By Colleen Rowe
Photo from “Stony Brook Film Festival” website: Link
In a world where feigned perfection sells, the characters in Don Cherel’s short film, “Sorta’ Horny” (2013) are buying twenty-two-year-old Sheldon Daffner’s (Adam Silver) time to stare at the protruding horn on the side of his forehead as he waits on the customers at the diner he works for. Generally, it’s difficult not to stare at the particular individuals we see in public with birth defects and physical abnormalities—Cherel portrays this concept with his own amusing spin.
“Sorta’ Horny” is an initially semi-depressing, comedic visual commentary on the way people react to the societally proclaimed “abnormal.” Innocently portrayed, Sheldon works at this local diner, acting noticeably timid, but friendly enough to fulfill his role as the “head waiter.” Confirmed by Cherel during a Q&A after the film showed at the 19th annual Stony Brook Film Festival (SBFF), the seemingly cheap, lower class diner is an actual building located in Pacioma, Los Angeles, a place he described as a “destination to nowhere,” used solely as a set for production purposes. Cherel explained that many Los Angeles police officers were present on the highway, infamous for questionable activity with its functional motel (rent by the hour) behind the diner set, in Pacioma. One day while shooting, Cherel thanked one of the cops for his consistent presence and he responded, “Odds are I would’ve been here anyway.”
Throughout the workday at Sheldon’s job, we see his various interactions with different customers, some who simply stare at his horn and others who actually ask him about it. The African American couple (Zondra Wilson & Michael MicQuick Davis) he waits on seems most comparable and believable—they were the easiest for the audience to relate to. Although initially noticing the horn, they are more concerned with being served their food and teasing each other. Perhaps we can learn from these characters and the way they slightly ignore Sheldon’s horn for the duration of their meal. Hashtag: not being a judgmental bigot.
Sheldon’s shift at the diner circulates around these embarrassing (for him) conversations and his interest in the new, noticeably attractive hostess, Jessica (Sara Fletcher). Cherel revealed that Sheldon’s horn, made from silicon and foam, was actually created by Tony Gardner, who has done the prosthetics for the Jackass & Farley films, along with “Bad Grandpa.” Through his research, Cherel concluded that it is physically possible to develop a callous of bone (horn).
During his break, Sheldon meets with his overbearing mother (Mary Beth Pape) in his car where she, suspicious of his mysterious behavior, begins to falsely accuse him of taking part in illicit activities. The vehicle where they meet, similar to the car from Joel and Ethan Coen’s infamous “The Big Lebowski,” was specifically chosen for this reason, Cherel, a Coen Brothers fan, told the audience at SBFF. This deliberate technique to present a familiar prop to the audience is subtly clever without risking complete imitation, associating “Sorta’ Horny” with an already popular comedy.
After a difficult interaction with childish young women (one imitates his horn with a straw, holding it with her fingers against her forehead to depict his physical appearance), Jessica, the now blatant heroine, dismisses these foolish valley girls. Sheldon makes an important decision, directly affected by the young hostess’s defensive actions for him, after this negative-turned-positive interaction with Jessica and her former “friends.” What is the secret that Sheldon’s mother suspects he is keeping in this 21 minute short and how does the empathetic Jessica change his previously regretful mind? As this film comes to a questionable end, let us ask ourselves if bullying continues as age strips us of tired immaturity?
As Sheldon finally discards his typically geeky paper bag (used for when he hyperventilates), is he losing that part of himself that helplessly attempts to shield him from social criticism. Why is he “sorta’” and not just completely horny and where does that differentiation separate the phrase? It could be considered a metaphor for atypical human beings and how they’re supposedly part-“normal” beneath the guise of social rejection, the word “sorta’” emphasizing a person who is not fully an outcast, but inherently strange.
Transcending traditional stereotypes, we are entering this age where those who are now criticized heavily by the typically “beautiful” are frequently portrayed as heroes to larger audiences than a backyard gang. What does it mean if you’re “sorta’ horny” anyway? I think we’ve all been there.