I don’t think it’s controversial to say that Saturday Night Live has an extremely spotty track record when it comes to producing feature films.
For every classic like Wayne’s World (1992) and The Blues Brothers (1980), the late-night titan could dish out bonafide clunkers like Coneheads (1993) and Blues Brothers 2000 (1998) as well.
Bruce McCulloch’s Superstar (1999) definitely falls into that latter category, since this film spent way more time creeping me out than making me laugh.
The film stars Molly Shannon as Mary Katherine Gallagher, a Catholic high school student whose only ambition in life is to become a Hollywood “superstar” so that she can parley that fame into getting her very first kiss.
While Gallagher’s awkwardness makes that task seem impossible, she finally gets the chance to shine when her school puts together a talent show, where the grand prize is getting to work as an extra in an upcoming movie.
Now, I’m no SNL scholar, and I’m certainly not an expert on Shannon’s run with the late-night sketch show between 1995 and 2001 (that program came on way past my bedtime).
But even though I had no idea who Mary Katherine Gallagher was, I went into this film with an open mind, thinking that Shannon and fellow SNL-writer Steve Koren crafted a movie that would illustrate why this character deserved the big-screen treatment in the first place.
Well, if their goal was to introduce me to a new horror movie villain who is more disturbing that Norman Bates and Hannibal Lecter combined then mission accomplished.
If I were to describe Mary Katherine Gallagher using only three words it would be “severely emotionally disturbed,” since she consistently yo-yos between being hyperactive, aggressive and withdrawn in pretty much every scene.
While this quirky behavior is mildly tolerable in the first five minutes of the film (which is, coincidentally, the average length of an SNL skit), Shannon’s gimmick grows increasingly creepy and unnerving with every passing moment.
When she isn’t breathing heavily or making out with inanimate objects, Gallagher seems to be harboring some deep-seated homicidal rage that’s bubbling right beneath the surface.
The only way she can relate to her fellow humans and their emotions is through re-enacting scenes from old movies, which creates a rift between her and the other characters that isn’t endearing at all.
It also doesn’t help that the writers make her simultaneously behave like a nymphomaniac and a small child; two things that should never go together in a screenplay unless you’re making a critique of bad character writing.
And while the film’s plot is designed to get the audience to root for a nerdy underdog, I couldn’t help but think that this story could be easily turned into a serial killer movie with some selective editing and a new score.
Now, I get that director Bruce McCulloch probably made Gallagher creepy and unnerving on purpose, since he and his fellow compatriots from The Kids in the Hall reveled in putting these kinds of depraved weirdos on TV.
But the reason why a lot of these skits work is they were over in a couple minutes, meaning the audience doesn’t have enough time to think about how these characters would function in the real world.
By exposing us to someone like Mary Katherine Gallagher for over an hour, your mind can’t help but think about things like how many dead cats she keeps buried in her backyard.
Besides that, everything surrounding the film’s main character isn’t much to write home about either.
The plot is paper thin and beyond cliched, featuring a lazy talent show finale that’s served as the climax for an endless number of other high school comedies.
Except for Will Ferrell as Shannon’s love interest, pretty much all the other side characters are completely forgettable since they aren’t given anything to work with.
And the vast majority of the film’s sight gags lack serious imagination, barring some brief detours into dated movie parodies and dream sequences that feature Ferrell as God.
Of course, all of these shortcomings could be forgiven if Superstar consistently made me laugh throughout its runtime. But beyond the first five minutes, and a few decent lines from Ferrell, this movie is a giant comedy dead zone until the credits role.
While a lot of that is due its repulsive protagonist, Shannon should be given some credit for taking on this kind of role in the first place, since she’s fully committed to make herself look as unhinged as possible.
And to her credit, this kind of edgy character work would prove successful in other projects.
During the same year this movie came out, Amy Sedaris achieved cult comedy status through playing 45-year-old high school freshman Jerri Blank in the Comedy Central series Strangers With Candy. Although, part of the reason why that show work where Superstar failed is because the creators of Strangers admitted that Blank was a disturbed person in virtually every episode.
And even though I loath Napoleon Dynamite (2004), it recycled Superstar’s plot to much better results, since the writers at least managed to capture a quirky snapshot of middle America oddballs that resonated with audiences.
All Superstar managed to do was kill the public’s interest in Mary Katherine Gallagher. Following the movie’s premiere in October 1999, Shannon would only portray the character one more time on SNL before leaving the late-night sketch show in 2001.
And since these SNL films are only made to boost the profile of certain intellectual properties, I don’t think that’s the result they were looking for.
These days, SNL relegates most of its cinematic ambitions to digital shorts and the odd pre-recorded skit, which is probably for the best.
Heck, that recent Joker parody featuring David Harbour as Oscar the Grouch generated more demented laughs in three minutes than Superstar could during its entire feature-length runtime.
Corner store companion:
All the cleaning supplies in your residence (because you’ll feel unclean after watching this movie)
-Release date: Oct. 8, 1999
-Budget: $34 million (estimated)
-Box office gross: $30,636,478 (worldwide)
-Before staring in Superstar, Molly Shannon, Will Ferrell and Mark McKinney all previously appeared in the 1998 SNL feature A Night at the Roxbury.
-According to Wikipedia, Shannon played Mary Katherine Gallagher a total of 20 times on SNL between 1995 and 2015. Her last appearance as the character was Feb. 15, 2015 during the show’s 40th anniversary special.
-SNL produced a grand total of 17 films within the span of 31 years. Their debut feature was Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video in 1979 and their last was MacGruber in 2010.
-A large chuck of Superstar was filmed at the University of Toronto.
-Musical highlight: “Beautiful” by the Go-Go’s (plays over the film’s opening credits)