The One I Love
Science fiction films have always provided commentary or acted as metaphors for very earthly situations. So when a tiny, relationship drama takes an unexpected twist down the sci-fi path, as happens in Charlie McDowell’s first feature, there’s no question that the weird goings on represent a greater problem at large.
Sophie (Elizabeth Moss) and Ethan (Mark Duplass) are experiencing trouble in paradise after an incident of infidelity on Mark’s end. Their therapist (a brusquely funny Ted Danson) suggests they take a weekend away at a country house to sort things out. Every couple he’s sent there, he claims, has returned with a renewed commitment to each other.
On their first night in the house, however, a strange and mysterious situation arises that drives the rest of the film into unexplainable territory; “Some Twilight Zone type shit,” as Ethan calls it. To give any hints of further plot would ruin the surprising elements of the film, but the twisted story makes for an extremely interesting observation on the nature of falling in love, how we change and what we expect from our partners. The concluding explanation of the couples’ situation is a bit unclear and outrageous, but then again the whole premise of this fun film is so other worldly that any vagueness is forgiven.
Hopefully real spouses America Ferrera and Ryan Piers Williams aren’t experiencing the same problems that plague their characters, Sylvia and Mark, in X/Y, a morose cross-examination of twentysomething relationships in New York City. The film follows four characters throughout varying crosscut interactions including bad breakups, casual sex, and friendly seduction. Melonie Diaz plays Sylvia’s sister Jen, who has a bit of a shopping problem and no job to sustain such an addiction, while John Paul Phillips is Jake, a young model/DJ whose method of getting over a breakup includes angry painting and Polaroid pictures.
Williams wrote and directed the film (his second feature after 2010’s The Dry Land) and co-produced with Ferrera. Though incredibly glum, the story provides a nice examination of how different personality types react to the fluctuating situations before them. The connections feel a bit disjointed at times, which in turn makes the film feel as if it’s crumbling like many of the relationships within. Some of the encounters are so random that believability begins to wane.
Amidst all of the sorrow there is one particularly funny scene with Williams’ character, a screenwriter, and his agent. Williams has no doubt implemented some of the feedback he’s heard over the years about his owns scripts, including a rather poignant line suggesting his indie idea would only be seen by “five hipsters in Williamsburg.” X/Y might be headed down the same path.
The idea of a 60-year-old gay man hiding his sexual orientation for his entire life certainly is plausible, though the way in which it is presented in Boulevard, the fifth feature film from Dito Montiel (Empire State), is just downright dull.
Robin Williams stars as Nolan Mack, a man steadfast in his routine bank job and “happy” in his marriage of convenience to Joy (Kathy Baker). One uneventful night, Nolan slowly and deliberately drives down a boulevard known for its streetwalkers and picks up a young male prostitute played (Roberto Aguire). It’s unclear whether or not Nolan has ever done this before since Williams reacts as neither surprised nor accustomed to how the whole scenario goes down. They begin meeting again and again, though their relationship seems more like that of a father and son than one of a sexual nature.
Believability and inconsistent characters are a real factor here. The one time in 26 years that Nolan is 15 minutes late to work, his boss threatens to revoke a potential promotion. Suddenly Nolan’s best friend (Bob Odenkirk) becomes suspicious over incredibly mundane things, and his wife Joy for the majority of the film shows little care for the obvious clues that her husband is gay, and reacts in a way that seems falsely intense, as if she thinks this is how she’s supposed to react.
Montiel’s A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints featured perfectly subdued scenes of characters interacting naturally. Unfortunately, every encounter in Boulevard feels like the antithesis of that. Each scene feels incredibly staged and perfectly blocked. It might be Williams’ stiff acting. Though we are supposed to pity the guy, the quiet character becomes too creepy, reminiscent of Williams’ weirdo from One Hour Photo.
Just Before I Go
In Courteney Cox’s directorial debut, Seann William Scott plays Ted, a 41-year-old pet supply store manager with no wife and no kids and no drive. He decides to end his life, but before doing so he takes a trip back to his hometown to confront some old demons. Cox has said that she gravitates towards inappropriate humor, which is evident in this wonky comedy, but sadly Just Before I Go fails at finding a balance between its crass jokes and serious subject matter.
Among a gaggle of caricatures who say ridiculous things and agree to ridiculous scenarios, the most unfortunate character here is Ted’s sister-in-law Kathleen (Kate Walsh). So unhappy in her marriage that she spits into her husband’s coffee, she has concocted herself a disorder in which she walks into other bedrooms and “sleep masturbates.” It’s awkward to watch, but even more embarrassing for Walsh to play. The only real plus here is a great performance from Kyle Gallner as Zeke, Ted’s nephew who is facing the task of choosing between coming out to his parents and friends, or losing his boyfriend. His scenes are touching and the only real heart of the entire dysfunctional story.
Cox’s bizarre tonal shifts, and a weak screenplay by David Flebotte (a writer on the cancelled Courteney Cox FX series Dirt) seesaws the film between the kind of slapstick comedy that we expect from Scott, and an intense examination on suicide, a topic the film unfortunately takes way too lightly.