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Animation

Barber Westchester Is A Weird, Must-Watch Movie

It's like if Bojack Horseman and Ren & Stimpy had a baby

11:28 AM EST on February 5, 2024

On Friday night, the inscrutable whims of the YouTube algorithm landed me on Barber Westchester, a full-length, independent animated film from 2021 that I’d never heard of before. Here’s where some smart take on the film would usually go, but instead I’ll say: I have no idea what it’s about, but I’m super glad I watched it, and I think you should watch it too.

Barber Westchester is written and mostly animated by artist Jonni Peppers, who funded the film through Patreon and worked on it during the pandemic. I struggle to know exactly what to say about it without spoiling it, but it’s about a young person whose family runs, and comprises the entire congregation of, a small-town doomsday cult. Barber is offered an opportunity to escape all this (an opportunity that isn’t as straightforward as it seems), where they learn a shocking revelation about their lifelong love of space. Here’s a trailer, though I’m not sure it helps you understand it much.

After this reveal, the film takes a turn. You’d expect the rest of it to be about this big, important thing Barber has learned, and it is, but only kind of. Instead, Barber mostly wanders around, asking different people they meet for advice. (Those people include a mole that keeps popping up from underground, and a mayor with an angry, drunk… something growing out of his head.) That advice is about Barber’s situation, but also not about their situation at all, and these strange characters offer useful glimpses into how to deal with more everyday stuff like bullying, intrusive thoughts, coming out, and trauma. The film is both very about and not at all about its ostensible inciting incident, in a way that could be disappointing–or, as I found it, a very moving treatise on religious trauma.

But maybe it isn’t about religion? That’s my interpretation, but you could substitute “religion” for “being queer” or “anxiety and depression” or “growing up” and it would make sense too. Peppers told newsletter Animation Obsessives

I think if I boil it down, the main idea behind the movie is that life is a constant struggle, but it’s worth it to keep trying. It’s worth it to try and experience life for what it is, and people for who they really are. Life is messy and scary and creepy and confusing, but, one day, everything is going to be over, so I think it’s just worth it to try and live inside the chaos and figure out how to exist as yourself for your own sake. That’s the movie! Thank you!

Barber Westchester is deeply weird and kind of defies interpretation, both in its narrative and in its animation, which is a mix of different formats and styles. (Here’s a scene with creepy live-action hands? Here’s some puppets? They’re pretty, though!) Sometimes, as an avowed hater of nonsense, I found it confusingly or off-puttingly weird, with many things left unexplained. Other times, subtle nonsense gags were charming; for example, Barber takes a blimp instead of a plane to escape their hometown (Why? I don’t know!), and later we see the blimp company’s slogan as “Blimps. Only 25 are left! Google it!”, which both gave me a laugh and taught me something new once I indeed Googled it. There’s an absolutely wonderful villain song (spoiler warning!), as part of the excellent soundtrack by Dylan Kanner.

Even when I didn’t understand Barber Westchester, I was transfixed for its 90 minute runtime. I’m excited to dig into the rest of Peppers’ work, too. I’ll drop a link below and hope you check it out. Thanks for showing me something cool instead of just being a horrifying alt-right pipeline, YouTube algorithm!

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