Festivals,  IFF Boston

[IFFBoston Review]…Some Girl(s)

If you’re only cursorily familiar with the work of Neil LaBute, you may find Some Girl(s) a bit surprising. Of course, he can only claim credit for Some Girl(s) on the page; here it’s Daisy Von Scherler Mayer, not LaBute, serving as the production’s architect, working off of his screenplay and adapting his stage play for the camera. But Some Girl(s) thoroughly feels like a LaBute film, and cuts through middling fare like Lakeview Terrace and Nurse Betty, not to mention utter fiascoes like The Wicker Man, taking us all the way back to 1997’s In the Company of Men, 1998’s Your Friends & Neighbors, and 2003’s The Shape of Things.

In other words, Some Girl(s) represents the best of LaBute and a high point in Mayer’s filmography. Combining the writing talents of the former and the directorial hand of the latter, they stage a cutting and precise deconstruction of the modern male- or a modern male, as the case may be. Our principal character is a nameless young man (Adam Brody) who in the days leading up to his wedding decides to travel around the country and catch up with some of his old girlfriends. He’s been gripped by a sudden concern with how he treated them during their time together, and so he travels from Seattle, to Chicago, to Boston, back to Seattle, and finally to LA to rehash the past and make amends.

Of course, the man happens to be a twitchy, stammering schmuck, so none of these conversations go especially well. Maybe that’s to be expected, though; he has no real social graces, or at least he’s far too nervous to employ any of them. When his commencing encounter with Sam (Jennifer Morrison) crescendos with her slapping him, we’re only surprised she didn’t do it sooner in the conversation. More of a shock: none of his other exes follow suit, though they have their own methods for punishing him. Hyper-sexual Tyler (Mia Maestro) tempts him with her erotic charms; Lindsay (Emily Watson) blackmails him into sex while her husband, who’s in on the plan, waits outside; Reggie (Zoe Kazan, playing a character invented for the film), threatens him with, well, secrets best left discovered by the audience.

Only Bobbi (Kristen Bell) seems content with only using The Truth as her weapon of choice in her reunion with the innominate man. Each segment, naturally stagy by virtue of the film’s theatrical origins, runs rife with honesty, but it’s this final meeting that feels most authentic; there’s nothing between them but their feelings, which for Bobbi are completely understandable, and for him are somewhat fuzzy. He’s something of an unreliable narrator, or at least an untrustworthy one, choosing his words and phrasing very, very carefully so as to avoid taking total- or any- responsibility for his own actions. He didn’t break up with Sam; they broke up. But Bobbi cuts through his half-truths and falsehoods, finishing off the film’s layer-by-layer deconstruction of the man as we come to learn the real motive behind his sojourn.

G-S-T Ruling:

Some Girl(s) may read like a scathing indictment of the modern man to some, but it only means to cast judgment on this particular man. Brody, playing him with surprisingly twitchy energy, succeeds in making us feel compassion and root for him in fits and spurts, but it’s clear that LaBute and Mayer truly sympathize with the women. Arguably, they’re the film’s real protagonists; we’re more on the side of the women than the man, if only because he’s so sketchy and pompous that we have to be just to make it through the narrative. They toy with him, play coy with him, manipulate him, and show him the reality of himself in an effort to get some closure, and perhaps even to help him, but the ultimate message here may be that some men just cannot be helped- especially if they don’t want to be.