MUTUAL FRIENDS is a party you don’t want to be invited to

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Rating: NO STARS

Opening with an arbitrary rotation of squashed split screens seemingly designed with the New York City tourist board in mind, multiple shots of the Big Apple’s teeming multiplicity only make you wonder why, out of all the eight million stories in the naked city, did director Matthew Watts feel compelled to tell the painfully uninteresting tales of ten overly entitled, garden-variety yuppies, and how it was even possible for him and six other writers (six!) to devise scenarios so inconsequentially self-pitying.

Following several storylines of juvenile, white thirtysomethings, who converge on Cobble Hill for a soiree that goes as spectacularly wrong as the film itself, even the potential of each story being written by a different writer lacks appeal, as the group comes together too early for any significant development and it’s clearer long before that, that there’s not a single discernable personality in the whole bunch.

Caitlin Fitzgerald (so impressionable in the Edward Burns films Newlyweds and The Fitzgerald Family Christmas) has the unenviable task of anchoring this array of assholes, her character Liv being responsible for the occasion that brings them all together. She’s throwing a surprise birthday party for Smug White Guy #1, Christoph (Cheyenne Jackson), the man to whom she’s engaged whilst still harbouring feelings for no-strings attached slacker, Nate (Peter Scanavino), the immature embodiment of his relationship credo, with a face frozen in an indolent toddler’s scowl and topped off with a little boy’s haircut. Why she’d want to be with a man-boy who claims to have three commercially released albums but only ever strums out of tune chords on his acoustic guitar and sings like he’s in the shower is anyone’s guess, but apparently a shared sense of sickly humour is a convincing enough shorthand, no matter how leaden.

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When Liv gives Christoph the “I’d tell you, but then I’d have to chop you into little pieces and bury you in Central Park” line as a cutesy goodbye on his way out to work, understandably he looks disturbed and annoyed, but for the writers, this is exactly the kind of adorably, left of centre quirk that only an artiste like Nate could understand and find charming. Similarly, Liv loves it when Nate picks a discarded painting of a man riding a unicorn in Ugg boots up off the street for her, and her heart positively pounds when he calls her from the beach to tell her about the man bobbing in the surf and letting the waves take him, because there’s nothing she’d like more than to be watching that with him. If you’re emptying your popcorn bucket to puke, I don’t blame you.

The other desultory threads are similarly insipid. If there was any proof needed that Liv belongs to the most un-relatable stratum of New York imaginable, the basis of a storyline involving her law school dropout brother being sent out to secure a last minute mixologist (on whom the party’s success apparently depends) is more than ample. Time travel is Thomas’ (Devin Burnam), one topic of conversation, and while such a childish obsession might explain his being laughed out of law school, the greater mystery remains how he was even accepted in the first place. Employing a stripper to play barmaid, the two of them roam flea markets picking up a piñata and all manner of kids party supplies. Liv’s friends may all dress like lawyers but the way they all pine for people who aren’t their partners, like angsty adolescents on a teen soap opera makes Thomas’ unlikely party favours actually seem wholly appropriate.

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Other implausibilities abound. Why businessman Sammy (Ross Partridge) employs a stoner (Michael Chernus) to be his assistant – a guy he’d never in a million years be on friendly terms with – is another absurd connection that seems to have escaped all six writers, who send the two of them off together on a stakeout to spy on Sammy’s cheating wife Adele (Annika Peterson), a character so underwritten she barely registers. That the stoner and his hippie girlfriend attend this hoity-toity party and no-one bats an eyelid is an even bigger incredulity.

These friends are mutual only through the most convenient contrivances of a script utterly lacking emotional conviction. The ever-changing mood turns on dimes put in a droning songwriter’s jukebox, scant lines of dialogue like sandwich filler in a series of interminable montages of college radio crapola (the eighty-five minute film features no less than thirty songs). At one point Thomas asks the stripper what’s the worst party she’s ever been to. She’d better wait till the end of the night before answering.

First published by Vérité Film Magazine on October 3, 2013

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