The creative team behind “Free Lunch Express” had a “front row seat” to the Bernie Sanders phenomena, according to producer Bradford Broyles.
Key members of the comedy’s crew watched Sanders up close from their Vermont homes.
So while other satirical outlets poked fun at the socialist’s thick accent and crusty demeanor, Broyles and co. dug deeper.
The result? “Free Lunch Express,” a satirical takedown of the far-left hero.
Their combined experience fueled a film which goes where “Saturday Night Live” and other corporate venues fear to tread.
“The caricature of him would be wonderful to mine from a comedic perspective,” Broyles says of the film’s target. Even better? How did Sanders evolve into the unlikely politician we see today?
“His back story has never really been explored. We do that to a certain degree [with ‘Free Lunch Express’],” he says. “It’s not a biography. We have a lot of fun with it.”
Most of that fun features a young-ish Bernie (actor Sam Brittan) getting tossed from a commune for not doing his mandated chores and similar foibles.
“Most of the stuff in the film is ripped from the headlines,” Broyles says. “We wanted to create something that was funny but also has a bit of a point to it. [Sanders] didn’t hold any gainful employment til he was 40 years old.”
“Free Lunch Express” is certainly critical of Sanders, both his perceived lack of results and his hypocrisies over time. It’s not as savage as, say, Alec Baldwin’s impersonation of President Donald Trump on “Saturday Night Live.”
“We didn’t want it be vicious. It’s easy to go that route,” he says. “[Some] people on our team thought we made him too likeable.”
— @FreeLunchExpress -- The Movie (@FreeLunchExpres) November 25, 2020
As is, Sanders is hardly an avuncular presence. In some ways, it’s part of his appeal. For Broyles, that meant the need to “soften him up” on screen.
“Nobody wants to watch a crotchety old guy you can’t relate to,” he says. “He’s a lovable loser in his own way [in our film].”
The “Free Lunch Express” hit a snag while casting the current Sanders, a white-haired man in his 70s.
“We had some really good Bernie look-a-likes and sound-a-likes,” he says. “But they weren’t comfortable mocking him and having some fun with the character.” The production eventually chose actor Charles Hutchins as the current Sanders stand-in.
The film features cameos by Kevin Sorbo and Eric Roberts, but for many Malcolm McDowell’s appearance as the narrator may be the biggest surprise. The production originally sought a more overtly comic star, like Rob Schneider, to narrate the story.
The team even approached Kid Rock, who “loved the premise but his manager guys said, ‘no, let’s not do that,’” Broyles says.
They opted for a more sophisticated approach and checked in with McDowell’s representatives. The “Clockwork Orange” legend isn’t a conservative, but he was game to poke fun at Sanders and did a smattering of press on the film’s behalf, Broyles says.
Making that happen, though, took time.
“Amazon originally classified us as a suspense movie and an art house movie instead of a comedy,” he says. “It was an absolute hurdle to get the film up and out the door … we didn’t get much help from the powers that be, but we knew that going in.”
Broyles hopes to bring a separate comic vision, “The Potwins,” to homes nationwide in the coming months. His team shot eight episodes of the sitcom and is seeking a distribution deal.
Political comedy hasn’t been the same since President Donald Trump departed the Oval Office. Broyles has no problem tacking progressive sacred cows, but he hopes for a return to an earlier, less venomous age of comedy.
“It would be nice to laugh at ourselves a little bit, not take everything so seriously,” he says.