, played by Juno Temple and Michael Angarano. But the conceit — the teapot fills with money when harm is inflicted in its presence — is treated less like a starting-off point for something wise to say about societal masochism than an opportunity to indulge in weakly cynical jokes and aggressively ouch-y humor.
The teapot's gift could be characterized as the ultimate "no pain/no gain" negotiation, but it's hard to feel anything for sinister pixie Alice (Temple) and wisecracking John (Angarano) as they turn self-inflicted injury into wads of kettle-spewing cash. Mosley directs the pair as if they were glib opportunists rather than sympathetic guinea pigs in a temptation-filled, treacherous what-if scenario.
Supporting characters — from a rich, snooty friend (Alexis Bledel) to Alice's obnoxiously perky sister and brother-in-law (Lucy Walters and Jack McBrayer) — are even more superficially drawn (the script is by Tim Macy). Without a human dimension to ground its construct, "The Brass Teapot" ultimately feels like an interminably stretched-out skit rather than a storybook lesson stained with blood and hurt.
"The Brass Teapot." Running time: 1hour, 21 minutes. Rated R for violence, some sexual content, language and drug use. At the Sundance Sunset Cinema.
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