We all have a few deep, dark secrets that we're just sure are the peak of all things humiliating. Maybe you're a married man who is convinced that, deep down, you may be gay. Or perhaps you're a father of three ... who one day realizes he doesn't like children all that much. You stole, you cheated, you lied ... or, if you're the very unhappy lead character in Habib Azar's odd, dry comedy Armless, you simply want to have your arms removed.
Insane, you say? Borderline lunacy? Absolutely. That's probably what the bulimic teenager thinks about her problems: shameful, insane, and uniquely repulsive. And that's what is most interesting about Armless: we're offered a passive little sad-sack as a protagonist, one who has a deep-seated and rather disturbing wish, and he can't even get any true "help" because he's simply too ashamed of the issue.(And yes, this film is a comedy.)
It takes a little while to warm up, but that's not a problem because Armless is packed with great performances. Soft-spoken Daniel London plays John, a perfectly plain man with a rather unique desire. That John (gradually) comes off as heartfelt and sympathetic is a testament to London's skills -- because, frankly, John could have easily been a revolting freak. The minute that happens, your movie is sunk.
Even better is the excellent Janel Moloney as John's devoted (but justifiably frustrated) wife, who immediately high-tails it to New York when she realizes her husband is up to something ... unpleasantly disarming. Along for the ride is John's mom (Laurie Kennedy), who is full of insights both helpful and, well, not-so-helpful. And once the action moves to NYC, we're treated to great work by Matt Walton (as a concerned plastic surgeon) and Zoe Lister-Jones, as an eye-rolling secretary who harbors a lot more wisdom and decency than she first lets on.
It all sounds like the set-up for a silly, gory joke, but hats off to director Habib Azar and screenwriter Kyle Jarrow for setting up an outlandish premise (sad man wants his arms taken off) and delivering a fascinating little handful of thoughts, themes, and ideas that might actually make one feel better about THEIR own "creepy little secrets." That's a pretty impressive feat for a weird little micro-budgeted dark comedy.