“To fall in love is to start a religion that has a fallible God.”
I have long believed that marriage is, more than we'd like to acknowledge, much like a cult that might be encountered by Terry (Jeff Kao) and Tessa Wasserman-Wang (Penny Werner), the husband-and-wife team of cult deprogrammers at the core of Daniel Kremer's Raise Your Kids on Seltzer, a film that continues to gain cinematic steam with its unique, involving story and characters who radiate such a deep authenticity that you can't help but be drawn into their experiences.
As we're introduced to Terry and Tessa, they've had a years-long period away from deprogramming as cults became less prevalent and their careers were reduced to stylish, strangely humorous corporate media gigs seemingly miles away from the life they'd always known. When they are suddenly called back into their area of expertise, the tensions that have been bubbling underneath the surface of their marriage begin to rise and their efforts at deprogramming, once wildly successful, are now obviously rusty as the two must face the truth that they are doing more damage than good.
Taking its title from the couple's rather mysterious motto, "For those who'd rather not drink the Kool-Aid, raise your kids on seltzer, bubble per bubble!," Raise Your Kids on Seltzer is the kind of film that refuses to define the audience's journey with the film. For some, Raise Your Kids on Seltzer will be a film about cults. For some, Raise Your Kids on Seltzer will be a film about the human experience. For some, Raise Your Kids on Seltzer will be some psychological drama in which the rescuers become the rescued. For some, Raise Your Kids on Seltzer will simply be not worth the effort to follow its complex characters and multi-layered storyline.
For me? It all goes back to that beginning ... "To fall in love is to start a religion that has a fallible God."
As we learn more and more about the marriage of Terry and Tessa, it becomes impossible not to wonder if, in attempting to deal with their individual and communal troubled pasts, they've not built a marriage that functions in much the same way as the cult members they've worked with over the years. Have they, in fact, been drinking the Kool-Aid all these years? Were they, in fact, the cult members needing to be set free?
Watch Raise Your Kids on Seltzer and you can decide for yourself.
Jeff Kao and Penny Werner are quietly mesmerizing as Terry and Tessa, their marriage never less than believable even as their internal and external worlds begin to destabilize. The original music from Tom Scott, who also was responsible for the magnificent music in War Dance, serves as a remarkable companion for the film and its characters and for Aaron Hollander's natural lensing that is tremendously effective at not heightening the drama of an already dramatic story.
For those who appreciate the more experimental side of cinema, Raise Your Kids on Seltzer will be a thought-provoking and substantial experience that may very well even be more effective precisely because it's a low-budget indie. For those who require the mass consumption-styled cinema you see at the multiplex, I can assure you this won't be your thing.
Yet, there is truly something special here for those with the patience to experience it. Raise Your Kids on Seltzer gives us unusual characters radiating authenticity living into a storyline filled with the spectrum of the human experience from rage to raging insecurity to moments of remarkable tenderness and simple, fallible love.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic