The Rocket Files: It’s Time for Androgyny…Here Comes Pat!
Walking outside right as dusk is waning almost completely into darkness, your eyes spot a twinkling light up in the pale-pinky-violet remnants of the sky. This spot of white-hot radiance, a shine so full that it’s burning a pale blue. No matter how much the air grows cold and riddled with the din of bad traffic, that strong star is still there. Steadfast and true.
Folks welcome to the next installment of The Charles Rocket Files, the ongoing article series dedicated to the one-of-a-kind force of a man and artist, the late great Charles Rocket. In the past, we got to see Charlie deal with underworld criminals while going Down Twisted, then rouse it up with his musical skills and effortless wit at one helluva of a TV Party. This time around, it’s time to look at 1994’s comedy, It’s Pat.
Out of all the films and TV work that is going to be delved into with this series, few will be as critically maligned like It’s Pat. (Save for, ironically enough, the 1980-81 season of Saturday Night Live that featured Rocket as part of the cast. But that will be saved for the near-mid future!) It’s Pat was part of a small wave of feature films based on popular SNL characters that came after the huge success of Penelope Spheeris’ Wayne’s World (1992). Of course, the real OG is John Landis The Blues Brothers (1980), but that was a different era and despite the beloved status of that title, it didn’t set off a chain reaction of Hollywood adaptations of beloved SNL skits. Maybe the world wasn’t ready for a movie about the loves and loss of the land shark or the Coneheads. (We would have to wait until the 1990s for that one. Inexplicably.)
When you look up anything on the movie version of It’s Pat, you will be greeted with a lot of bad reviews, trivia about how it did so poorly its first week that it was immediately pulled from theatrical distribution, and message boards asking if It’s Pat is problematic in this day and age. That’s a whole lot of heat for such a willfully silly comedy from 1994. Also, there is no way this is one of the worst comedies ever or even from the SNL film cadre. It’s not a classic, to be sure, but it didn’t really deserve the vitriol aimed at it, especially when The Animal (2001) and Fraternity Vacation (1985) exist.
The crux of Pat, both here and in the SNL skits, is that they are so androgynous, that everyone that crosses their path is whipped up into a frustrating frenzy of gender confusion. It's the veritable comedy of errors with Pat being the blissfully unaware center of it all. Pat’s complete obliviousness only makes those around them even more maddened. Admittedly, it’s a concept that has not aged the best, but Julia Sweeney’s, the creator and actress behind Pat, work has always lacked anything close to the valley of hateful. Sweeney, who got her start in comedy with the famous improv-troupe Groundlings, was always a low-key powerhouse on SNL. Low-key only because of SNL’s history of tending to hold back their female talent. If we applied this to a math equation, Chris Kattan < Cheri Oteri, but who was arguably more famous? Kattan, though given the cheese sliding off the cracker factor of late, is maybe not the best example to use. Regardless, the overall case still stands: Julia Sweeney is one talented lady.
The cast in It’s Pat is extraordinarily tight. In addition to Sweeney, there’s Kathy Griffin as Pat’s talk radio host neighbor…Kathy. Speaking of Kathys', there is also Kathy Najimi in a cute cameo as the world’s most beautiful and flummoxed cashier at LA’s most rustic-looking general store. There’s also former Mad TV and Groundlings alumni Mary Scheer and Phil LaMarr in small roles, though it is always nice to see either one of them in anything.
However, the two titans at play here are Dave Foley and, of course, Charles Rocket. (This ain’t called the Rocket Files for nothing!) Casting Foley, fresh in people’s minds as not only one of the most charismatic but also the prettiest member of the Kids in the Hall, as Pat’s equally androgynous love interest Chris, was an obvious one in the best possible ways. Beauty is subjective, but take one look at Foley as the raven-haired sex worker with the Euro-accent on Kids in the Hall, and you’ll see Isabella Rossellini’s hardscrabble younger sister. The role of Chris had originally been played by Dana Carvey on SNL, but as crazy brilliant as Carvey is, Foley has this wide-eyed guilelessness that works so well in a feature film format.
Then there is Charles Rocket, who is, hands down, the best thing about the entire film. Even if you hate the SNL skits and the movie, which would place you in the majority of critics, it is still absolutely worth checking out for Rocket and his beautifully nutzoid performance. Around the fourteen-minute mark, the film perks up with the arrival of Kyle and Stacy Jacobson (Rocket and Julie Hayden), a friendly and extremely WASPY couple who are the new tenants at Pat’s apartment complex, the whimsically named Villa Obscura. (Oh, hohoho.) Beforehand, there’s a brief origin story of Pat and their complete incompetence at holding down any jobs and unintentionally terrorizing Kathy. (In Pat’s defense, who the hell leaves their door unlocked at an apartment complex, but especially one in Los Angeles?)
