An Evening in the California Theater

Today I saw two films at Cinequest, both screened in the California Theater.

First “L!fe, Happens” a charming buddy film about two roommates and how their lives change when one has to adjust to having a baby while the other remains committed to her professional ambitions. While it had all the elements of a cheesy romantic film including handsome crush, awkward misunderstandings, nerdy/quirky side kick best friend, and accessory characters with easy to predict side stories – it was much more about the two girls relationship with each other than it was about either of their lovers, a refreshing change that was enjoyable to watch. After the film during the Q & A portion the two co-writers, who doubled as director (Kat Coiro) and lead actress (Krysten Ritter) were equally engaging. They both credited the honesty of the film as it’s draw and the collaborative process of writing together to the point they don’t remember who wrote what as what drove the film to be at it’s core an honest and endearing film. They drew a strong round of applause from the audience when they pointed out while female driven comedies like Bridesmaids are great, the reality is women are more than a majority of the population and the media should reflect this more. They also commented on how it is strange to them how the timing worked as they are always being asked about how it feels to be coming in on Bridesmaids’ coat tails despite the fact that they began writing years before that film. Overall I highly enjoyed this program and based on the amount of laughter heard from the audience I’m sure I’m not the only one. Also the men sitting near me were laughing too – so men don’t be scared off by the idea of a female driven comedy, it’s worth the time! (I hate that I feel compelled to justify that… I don’t think that factors into any discussion of films quality being because they’re male driven yet it seems to always be in the picture when there are ladies in control…)

I also found it strange how low their IMDB ratings are (4.9) until I looked into it and saw that is the weighted average. The mean of the ratings was 7.3 and the median was 9.5 – however due to a large number of people ranking it a 10, some of those votes were assumed spam and thus the average tries to correct for that. However 50% of the viewers loving it does not surprise me as when you look at the ratings breakdown women under 18 all voted 10 of 10 and women 18 – 29 averaged a 9.7. Thus the demographics of the majority of high ranking raters were young women which fits perfectly with the protagonists of the film. I would also say IMDB’s ranking algorithm is off to rate this film so lowly, and I hope viewers don’t find this number deters them from seeing the film.

Following that I saw Dorfman. Which was proceeded by the presenting of an award and then the interview portion of the programming. A choice that makes sense from a programming perspective (An audience will wait to see the film, but after the film is less likely to wait for a Q & A after 11pm) but it also irked me. I personally feel a good film speaks for itself, so to see the people talk about the process before the content was shown made me feel disrespected as an audience member. If I wanted to see someone interview or lecture a famous filmmaker I’d seek that programming out, but if I buy a movie ticket I am first and foremost there to watch a film – so anything else is a distraction. But I digress. First Elliott Gould was given his award and allowed to speak, then producer Leonard Hill, writer Wendy Kout and Director Bradley Leong came out. However Bradley Leong need not have come out as Leonard Hill and Wendy Kout dominated the discussion with most questions addressed directly to them, and the only open questions quickly being answered by them as well. (No offense meant to Mr. Leong, I just found his presence on stage was unsupported by the others and thus he was mostly a prop – the one time I noticed him trying to answer Leonard Hill cut him off)
The reason I mention this dynamic is I found my greatest annoyance when watching the film Dorfman was it felt off balance. The general story is about a Jewish girl who looks after her father, works for her brother’s firm, has been head over heels for a friend of her brothers for year but ends up in unbalanced relationships where they all take her for granted. While helping her brother’s friend/potential love interest by cat sitting his loft in LA, she finds herself pushed out of her comfort zone, meeting new people, learning about her city and finding her sense of self amongst the men in her life. But watching the film I found the difference between Elliott Gould’s performance and the rest of the cast jarring. His presence was greater, the shots with him seemed longer and the cuts seemed to have a different rhythm. He did what he did, and though he acted well – it didn’t seem to mesh well with the others on set in that they all seemed to have a similar rhythm. It felt to me as if they were all preforming a stand up sketch and he was an improv actor thrown into the mix – its not that the other actors were bad or he was bad – it just felt mismanaged and ill suited to be in the same film. It wouldn’t surprise me if in his shots he had more artistic control than the other actors who probably followed the director. Because all of their performances fit well, the brother, the love interest, the neighbor, the model friends, parents etc… They all felt like they were in the same B romance film, while Gould felt like he wandered out of As Good As it Gets or any other quirky comedy poking fun at life. While I found this film less enjoyable, my parents seemed to enjoy it more than I – so if you see it – I’d love to hear what your thoughts were and compare notes!

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