Christmas Eve was even more delightful with the release of John Mulaney’s most recent special, John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch. The hour-long special puts a Barney and Friends twist on Mulaney’s dry humor, and the unique ensemble of child actors and adult guest stars make the musical-meets-comedy special exciting and fresh.
The Netflix original special features Mulaney, clad in a white sweater reminiscent of Mr. Rogers, surrounded by young children eager to consume Mulaney’s sage wisdom. Advertised by Mulaney in the opening scene as “a show for kids, by adults, with kids present,” Mulaney mixes grown-up humor with childhood nostalgia, creating a more PG, yet just as fun, comedy special.
Interview-style clips are scattered throughout the film and truly root the special in Mulaney’s dry, ironic style, with the primary question being, “What is your biggest fear?” In a blatant display of ironic existentialism, the children’s responses range from “A big asteroid hitting the earth,” “drowning,” and “pigeons.”
In a homage to his Saturday Night Live beginnings, Mulaney extensively uses sketch comedy combined with musical performances throughout the special. Though the odd mélange of song topics may be surprising to the viewer, this random assortment delightfully combines grown-up humor with youthful honesty. The first song, emphatically performed by a prepubescent Mulaney, explains the story of Paul, his grandma’s boyfriend. Later in the film, one of Mulaney’s youthful comrades sings about his love (or obsession) for noodles with butter. Two more duet about the ever-confusing childhood quandary, “Do flowers exist at night?”
The one downfall of the special, however, is the inconsistency of the children’s ages. Though many appear to be middle-school aged youths, some sketches feel more juvenile than others. For example, in the movie’s focus group sketch, the kids give blatantly childish, toddler-level responses. Later in the film, the same child actors are more mature, giving responses more consistent with their ages. While the blend of adult and youth themes is the foundation of the special, some scenes are more seamless than others.
As the comedy special wears on, multiple guest appearances shake up the storyline, from Richard Kind, who is featured in several Pixar Films, to Orange is the New Black’s Natasha Lyonne. Kind acts as a wise mentor for the “Girl Talk” sketch, where he recommends his favorite movie, “Witness for the Prosecution,” and gives unpredictably cold acting advice to the girls. In Lyonne’s short interview, she notes her biggest fears: escalators, automatically flushing toilets, and nuclear disaster.
But the real star of the show doesn’t make an appearance until the last ten minutes. Move over Brokeback Mountain: Jake Gyllenhaal’s most famous, most brilliant, most awe-inspiring performance is now his role as Mr. Music. The enchanting performance ends the movie on a high note.
John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch offers a tamer example of using childhood as a humor device than Mulaney’s show Big Mouth. Lacking the vulgarity and age-restricted content present in much of Mulaney’s work, Sack Lunch Bunch is a delightful comedy destined to make the audience laugh out loud or maybe just forcefully exhale in place of true laughter.