The mentally fractured loner reaching breaking point isn’t a new concept in the annals of cinema, but Stuart Simpson’s dark pyschological dramedy Strawberry Chocolate Vanilla ranks among the best of them. A movie about an ice cream man who’s addicted to a soap opera to the point of delusion might sound silly on paper; but thanks to a great script and a master class performance by Glenn Maynard, Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla is a powerful movie that’ll stay in your mind long after the end credits roll. It’s also yet another absolute gem from Australia; further reaffirming that their cinema is the best in the world.
Glenn Maynard stars as Warren Thompson, an ice cream truck vendor who oscillates between living in fiction and reality. Warren is tormented by bullies in his daily life and has spent the majority of his years alienated; his only solace comes in the form of a soap opera which he watches for the beautiful Katey George (Kyrie Capri). Then one day, Katey starts to visit his ice cream van and the line between daydreams and reality becomes a blur.
The film opens with our protagonist as a sobbing mess, having just accidentally run over his own cat. Immediately we’re made aware of just how tragic his situation is, and it makes for uncomfortable viewing watching Warren project such heartfelt grief over the loss of his beloved pet; but there is some darkly comical humour to be found and it sets the tone for the rest of the film, which balances offbeat humour with disturbing and tragic psychological drama.
The supporting cast are comprised of characters who are mostly obnoxious, vile human beings: there’s a pimp who stands under a bridge who spends every scene he’s in with Warren abusing him either verbally or physically, for a start. The pimps girlfriend’s son also just happens to be a thieving little bastard whose crimes come back to haunt Warren. Furthermore, the neighbourhood teenagers poke fun at the way he walks. To put it bluntly: you want to see these people get their comeuppance. However, Warren does have one friend in the girl who works at the store, and their interactions make for some shy pleasantries in an otherwise unpleasant series of interactions.
On top of soap operas, Warren’s other love is westerns. There’s a scene where he imagines himself as a heroic Man With No Name-like figure; in real life he’s pushed around daily, but in his fantasies he’s a bad ass of the Old West.
I can’t praise Glenn Maynard’s performance with words that’ll do it justice; this is a case of it having to be seen to believe it. Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla might not ever be held in as high regard as Taxi Driver, but Warren, in his own right, is a character who’s as powerful as Travis Bickle. In some respects, Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla is a lot like Taxi Driver by way of James Gunn’s Super (2010). They all share fractured central characters, but here we see an offbeat quality similar to the latter that really screws with your emotions. Will you laugh? Yes. Will you feel chills ripple down your spine? Yes. Will you hit a mild depression? Probably. But the beauty of this movie is that it plays so many cards, evokes every emotion and seamlessly shifts between gears without ever losing tonal balance or comprising its narrative.
This definitely isn’t a movie for everyone, but, for me, it catered to my tastes. I thoroughly recommend it if you want something a little bit left of the norm. It’s a fearless film; a dark, oft-hilarious character study that’s impossible to pigeon-hole. As funny as it is harrowing, I felt it to be very moving and bittersweet as well; loneliness is more often than not a tragic theme to explore, and Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla delves into how it can affect mental health. Unlike other similar movies of its kind, this one stands out by having restraint, and it makes the pay-off that little bit more satisfying.
And now I have another director and actor on my radar to look forward to in future.
Glenn Maynard, Kyrie Capri, Aston Elliot