1993 Sundance Film Festival Nominated, Grand Jury Prize Dramatic for Inside Monkey Zetterland

1993 San Sebastián International Film Festival Nominated, Golden Seashell Best Film for Inside Monkey Zetterland (1992)

1993 Toronto International Film Festival Nominated, Grand Jury Prize Dramatic for Inside Monkey Zetterland

1993 Palm Springs International Film Festival Nominated, New Voices/New Visions Grand Jury Prize

1993 Seattle International Film Festival WON, Audience Award

MOVIE REVIEW : A Quirky, Likable ‘Monkey Zetterland’


Imagine being a fledgling screenwriter working on a project that reveals the corruption that brought about the demise of L.A.’s streetcar system, the beloved big Red Cars in particular.

You might think it a topic best suited to “Chinatown’s” highly experienced Robert Towne, but the feckless hero of the quirky and amiable “Inside Monkey Zetterland” (Sunset 5, Monica 4-Plex) forges ahead with the project despite the nonstop litany of distractions that make up virtually the entire film.

Steven Antin’s Monkey has scarcely a moment’s peace and quiet in his Spanish-style flat in the Fairfax area. He’s forever being interrupted by his high-strung, possessive mother (Katherine Helmond), a veteran soap-opera star in constant fear of being written out of her show. Then he gives comfort and temporary shelter to his sweet-natured gay sister (Patricia Arquette), whose lover (Sofia Coppola) has deliberately become pregnant without consulting her.

Then there’s an aggressive, neurotic neighbor (Sandra Bernhard) who throws herself at him continually, and there are some new politically radical tenants (Martha Plimpton and Rupert Everett). Also dropping by are Monkey’s hippie father (Bo Hopkins), who shows up annually; his thin-skinned grandmother (Frances Bay); his hairdresser brother (Tate Donovan) and even a super-intense fan (Ricki Lake) of his mother.

The one person who’s leaving rather than arriving is his bored lover (Debi Mazar), and even she is perpetually returning to pick up more of her stuff and give Monkey yet another piece of her mind. No wonder the guy’s in therapy (with shrink Lance Loud), but even there his privacy is being invaded, for in return for free treatment he must submit to being observed by a bunch of medical students from behind a one-way mirror.

Antin, who also wrote the film, has a sharp ear for flaky dialogue and a bead on human foibles L.A. style, but he might well have considered going a bit further outside Monkey and suggested what role this highly impersonal city has in affecting behavior and an individual’s sense of security (or lack of same).

Although “Inside Monkey Zetterland” is very much a writer’s film, director Jefery Levy has managed to draw a quality of freshness from everyone in a very large cast. Along with Antin, the film’s likable linchpin, Helmond, who plays against the cliches of the Jewish mother, and Plimpton, whose role is comically outrageous, have the showiest parts. “Inside Monkey Zetterland” (rated R for language) is modest yet undeniably distinctive.

‘Inside Monkey Zetterland’

Steven Antin: Monkey Zetterland

Katherine Helmond: Honor Zetterland

Martha Plimpton: Sofie

Sandra Bernhard: Imogene

An I.R.S. release. Director Jefery Levy.. Producers Tani Cohen, Chuck Grieve. Executive producers Louis J. Perelman, Levy. Writer/co-producer Steven Antin. Cinematographer Christopher Taylor. Editor Lauren Zuckerman. Costumes Stephen Earabino, Hayley Marcus. Music Rick Cox, Jeff Elmassian. Production design Jane Stewart. Set decorator Wendy Weaver. Sound Craig Felberg, Stephen Tibbo. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.

MPAA-rated R (for language).

Copyright 2018 Los Angeles Times


Inside Monkey Zetterland

January 16, 2006 by Emanuel Levy

L.A. International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, July 1992—-Inside Monkey Zetterland, a charming comedy about contemporary life in L.A, is infused with a sophisticated gay sensibility. Though pic contains some gay and lesbian characters, its broad canvas, humanistic vision, magnetic cast, and inspired writing broaden its appeal beyond gay and lesbian audiences. Prospects for theatrical release are excellent, with pic targeted to young, educated audiences in urban centers.

