Movie Review: 'Songs for a Sloth' is a Sweet Comedy About Grief and a Sloth Puppet
Writer-director Bradley Hasse smuggles a lovely story about grief inside a comedy about a talking sloth.
Songs for a Sloth is a sneaky little movie. Written and directed by Bradley Hasse, the film may appear to be an otherworldly comedy about Jack McBrayer as the voice of a sloth puppet. Secretly however, Songs for a Sloth is about grief and the odd ways grief manifests following a loss. In this case, Maxwell, played by Richard Hollman, has lost his father. Richard feels obligated to follow through on a strange aspect of his father’s life that he wasn’t aware of and his grief manifests in the form of a talking sloth.
As we join the story of Songs for a Slot, Richard is digging holes in the backyard of his father’s home. Somewhere buried in the backyard is Richard’s long dead dog and he’d promised his father that he would move the dog’s body. Unfortunately, he can’t remember where the dog is buried. Also, this isn’t really about the dog, it’s about his father and the strange ways that grief can manifest itself and give meaning to seemingly meaningless endeavors.
Richard’s big brother, Barney (Brian McCarthy) appears to recognize this but not on a conscious level. He can sense Richard is misplacing his guilt but he doesn’t have a good answer for how to help Richard realize that. Meanwhile, their father’s lawyer is dropping by with some unexpected news. Unbeknownst to Richard, Barney, and their little sister, Jenna (Eva Eisenson), their father had established a habitat for the North American Sloth in a few acres of forest behind their home.
Because their father died broke, the siblings will need to come up with $10,000 dollars to save the habitat or it will go back to the bank and be turned into a strip mall. Barney is sanguine about it, he’s not uncaring but he’s not exactly in the mindset of saving the sloth. For Richard however, raising the funds to save the sloths becomes an obsession. Richard starts making fundraising plans and even returns to his first love as a young man, writing music, this time about sloths.
This all comes about for Richard after he dreams that he had a conversation with a sloth in the forest. The sloth, voiced by Jack McBrayer of 30 Rock fame, begs Richard to save him and honor his father’s legacy. This creates for Richard a purpose, a way to do something for his father whom he felt he disappointed throughout his life, even as Richard gave up his dream of writing music to get a ‘real job’ and eventually took care of his father until he passed away.
Read between the lines and you can easily see that this isn’t about the sloth. That’s not a very subtle point and why should it be. Richard is grieving but he’s not sure how to grieve. He and his father had a complicated relationship and part of Richard needs the closure of a successful endeavor as a cathartic symbol of closure. Naturally, nothing goes to plan and Richard drives both of his siblings crazy with his single minded obsession.
The tone of Songs for a Sloth is hard to pin down. The comedy is sometimes broad, as in the dream sequences, and also incredibly dry. That’s the secret though, Bradley Hasse has smuggled a story about grief and self-actualization into what ostensibly looks like a modern dry comedy. A dash of Adult Swim, a little bit of modern single camera sitcom, and a genuine intention to examine grieving and loss and complicated familial relations.
Richard desperately sought his father’s love, attention and approval and it came at the expense of his dreams, desires and mental well being. He defined himself by being the good son while Barney sought a track of doing as little as possible and Jenna escaped entirely into an online influencer role having never sought her father’s attention and feeling his loss in entirely different ways from Richard.
The performances in Songs for a Sloth are really terrific. The sibling dynamic is the engine of the comedy in the movie and the clashing egos, intentions and feelings of the trio anchors the movie in a relatable space. Richard has strong middle child syndrome vibes and the way Barney and Jenna exacerbate his insecurities, almost unintentionally, will feel very authentic for anyone with a dysfunctional family
The ending of Songs for a Sloth is wholesome and sweet. Richard Hollman is a wonderful singer and musician and the music he performs in Songs for a Sloth are each funny and warm. I especially enjoyed the final song in the movie which is lovely and revealing as Richard demonstrates his growth and the breadth of the emotional journey he’s been on throughout the movie. Songs for a Sloth doesn’t hit every emotional beat, but the last one is a really strong hit.
Songs for a Sloth arrives for Streaming Rental on your favorite Streaming Rental Service on June 15th, 2021.