Saturday, June 29, 2013

Some Girl(s)

It's Really Not You                          
by Mark Dispenza

A smart story and outstanding cast make Some Girl(s) a bold exploration of relationship trauma.

The screenplay is written by Neil LaBute from his stage play of the same title.  Since he debuted with In the Company of Men, LaBute has established himself as a perceptive and no-holds-barred chronicler of the ugly side of human nature.  Perfect casting and the superior direction of Daisy von Scherler Mayer make Some Girl(s) a more accessible and entertaining story than it otherwise sounds.

This film is a bold experiment by Vimeo into the new paradigm of indie film distribution.  Unless you caught the film's premiere at South by Southwest in March, you're not likely to see it on the big screen unless you live in New York or Los Angeles.  In concert with its release this week in those limited markets, the film is available as a download from Vimeo on Demand, as the first major release of what the online video content provider hopes will be a very successful foray into the future of film distribution.

As big screens are increasingly reserved for Hollywood's mega-budget experience films, the last remaining outlet for indie films will be delivery directly to your electronic device or television.  I applaud Vimeo for the boldness of the move and what I believe is a fair pricing model for both producers and viewers - $5.00 for the streaming rental or $10.00 for the download.

Adam Brody is spot-on as Man, a character so shallow and commitment-phobic that he's not even given a name.  Boyishly handsome, he's the type of guy who sounds so earnest that he may actually believe the lies he tells.  His charm makes him likable in the early scenes, as he comes across as a well-meaning but immature klutz more than a villain.  But as the story progresses his character reverses the normal protagonist's arc, as he devolves in perception from harmless, narcissistic man-child to emotional marauder.  By the end you'll hope he gets run over by a car.

As the story begins Man is about to get married.  He contacts five women with whom he had intense relationships in the past, telling them that he feels the need to make amends for past wrongs before he can move on.  He arranges to travel to the cities where they now live and meet with them one last time.  However, as the story progresses it becomes obvious that his real purpose is less apology than repetition of a familiar pattern.  By the end of the story, I was gratified that this protagonist doesn't get what he wants from these women, but they are able to achieve a measure of closure and put a painful chapter of their lives behind them.  In a sense he does manage to do some good, despite the fact that it's not in the way that he intended.

Jennifer Morrison

The first rendezvous is played mostly for laughs, with Jennifer Morrison as Sam, Man's high school flame.  It's clear that she was badly hurt after he deserted her, but somehow she put it behind her and moved on with her life.  Now he's re-opened that wound, and she's puzzled as to why.  His repeated attempts to apologize keep turning into barbs directed against her, making the meeting more awkward and surreal by the minute.  By the end of the meeting, she's grateful just to make it out of the room.

Tyler (Mia Maestro) is Man's next stop. She is sexy and playful, enjoying life minute-by-minute and letting the chips fall where they may.  For her it's all about the experience and having fun with life.  She makes it seem that he's going to get off easy at this stop, but that's not really the case.  As the scene evolves to its conclusion, she reveals that she was badly hurt by his abandonment.  And now the fun's over.

Emily Watson

The story takes a more serious turn during the reunion with Lindsay (Emily Watson), the professor with whom he had an affair while a student at the college where her husband is dean.  The older woman/younger man relationship exploded after Man deserted her when their affair was publicly outed, leaving her to endure the subsequent humiliation alone.  It's clear from the start that Lindsay has been nursing a lot of anger over the years, and she has no intention of hiding it.  No small measure of that is clearly self-loathing.  She should have been wiser.

Even here it's possible to have some sympathy for the poor young man, clearly outmatched as he is by a far more intelligent and resourceful woman scorned.  Watson delivers what is arguably the strongest performance of the film.

Adam Brody and Zoe Kazan

From there the story descends into darker territory with Reggie (Zoe Kazan), little sister of Man's former best friend.  He was a bumbling hormone-crazed teen when he seduced Reggie.  She was only twelve years old.  Kazan is another example of perfect casting.  Even as an adult, she telegraphs a precocious quality that makes it difficult to separate the child from the woman.

This is a scene that sneaks up on you without warning, and it's all the more effective for doing so.  Mayer has reported that one of her crew, who suffered an experience much like Reggie's when she was young, was so affected by it that she had to leave the set while it was being shot.

Adam Brody and Kristen Bell

Finally Kristen Bell brings it all home as Bobbi, who more than any of his past loves is "the one" that he let slip away, or more accurately, deserted like all the others.  Like Lindsay and Reggie before her, Bobbi takes some delight in getting her revenge through psychological torture, all the more effective because she can play off of her status as one of identical twin sisters whom he cannot tell apart.  This is a more clever and less obvious device than it might first appear.  The significance of that physical attraction, and what it says about their relationship, continues to resonate after he leaves Bobbi, all the way through to the very last scene of the film.

I'm excited to see that Bell is still delivering great performances and continues to grow stronger as an artist.  Truth be told, I'm a big fan of her Veronica Mars TV series, and I'm excited about the feature film version currently in development, thanks to all of the show's fans who supported it on Kickstarter.  If you haven't seen it, do yourself a favor and rent the three seasons on Netflix.  It was one of the best-written series on TV, and if you come from my generation, you'll find it to be a smarter and more contemporary version of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew teen sleuth mysteries I loved to read when I was a child.

Although I give it my recommendation, Some Girl(s) is not a film that you'll want to come back to for subsequent viewings, unless you're an actor, director or writer.  In the latter case I particularly recommend viewing it for it's great casting, smart story and wonderful dialogue.  It's power comes from the first viewing, and it may hit a little too close to home to inspire a desire to visit it again.

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