Despite a slight disorganization, Shakes the Clown amounts to an incredibly unique and immersive movie featuring a great cast.

Never in a million fever dreams would I have imagined Florence Henderson being a love interest for Bobcat Goldthwait. Turns out Bobcat did, which is why he wrote the Brady Bunch actress into a quick scene at the beginning of his 1991 film Shakes the Clown.

The film is all kinds of off, not least because it features Goldthwait as the title character, an alcoholic womanizing birthday party clown who eventually gets framed for murde—although that huge plot point doesn’t occur until 2/3 of the way into the movie. We spend the first part of the film learning about Shakes, himself, and following his struggle to keep his job despite a plethora of personal issues.

Shakes the Clown is a darkly comedic look into the world of a clown community if it were to actually exist to the embellished extremes created into existence for this movie. Set in the fictional Palukaville, which, we learn early on, has become riddled with clowns who have migrated there for the sole purpose of being surrounded by their own kind, the film often takes on a dreamlike nature as it pleasantly spirals into insanity.

In Palukaville, the clowns all hang out at a clown bar called The Twisted Balloon. They also have violent rivalries with mimes, which have also infested this town (and have their own themed bar as well). Oftentimes the movie prefers to keep the tab running on this overall joke and build this universe rather than tell its story, but honestly the dark (but not too dark) alternate clown reality is so much fun we don’t really care.

Adding to the peculiar ambiance are constricting camera perspectives and surrealistic angles to make everything feel all the more dreamlike. There are almost no relaxing medium shots throughout the entire film.

One of the few tonal missteps is how the movie plays sobriety and alcoholism as a sort of farce. It’s talked about as a real issue, but dealt with through comedic exaggerations or oversimplifications.

Shakes the Clown features a very young Adam Sandler and a cameo by a brilliantly-used Robin Williams but the movie is entertaining regardless. The cast, from top to bottom, is incredibly strong for such a forgotten-about project. Tom Kenny, who plays Shakes’ rival, Binky (the clown), gives a wickedly and unexpectedly psychotic performance, even carrying the tone of the film on his back at times.

Goldthwait has concocted something truly bizarre that could only exist in the mind of someone this creative. The dialogue is smart and doesn’t waste any lines delivering its wry, frank humor, continuously landing most of its jokes. However, Shakes the Clown is a tad disorganized with its story progression. The premise shifts about halfway through and the script is obviously a little scatterbrained, but the pacing doesn’t falter within those pockets, with the movie coming out strong in the end.

Although, if you have a fear of clowns, stay away!

Double Feature With:

Dirty Work (1998)

About the Author: Ethan Brehm

Ethan Brehm

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