It is astonishing – incomprehensible, even – that local indie drama How to Cheat should have won the acting prize for its ensemble at this year’s LA Film Festival – the leads of Sawdust City, for example, were far more deserving. True, the acting is one of the least bad things about the film, and if star-acting is the trick of making the character become the actor as opposed to vice versa, then across the handful of films of his I have seen, indie everyman Kent Osborne is certainly a star, and one of the most charmless onscreen today.
Wise-ass man-child feels stuck and dissatisfied. Sex with his wife is no longer fun as they try for a baby. With next-to-no reasoning, he decides to have an affair. The only truth in the film is the montage of dates telling him he’s an idiot. Even the couple’s friends are idiots (at least that is acknowledged). When his wife finds out about the affair, it turns out she’s an idiot too, which is a shame because director Amber Sealey looks at first as if she might be able to rescue the film with a tough performance. Perhaps her wetness is the reason she’s been able to put up with her retarded husband.
Actually, the other truth is the depiction of a certain kind of loafing, selfish, immature male, but this is done with zero detachment or examination of the condition, as exemplified by the fact that the film’s title lacks a “not”. I don’t particular like to watch stupid, unlikeable people, but I actively resent being asked to sympathize with them and their bad decisions in a film of so little insight: Osborne’s whining “I’m a good person” is a laugh-out-loud moment, as is Sealey”s “You’re a good husband” – not a shred of irony in either.
I also resent bad videography, but this takes the cake, with a worse-than-usual lack of care or craft to the use of focus, framing, light and the handheld camera: the opening shot might be a deliberate declaration of ugliness, but there’s no sense of a definite formal scheme. The opening scene is also a declaration of the film’s unsuccessful attempts to surprise the audience with its unusual premise. Fine, if you find it amusing simply to watch an overweight naked man cavorting clumsily. I do not. And much like the terrible ending of Entrance, this one offers zero resolution, but no impetus or grounds for imagining the characters’ futures. Even if you wanted to. Painful.
Filmmaker’s Synopsis (from press materials):
In this funny and honest depiction of the messiness of modern marriage, writer-director Amber Sealey also stars as Beth, a woman of child-bearing age and inclination who, with her husband Mark, has been struggling to conceive. Sealey’s guileless performance as a woman betrayed by her own body is matched by Kent Osborne’s as the awkward Mark, who, confused and frustrated, turns to online dating, where he shops for the perfect affair to shake up his life. Given his counterproductive tendency to reveal his motives up front, his encounters tend to be short and ugly, until he meets the avid Louise, whose complex attitude sets them all down an unexpected path.
(USA, 2011, 88 mins)
Directed By: Amber Sealey
Producer: Ben Thoma
Screenwriter: Amber Sealey
Cinematographer: Gabriel Diamond
Editor: Michelle M. Witten
Cast: Amber Sealey, Kent Osborne, Amanda Street