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John Lamb, Published September 25 2010

Dark comedy shows Fargo's flip side

Dan Glaser wants audiences to know something before they see his feature-length film debut, “Pinching Penny”: This “Penny” isn’t always pretty.

The Fargo-based filmmaker aimed to show a seedier side of his hometown with the movie, which he expects to earn an “R” rating. It screens at the Fargo Theatre Sunday afternoon.

(You can get a taste for the film from the trailer at www.pinching-penny.com.)

Your guide to that seedier side is Alex, a British hypochondriac and shopaholic who relocated to North Dakota. In a frenzy to feed his consumerist cravings, he and his cohorts turn to crime, notably kidnapping.

And that’s the lighter side of this dark comedy.

If it sounds like a certain other kidnapping caper set in Fargo, Glaser understands.

He describes “Penny” as a “pastiche” of films by the Coen brothers, Quentin Tarantino, Guy Ritchie and most notably, Danny Boyle’s “Trainspotting.”

The “Trainspotting” references are audible in Alex’s narration.

“I was trying to play upon the tropes of those European crime, black comedy movies such as ‘Trainspotting’ or any of the Guy Ritchie films or what have you,” Glaser says. “The character’s voice as I was writing just fell into that British cadence.”

Working with an all-local cast and crew and filming in Fargo, Moorhead and Ada, Minn., in August 2009, Glaser says it would’ve been easier to make Alex (Steven Molony) and his Scottish friend Murphy (Timothy J. Meyer) locals, “but I didn’t want to fight what was coming out in the character.”

He says the accents “give the film a little bit of an exotic flavor.”

(In a recent High Plains Reader article, Glaser said to get Murphy’s Scottish brogue, Meyer watched “Trainspotting” twice a day for two weeks.)

At the same time, the outsiders’ voices allow a different perspective on the American consumerist culture.Where “Trainspotting” focuses on the main characters’ heroin addiction, Glaser afflicted Alex with the vice of rabid consumption.

“We wanted to do a substance abuse film about something that wasn’t drugs or sex,” Glaser says, noting that drugs, sex and violence all have a place in the movie. This might raise eyebrows for those who remember Glaser as the lead in Trollwood’s “Fiddler on the Roof” four years ago and his sister, Ginny, who starred in Trollwood’s 2009 version of “The Wiz.” She’s on the other side of the rainbow in “Penny” as one of Alex’s unlikable – and lustful – sidekicks.

“It’s definitely nothing worse than what you would see in a Coen brothers film or a Tarantino film,” says Dan Glaser, who wrote, directed, edited and produced “Penny.”

While he made the movie in light of his influences, he says it stands out on its own.

“This had the potential to become just another ‘Fargo’ or a Tarantino wannabe movie, but instead, because of what we put into it, it became something very personal, something of our own,” the director says.

“This is not a hometown let’s-go-shoot-a-movie. It can go somewhere,” says fellow producer Paul Meyers.

In addition to being a financial backer of the $4,000 film, Meyers also helps Glaser with marketing and networking.

“It’s definitely not a Disney movie,” Meyers says. “It’s like a race or a roller-coaster ride on the edge of society.”

He looks beyond the violence and says the film offers a look at the disintegration of human values in some circles.

Meyers says Glaser and his film can run in bigger circles.

“I’m excited that something from Fargo can go on and maybe get distribution,” he says.

While Glaser is shopping the product for distribution and to festivals, he’s also busy working on a handful of other films. He says he’ll move out to Los Angeles in November.

Glaser says LA audiences have taken a shine to “Penny” and appreciate the Midwestern setting for the noir movie.

Whether Midwesterners, particularly Fargoans, appreciate Glaser’s take on life in their own backyard will be seen after Sunday’s screening.

If you go

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533