JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Nothing Special (Director/Writer: Angela Garcia Combs) - April 27, 2010

Nothing Special

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4.5 4.5
100 min.

Reviewed for the 2010 Female Eye Film Festival
A mother at every turn

Anyone who has ever lived the truth of the old adage “you can’t choose your relatives” won’t want to miss Angela Garcia Combs’ début feature film.

As both writer and director, she reveals equal talent in this revelation of woman-to-woman relationships.

At the center of it all is Louise (played with just the right mix of humor, passion and determination by Julia Garcia Combs). In some ways, the female version of Walter Mitty, the up-and-coming insurance executive dreams about being interviewed on Oprah or accepting a Nobel prize, but stoically faces the probability that she will never be “anyone special.”

As the coincidence-driven narrative opens, Louise’s biological, bipolar mother, May (Karen Black is nothing short of spectacular as she works through the many mood swings that are hallmarks of the disorder), has just moved into her large fixer-upper. Sharing the digs with the two women is Louie Garcia—the gregarious puppy provides a few laughs of his own from poop on the porch to a “licking” problem which, mercifully, isn’t fully disclosed.

An inventive Hollywood-locale touch is having a full-body Italian tenor living next door. Carlos De Antonis gaily employs his dulcet tone in selections from Puccini, Verdi and Schubert, adding considerably to the overall sensitivity of the production. Much later, eschewing tea in favor of Jack Daniels neat, Louise, her neighbours and an assistant from work (Marianne J. Murphy) have an Isabel Duncan moment, following a hilariously frank discussion of sex with orgasm and the necessity of owning a vibrator.

Laura Karpman’s original score is a marvelous array of colour (solo strings, piano, bongo and mood-setting percussion—the high hat for mother May’s escape to the supermarket being just one example), texture and shading. Skillfully weaving elements of “Hush Little Baby” into the accompanying fabric deftly prepares the way for a moving mother-daughter cuddle. A couple of songs from Kevin Lacey (notably “New York Girls”—performed with zest by The Peculiar Pretzelmen) and Janis Ian’s “We Endure” over the credits complete the greatly appreciated musical offerings.

With so many women dominating the cast, it falls to David Hardie, as Marcus—the love interest—to provide the largest helping of testosterone. The newcomer turns in a nuanced performance that subtly explores his “simple” nature and compares well to Woody Harrelson in his bartending days on Cheers. A pair of off-the-balance-sheet movie producers (John Kassir, Eric Pierpoint) are given a marvelous scene replete with literal double-talk. They’re aided and abetted by Louise’s unwanted, self-described stud, Kevin (Scott Ford), but the savvy executives employment of Catherine’s “bargain like a man” mantra leaves absolutely no doubt as to who’s wearing the pants from stem to stern. Unseen sibling brother, Bennie, provides another take on lives lost as he awaits his chance at parole, having been forcibly removed from the family home many years ago.

Mother number two comes in the personage of Louise’s wily boss Catherine. Veteran Barbara Bain is ideally cast in the role. Facing the ravages of cancer, a failed marriage and her perpetually distant daughter, Lauren (Kerry Ann Reid), Catherine latches on to Louise and showers her with the love that her own offspring has rejected.

Combs effectively intertwines the three women at the heart of the tale until their unexpected first meeting becomes as necessary as it is inevitable. While the various threads sort themselves out and the film draws to a close, one has the sense of being offered a very personal account of life’s challenges. Everything is done with such loving care (specially placed shots of the homeless of LA wordlessly raise still more issues) and sense of style that the appetite is whetted for another chapter from this talented filmmaker. JWR

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