The Jacobsons are this good-looking, friendly couple that could have walked off the pages of any big box department store catalog by way of Madison Avenue, but its this fateful meeting of Pat that tears their marriage asunder, as Kyle becoming quickly obsessed with America’s favorite androgyne. Granted, the painting of two old-timey guys wrestling in their apartment could point to something less bourgeois but it is sadly never explored.
Of the various bizarre little side-streets and overpasses this film takes, Kyle’s fixation on Pat is not only the biggest but also the darkest. The litany of offenses, including spying on Pat, breaking into their bathroom with a video camcorder in the attempt to catch the act of urination (spoiler-it was Pat dumping out expired orange juice), stealing their computer diary, dressing up like privately like Pat, and even fashioning a Charlie McCarthy-nightmare-ventriloquist doll to look just like the object of his fixation, would be more than enough to warrant enough restraining orders to fill a fifty-pound feedbag. Basically, Kyle is a sexually confused stalker who lets his marriage and life go to compost while invading Pat’s privacy in several ways. All this in a film that is the lightest of light comedies. How does one portray the funny side of stalking and sexual harassment?
For starters, you cast Charles Rocket as the aforementioned psycho-sexual huntsman. Like an alchemist of comedy, Rocket takes a two-note role and makes it the most magnetic, not to mention the funniest, thing in the film. This lanky, handsome man becomes more and more love-goony in the presence of Pat, whose lips are consistently coated in spittle while being self-absorbed to a nearly sociopathic level. The thing that makes Pat a comedic jester isn’t the most obvious. Pat’s androgyny is simply that. It’s there and it is fine. It’s the twin punch combo of Pat’s obliviousness that borders on the supernatural and the reactions of those around them. Being that hung up on anyone’s gender is more revealing of the deep-seeded fears of the one judging than anything else, which is why the character of Kyle is kind of perfect. Rocket somehow manages to be charming and genuinely funny in the most bent of ways. Kyle is a creep but Rocket, like the most gifted of bakers, sifts in his talents and charisma, keeping the proceedings from feeling like the preamble to the world’s dumbest true-crime podcast.
His unhingement injects vital dark comedy to a film that, while unfairly maligned, is wafer-thin in its proceedings. The scenes with Kyle locked in his home office, haphazardly decorated with various black and white photos of Pat, especially show this. He has the bent-back gait of one whose obsessions grow so wholesale that it almost physically transforms them. But instead of lycanthropy, you just end up stalking your horrible neighbor and wearing a Party City Leo Sayer wig and fake glasses. Comparatively, it seems like a horrid trade-off. When he finally cracks the password into Pat’s computer diary, his voice lowers to a sultry tone, riddled with half-lidded luridness. Later, he tries to seduce Pat by the fireplace, complete with spirits, and the overall ambiance of l’amour. To no avail, but the sight of Charles Rocket trying to lure Pat into some sensuous dancing, complete with some awkwardly saucy hip movements, is an image that will stay with you for a long time. Again, the man truly brings wit and a gleam to such proceedings. His performance here is a simmering stew of the best kind of dementedness and hence, making him the brightest star in the whole film. Given the talented cast abounding, this is no mean feat.
As for the movie as a whole, one of its best qualities that aren’t named Charles Rocket is the beautifully quixotic universe Sweeney and company has created here. Even the set design wriggles and writhes in full absurdist kitsch, with the only thing missing is some sweet-sweet-lounge-stylings from Combustible Edison. Instead of that great, swanky-pseudo-lounge group, we do get Ween. The band is literally part of the movie. Granted, a small one, but any movie that has the guys that gave us “Touch My Tooter” playing themselves cannot be all bad. (It probably helped that director Adam Bernstein had worked with them previously with the 1993 music video for “Push the Little Daisies.”) Plus, there’s a weird-ass Camille Paglia cameo, making her the Professor Irwin Corey for the X generation. Personally, I’m looking forward to her upcoming supporting role in Hardbodies Redux (2023) as a nearsighted couples therapist who gets roped into judging a bikini contest hosted by the festering corpse of Shecky Greene.
Even when the jokes don’t always land, the sense of fun that the cast had while working on It's Pat shines. This is a silly comedy that knows its ridiculousness and fully operates within the perimeters. Perhaps, its biggest flaw is tied to the fact that most recurring characters in sketch comedy aren’t relatable or likable enough to flesh out a feature-length comedy. After all, titles like Wayne’s World and The Blues Brothers are more anomalies than the status quo.
While it might be far from a classic, It’s Pat is a light film with some great talents, quirky touches, some great Mark Mothersbaugh music, and, most importantly, a big chance for Charles Rocket to shine and shine, he truly does. If you can’t appreciate this man dancing around with a creepy Pat doll while he puts the psycho in psychosexual, then maybe you should stick to playing ball-in-a-cup with the local vicar. (Heads up….he’s never been the same since the John Deere-burrito incident.)
Next time on the Rocket Files…an inaugural visit to Rockefeller Center.