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Oct 30, 2007

Fletch's Film Review: Confusions of an Unmarried Couple

About a month ago, I was contacted by an independent filmmaker based out of Toronto. His name is Brett Butler (sadly, not the former L.A. Dodger, and gladly, not the annoying-voiced comedienne) and his latest film is the one in the title above. He and his brother Jason have their own production company (http://www.subprod.com/) up there where they've made a few films, all on low budgets.

Brett and the gang have been taking Confusions on the festival circuit and have won and/or been nominated for a few awards ("the Audience Choice Award for Best Film at the Indiana University South Bend Video and Film Festival, as well as being nominated for Best Film at the Swansea Bay Film Festival in Wales, and Best Comedy at the Southern Winds Film Festival in Oklahoma). As part of this publicity, I assume they're contacting a number of movie bloggers in an attempt to get some more press. Well, I took him up on the offer and received a screener DVD a few weeks back, finally getting to watch it a couple weekends ago.

And I've been dreading writing the review ever since. See, this is the first time (outside of a few film/theater classes in college) that I've had to review the work of someone that I've (more or less) spoken to. It's easy to bag on Nic Cage (and he deserves it verily), but doing it in person would not only be awkward, but might get my ass kicked . Then again, I don't have words nearly so harsh for the Butlers. Nonetheless, welcome to film criticism, Fletch.

Since there's a 99% chance you'll never get to see this movie, I'll be doing the review a bit differently than I normally would, going heavy on the plot synopsis, then following that up with some general criticism of the film. If you'd like to see the movie, visit the Substance Productions website listed above for info how to get a hold of a copy.

As you might have guessed from the title, the plot centers on a pair of twentysomethings (Dan, played by Brett, and Lisa, played by Naomi Johnson) going through a relationship crisis. The film starts with Dan, depressed and disgusting, trolling around his trashed apartment in a drunken and disorderly state. He's heartbroken, more or less, over the recent falling out between he and Lisa. In a series of video diaries, he vaguely speaks of his intentions and feelings. He has a plan, in a manner of speaking, and it involves going to Lisa's place and getting some of his personal items back, one of which happens to be a mattress (nice touch).

Lisa is shocked by his appearance at her doorstop, initially slamming the door in Dan's face. However, he still has a key, so he lets himself in and immediately heads for the bedroom, in a failed attempt to slyly move the mattress out without Lisa's knowledge. No dice. Soon enough, she catches him, and for the rest of the film, the two move about the apartment, going from one argument to the next, all of which is intercut with video snippets from the past (happier times), photos of the two "in love" and a "theme" for the next argument/discussion.

The film culminates with the two in bed, thoughts racing through each's mind (narrated for our listening pleasure), and just when each is ready to psych themselves out of their present state (and state of mind), Dan blurts out "Wanna get married?" Cut to black, the end.

My thoughts, good and bad, jumbled about in no particular order:

* For something made on a low-budget (IMDb lists estimated cost at $500 Canadian), the film looks great. Alternating between an intentionally bad looking "home movie" style camera and the more professional one used to shoot the bulk of the movie, you get the distinct impression that whoever shot it is skilled at doing so.

* The character development is strong. Though I walked away not liking either character, I can't say it's from a lack of "getting to know them."

* Unfortunately, they are the only two characters in the film, and spending the entire time with two unlikable people = aggravation. Aside from grating on each other, Dan and Lisa grate on the audience as well, as they're both painted as selfish, insensitive cheaters. How I longed for someone, anyone, to break up the action a time or two.

* While Brett carries his own as an actor (and judging from the trailers included on the DVD, can play a range of characters), Johnson is decent some times and painfully bad at others, sounding like she's rehearsing her lines much of the time.

* The original music by Ryan Noel sets a good mood and provides an escape from the monotony of the arguments.

* It has its moments of hilarity (the mattress bit, for starters), but I was left feeling like the film was an extended Kevin Smith sketch that overstayed its welcome. You know the scene in Clerks where Dante and his girlfriend are sitting behind the counter discussing her prior sexual history (37?!)? Imagine that for 75 minutes and you have a good idea of what Confusions is about.

* Though I understand the financial reasoning behind it (pro-quality cameras are expensive and all), the addition of a second camera (and angle) for the conversational scenes would have done wonders towards spicing up the movie. Instead, we're stuck with a constant panning back and forth and back and forth from Dan to Lisa and back again.

* In the end, I have to give it up to the Butlers and all involved. Independent filmmaking is hard, and doing so on a tight budget is exponentially harder, but with the help of some technical skill, original music and solid production values (the DVD box and cover art, for example), you'd think it was a much pricier production. More to the point, I'm envious that they've done something that I have not, and that's to just go out there and do it. Though the film might not have been my cup of tea, some inspiration seems a lot more valuable.


1 people have chosen wisely: on "Fletch's Film Review: Confusions of an Unmarried Couple"

Rickey Henderson said...

Here, here. Everyone starts somewhere and even if it's a rough effort, it's still a hell of a lot more creative than what most people are capable of these days.

By the way, did you know that Barry Levinson started off working in the porn industry?