Barbara Lippert’s Critique: Paging David Lynch

Here are the standard operating clichés that spring to mind when I think of Mercury cars: Grandpa rockin’ the condo community (and, when parking, taking up the whole driveway) with his fancy beige Grand Marquis, or Barney Fife at the wheel of his shiny Merc cruiser, officiously motoring around Mayberry RFD.

So it’s something of a shock that Meet the Lucky Ones, a new online short-film series promoting the Mercury Mariner SUV, is not only not an embarrassment, it’s a fresh, smart, edgy (and every other adjective related to “hip” you’d never previously associate with the brand) production.

A deadpan gem of a modular film about a weird family, Meet the Lucky Ones suggests Twin Peaks crossed with Arrested Development, with a hint of Malcolm in the Middle in the middle. Or think of it as Six Feet Under, without the sex and unrelenting horror and with much better music.

So what does that have to do with selling cars, you ask?

Well, within the you-have-to-start-somewhere universe, this is a prime model of integrated marketing. And it’s a cool use of branded content to reach people who live online. It’s also a unique collaboration—it fits right in with Young & Rubicam’s great-looking “New Doors Opened” Mercury campaign; Wunderman worked on the content with Internet genius Kirt Gunn and also brought in Mother to consult; and the whole thing was produced by @radical.media (and they all played nicely together!).

The music, cutting, camera angles and onscreen graphics all add to the depth and edgy feeling. (There’s also a Mariner sweepstakes giveaway component on the site, MeetTheLuckyOnes.com.) Given its unforgettable look and sound, I’d call Meet the Lucky Ones the first worthy successor to BMW Films—except it’s much less about reaching alpha males through car wrecks and fireball explosions and more about getting into the psyches of women who no longer watch soap operas but are into narratives about quirky human characters.

Shot in Nashville on digital video by director Derek Cianfrance (who won best cinematographer at Sundance last year for Quattro Noza), Lucky Ones features the hyper-real look and rich, saturated colors of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, and a cozy and peculiar small-town setting similar to the one in Twin Peaks. The director has a great eye for quirky details, from the overhead closeup of the 1950s-ish swirls in the diner’s Formica tabletops to the bright-orange wristband worn by the mullet-haired Danish exchange student, Jesper (pronounced “Yesper”), as he’s boiling a frog for dinner.

The slow, clever unfolding of details will continue over five weekly installments, until the last week of November (although each one could stand alone). The opening shows all the characters climbing on an overstuffed sofa in the front yard of a house. The couch is a standard prop of the archetypical sitcom, but Lucky Ones eschews all of the formulaic setups and jokes of the conventional TV series.

It features a rather Lynchian roster of characters—a nuclear family headed by Mike, a banjo-playing dentist, for example, who never makes it home for “family night” even though he initiated it with his wife and kids; various grandparents and aunts and uncles, including two guys who have a neighborly fight about a ride-on mower and a lottery ticket; and Alan, the guy who owns the local laundry and, determined to woo a girlfriend, pays in quarters for a tooth-whitening from Mike, who absentmindedly fishes a pick out of his patient’s mouth. (Alan’s teeth fall out after the whitening, so he then tries a fake tan.)

The story also offers three generations of strong women, and in the most unintrusive way, a brand new Mercury Mariner is shown in a garage festooned with balloons, a big “Congratulations graduate” sign attached to it. The only problem is that Sharon, whose gift it is, lied about having finished her graduate work. She later quotes from Look Homeward, Angel, and any Internet film that references Thomas Wolfe gets my vote.

I’m not allowed to give away the story of the fifth installment, but suffice it to say that one of the older women becomes a regular Jack Kerouac, heading out on her own for the ultimate freedom of the road. The Thelma and Louise thing seems to be big in advertising these days—it’s also seen in commercials for adult diapers and allergy medicine. (The women in the latter spot, rid of their twitchy noses, temporarily trade their husbands for a pair of hunky white-water-rafting guides, which is quite unintentionally funny but not as dark as what happens in Lucky Ones.)

Two more elements that make the film great are the narrator (a woman who has a peculiarly American and knowing, sweet young voice—almost like Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird) and the absolutely hypnotically cool theme song, by Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields. The Web site offers additional clues and background components (like Jesper’s diary of his time in America) that were written by Ed Herbstman of Da Ali G Show.

All in all, it’s worth watching. And yes, I guess now I’ll replace my ossified images of the Grand Marquis and police cruiser with this brand-new Mariner. ‘Cause Barney, we’re not in Mayberry anymore.



Mercury

Agency

Young & Rubicam/

Wunderman, Detroit

Dir. of digital marketing

Jeff Grice

Exec. creative director

Lance Paul

Group creative director

Bertrand Garbassi

Creative director

Eric Livingston

“Meet The Lucky Ones”

Creator

Kirt Gunn, Kirt Gunn & Associates

Director

Derek Cianfrance

Executive producers

Jon Kamen, Greg Schultz,

@radical.media

Writer

Ed Herbstman

Creative consultants

Mother, New York

Musical composer

Stephin Merritt,

The Magnetic Fields