Black Sheep (1996)

by | May 4, 2024 | Film Reviews, 1990s, Comedy | 0 comments

Release date: 2 February 1996 (USA)
Genre: Comedy
Director: Penelope Spheeris
Cinematographer: Daryn Okada
Budget: $2.75 million USD
Box office: $32.4 million USD


“Alright everyone, let’s get this rally rockin’! …(attempts a celebratory backflip, trips over his own shoelace, and crashes spectacularly into a podium)” – Tommy Donnelly (played by Chris Farley)


6 MIN Read Time


Chaotic Charm: A Look at Penelope Spheeris’ “Black Sheep”

Penelope Spheeris, the director who brought us the infectious energy of “Wayne’s World,” takes the reins again in 1996’s “Black Sheep.” This political comedy reunites the comedic duo of David Spade and Chris Farley, but with a twist. Spade’s signature acidic wit plays off Farley’s boisterous energy in a way that feels familiar yet refreshingly new.


Sibling Shenanigans on the Campaign Trail

The film throws us headfirst into the high-stakes world of Washington state politics. Tim Matheson delivers a stellar performance as Al Donnelly, the squeaky-clean, upstanding candidate with a dark secret: his younger brother, the utterly unpredictable Tommy (Farley). Enter Spade’s character, Warren Lift, a tightly wound political operative tasked with the near-impossible mission of keeping Tommy under wraps and preventing him from sabotaging Al’s campaign. 

The chemistry between Spade and Farley is the heart of the film. Spade delivers his deadpan sarcasm with precision, perfectly countering Farley’s chaotic energy. Tommy’s antics are a constant source of amusement, from his hilariously misguided attempts to connect with voters like offering free dental work at rallies (because “a healthy smile is a winning smile!”) to his disastrous public speaking engagements that leave audiences bewildered and reporters scrambling. Spade’s exasperation with Tommy is both relatable and laugh-out-loud funny, his internal monologue practically screaming through his pursed lips and narrowed eyes.


More Than Just Slapstick

“Black Sheep” transcends the realm of pure slapstick. While there are plenty of moments of physical comedy that will have you snorting with laughter (think Farley falling through a ceiling or getting tangled in an American flag in a truly unforgettable display of contortion), the film also offers a surprisingly heartwarming story about brotherhood. Despite their contrasting personalities, Al and Tommy genuinely care for each other. We see glimpses of their shared history through flashbacks, and it’s clear that their bond runs deep. This adds a layer of emotional resonance that elevates the film beyond a collection of gags. In a tender moment, Al confides in Warren about the guilt he carries over a childhood accident that left Tommy with learning difficulties. It’s a scene that adds depth to Al’s character and reminds us that beneath the polished politician lies a flawed but caring human being.


Penelope Spheeris’ Masterful Touch

Spheeris’ masterful direction keeps the film moving at a breakneck pace. The editing is sharp, the camerawork keeps us engaged, and she expertly manages the comedic chaos, ensuring that every scene lands its intended punch. It’s clear that Spheeris understands the strengths of her actors and plays to them perfectly. Farley’s physicality is used to great comedic effect, whether he’s trying (and failing) to navigate a crowded fundraiser or attempting to deliver a passionate speech that descends into nonsensical gibberish. Spade’s dry wit is delivered with impeccable timing, and his withering sarcasm is a constant source of amusement.


A Political Satire with Bite

“Black Sheep” also functions as a light-hearted political satire. The film takes aim at the superficiality of campaigning and the media’s obsession with soundbites over substance. We see Al struggle to maintain his carefully crafted image, coached by Warren to deliver pre-rehearsed, focus-group-tested answers devoid of any real meaning. Tommy’s unfiltered honesty (however misguided) provides a refreshing contrast. In one memorable scene, he throws a wrench into Al’s carefully planned debate by blurting out the truth about their family’s struggling farm, a detail Al had meticulously hidden from the public eye.


A Cast of Quirky Characters

The supporting cast adds to the film’s charm. Christine Ebersole is delightfully conniving as Al’s ruthless political consultant, Rosalind, who prioritises winning at all costs over Al’s integrity. Gary Busey steals every scene he’s in as Healy, the eccentric owner of the local radio station who becomes Tommy’s unlikely confidante. Healy’s unhinged personality and bizarre on-air antics provide some of the film’s most side-splitting moments.


A Fun and Heartwarming Ride

“Black Sheep” is a delightful comedy that offers more than just laughs. It’s a film about the complexities of family, the importance of staying true to oneself, and the absurdity of the political machine. Spheeris’ masterful direction and the dynamic duo of Spade and Farley make this film a must-watch for anyone looking for a fun and heartwarming escape. While the film may not be highbrow political commentary, it offers a lighthearted and entertaining look at the underbelly of political campaigns. It reminds us that sometimes, the most genuine moments come from those who refuse to play by the established rules, even if it means creating glorious, hilarious chaos in the process. 

“Black Sheep” isn’t without its flaws. The plot itself is fairly predictable, and some of the gags rely on broad physical humour that might not resonate with everyone.  However, the film’s strengths far outweigh its weaknesses.  The chemistry between Spade and Farley is undeniable, and Spheeris’ sharp direction keeps the film moving at a brisk pace. “Black Sheep” is a perfect example of a film that knows exactly what it wants to be—a laugh-out-loud comedy with a heart of gold—and delivers it with style.  

So, if you’re looking for a film that will leave you grinning from ear to ear, “Black Sheep” is a must-see. Just be prepared for some outrageous antics, some heartfelt moments, and a whole lot of laughter along the way.


My Rating: 7½/10





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