In his stunning debut as a scripter, Steven Antin demonstrates a rare appreciation for the eccentric details of our edgy and violent existence. At the heart of Antin’s poetic comedy, loosely based on his life, is the complex, oedipal relationship between Monkey Zetterland (Antin), an aspiring writer, and his domineering Jewish mother (Katherine Helmond), a famous TV soap-opera star. Father Mike (Bo Hopkins), “a dictionary of l960s cliches,” is not around much, but Monkey is close to his brother Brent (Tate Donovan), a handsome hairdresser and his mother’s favorite, and even more intimate with his lesbian sister Grace (Patricia Arquette), who moves into his house during a strain in her relationship with lover Cindy (Sofia Coppola).

Monkey’s biological family is only one aspect of his rich world, which contains a large network of friends, neighbors, and strangers he meets at the Public Library or on the street. Inside Monkey Zetterland renders a new meaning to “family life.” Pic’s best sequences are collective gatherings–Thanksgiving dinner, regular evenings in front of the TV–in which Monkey’s friends behave like one big extended family.

Dealing with convoluted lives and romantic entanglements of no less than a dozen characters, lyrical pic provides astute meditation on love, loneliness, and violence in present-day L.A. Like Steve Martin’s vehicle L.A. Story, the film is basically a love song to laid-back and nutty L.A. Antin’s characters are just as charming as Martin’s, only younger, more eccentric and off-beat.

In its tone, Inside Monkey Zetterland bears resemblance to Alan Rudolph’s best pix (Welcome to L.A., Choose Me). Like Rudolph, Antin’s ironic view and whimsical absurdity contain light and dark humor in equal measures. Nonjudgmental, the comedy refuses to distinguish between normal and abnormal, healthy and perverse. Antin’s achievement as a writer is in showing love and empathy for each of his characters, including Daphne (Debi Mazar), the girlfriend who leaves him, taking the yellow curtains (now a sexy dress) she has given him as a present.

Fusing hipness and lyricism, Antin’s distinct comic vision perceives the world as both funny and odd. And he possesses a rare capacity to evoke a sense of wonder in the most mundane situations. Though dealing with somber events (random violence, tragic death), the film is ultimately ennobling, because of its emphasis on the will to survive.

Jefery Levy’s unforced direction avoids obvious jokes; he doesn’t go at his subject in the blunt TV sitcom style. Levy achieves the ironic laughs without working hard to get them and without squeezing them. Helmer lets comedy build through a leisurely accumulation of many small telling details.

It’s too bad the film falters in its last half hour: It gets too cute in its set-ups and too TV-like in its artificial tempo. Pic also errs in deliberating on one of its least convincing sub-plots, involving a terrorist act against an homophobic insurance company. And a pat, fairy-tale ending is incongruent with the film’s dominant texture.

But Antin and Levy have rounded up terrifically charismatic performers. Helmer handles large cast with apparent ease, giving each character actor the chance to show off his/her special qualities. In the core role of the mother, Helmond provides the big, irritating personality, on which much of the humor is dependent. Displaying great chemistry, Helmond and Antin’s scenes often crackle; one at Canter’s Deli is particularly hilarious.

Limited space precludes discussion of each member of the uniformly talented ensemble. Still, Martha Plimpton almost walks off with the film as a bullimic, foul-mouthed activist. As a lesbian impregnated by a man she met at a Women Against Pornography rally, Sofia Coppola gives a stand-out, multi-shaded performance.

Sandra Bernhard brings to the role of Imogene, an eccentric who among other hobbies likes to xerox her feet, a mixture of devious edge and light self-mockery. Patricia Arquette carries off the sensitive sister with physical grace and verbal delicacy. Debi Mazar has an original fierceness about her as the girlfriend who’s always in a hurry, and Rikki Lake provides another strong presence as a fanatic TV fan.

Production values of small-budget picture are good in every department. Christopher Taylor’s exquisite lensing has a snazzy verve; it is luminous yet informal. Lauren Zuckerman’s sharp editing brings snap to the storytelling, which makes it appear choreographed.

Inside Monkey Zetterland is funny, sharp-tongued and devious, but never wicked or nasty. Resonant comedy is so attuned to the zeitgeist that any urban dweller will find something relevant in it.