“If I had a million dollars I’d stay in bed with you all day,” says John (Michael Angarano) to his wife, Alice (Juno Temple), as he unfurls from a morning cuddle to get ready for his workday as a disaffected telemarketer—a job from which he’ll be fired that very day. So begins commercial and music video director Ramaa Mosley’s brightly lit dark comedy, which applies a campfire “What Would You Do If?” premise to a post-topical recession fable about a fiscally struggling couple who discover a magical teapot that creates money whenever the duo experience pain. Imbued with a buoyant mysticism, The Brass Teapot is more gag-friendly than idea-based, primarily relying on the considerable charm of its leads to ground its supernatural conceit.
Strapped with financial anxieties they never anticipated (Alice was voted “Most Likely to Succeed” in high school), the unemployed young newlyweds find it difficult to pay bills and have become uncomfortable with pals and acquaintances, feeling the awkward disparity of wealth among their social circle. Despite the monetary strain, Alice and John are still comfortable and healthy, effectively communicating through cheeky one-liners between sweet kisses. Upon a routine drive, they get into a car accident on a country road and, feeling an overwhelming magnetic force, Alice bolts across the street to an antique shop. In one of many Disneyed parable touches in the film, she’s greeted by a witchy, graying woman whom she ignores, and before long, Alice is running back to the car with a stolen teapot—an impulsive kleptomaniacal move she can’t explain.
After Alice accidentally burns her hair on a curling iron in preparation for a job interview, the teapot fills up with cash; ecstatic by this solution to money problems, Alice and John idealize their fecund future as they begin to inflict harm on themselves to make their millions. Thus begins the deluge of goofball pain-centric montages strewn throughout the film: undergoing dental surgery sans Novocaine, getting a Brazilian wax, dabbling in S&M, etc. They agree to stop after they make their first million, but despite warnings from a Chinese man and two Orthodox Jews, they succumb to temptation—and eventually resort to emotional warfare—as they risk bodily harm and “unsavory consequences” in order to live a wealthy lifestyle.
Temple and Angarano make a pleasantly plausible couple, and their dynamic sells the story more than the script. Mosley and writer Tim Macy use most of their creative energy inventing ways for Alice and John to injure themselves and each other, modestly overlooking the need to develop the film beyond fulfilling the concept. Mosley attempts to maintain an aura of morbid insouciance as the couple exploits their new good fortune, which begins to reek of repetition, yet the scenes that require actual human interaction with others (mostly haughty friends and obnoxious family members—all distasteful, one-note cartoonish characterizations) feel incongruous. This leads to a dangerously unbalanced tone, as wayward and desperate as John and Alice, which stretches to ludicrous degrees in order to justify the clunky cautionary tale Mosley forces, erratically dumping the inevitable moral by adding heaviness instead of layers. Abruptly, despite the overlong running time, the characters who claim that “there’s nothing wrong with wanting more” finally recognize the evil that the brass teapot has churned within them, and deduce that a good marriage survives based on love and not wealth. This anemic foregone conclusion is meant to alleviate the strange horror of the conclusive parade of violence, yet it’s The Brass Teapot’s tonal and character inconsistencies that truly disturb.