Lynn Shelton’s film—a promising premise in search of a payoff with more nourishment than room-service steak and milkshakes—frequently dazzles and delights, but once the look-alike boxers come into frame, the only verb left is disappoints.
Dazzles: The performers are more than up to the task. Joshua Leonard plays the zany-on-the-outside, unfilled-on-all-fronts-inside (“I’ve never finished any project”) Andrew with a compelling sense of irreverence that gives the opening 30 minutes much of its engagingly frenetic pace. From barging in on his high school chum at 1:30 a.m. to serving as tour guide/substance dispenser through the wacky-gang partying at Dionysus—crash-pad to devotees of the annual porn-as-art “Humpfest”—down to a full-body (occasionally bawdy) game of pick-up basketball, Leonard shines in every scene.
Ben comes to readily believable life in the personage of Mark Duplass. His sturdy 6-pack physique and sense of loyalty both to his rarely seen bud and trying-to-get-pregnant wife (“I’ve removed the goalie, now it’s nothing but free kicks,” is delivered better by Duplass than it reads) makes everyone wonder if “boning” his best pal—for the sake of art, of course—is the ultimate act of friendship or the opening gambit to discovering a repressed queer-side (one of many personality traits that are, er, at the root of the matter).
Caught between the two guys (possibly gays) is Anna (Alycia Delmore). Delmore portrays Ben’s outwardly demur wife with stylish grace but really comes into her own throwing back scotch with Andrew until a next-day coupling-of-the-most-unexpected-kind is innocently revealed.
Delights: Vinny Smith’s original score—replete with fairyland celeste and very capable cello and piano interventions—helps the time fly by leading up to the last-act dénouement, potentially the first act of the love that dare not irreparably pull down a picket fence of suburban bliss. Cinematographer Benjamin Kasulke finds just the right balance between hand-held, you-are-there reality and clear, crisp establishing shots that editor Nat Sanders expertly fashions into a seamless whole.
Disappoints: Shelton weaves an amenable, if largely predictable, quilt of character development and personal revelation that eventually draws an awkward “bathroom encounter” admission out of the seemingly straight-laced Anna, only to have her dismissed from the set, letting the men sort out the rest of the film on their own.
Ending as it does (no spoilers here), the drama suddenly takes a turn to the gabby where, previously, the body language (notably the eye shots) was much more compelling and effective.
Andrew staring into a Sony portable camera only further exacerbates the uneven ending, but serves—unintentionally—as a convincing metaphor as to what was missed. Whatever outcome viewers expect/prefer it’s how we’re brought to the narrative’s conclusion that matters most. Perhaps another story edit would settle the score more conclusively. Like Andrew, Shelton’s art project starts brilliantly but doesn’t appear to be quite finished. JWR