"Misanthrope seeks misanthrope. Honestly, if you respond to this ad, you're probably not the kind of woman I'd go out with."
By his Craigslist personal ad, you might guess that Wilson is a writer -- in this case, a would-be screenwriter transplanted from Texas to "a city I loathe," Los Angeles. His first few weeks in his new home have not been auspicious. He's flipped his car, had his portable computer (containing screenplay) stolen, was caught by his roommate Jacob performing an unoriginal sin while ogling a photo of Jacob's girlfriend Min and finds himself dateless on New Year's Eve.
Wilson learns that he's small potatoes in the antisocial game when Vivian answers his ad. An aspiring actress and experienced drama queen, she is an alluring, infuriating enigma. Like Wilson, she's trolling for New Year's dates, but more methodically. She has three other possibilities lined up before him, and one after.
Alex Holdridge's hip rom-com has an immensely likable vibe that compensates for its minuscule budget, weedy-looking L.A. locales and comically mopey protagonist. A clear descendant of those nonchalant charmers "Once" and "Swingers," it gives us two couples (and a handful of other characters) walking and talking and slowly revealing how much more complicated they are than they first seem. These are flesh-and-blood characters, layered, emotionally honest portraits, and very funny ones. The clandestine flirtation between Min (Katie Luong) and Wilson (Scoot McNairy, a Casey Affleck lookalike) seems to be going on under her boyfriend's nose. But as we get to know Jacob (Brian Matthew McGuire), it becomes clear that he's so fond of his boyhood pal Wilson that he wouldn't raise a fuss anyway.
In this dialogue-driven film, the plum role is Vivian, and Sara Simmonds plays it with snap and sass. With a tongue that could chop down a palm tree, she appears to be an offensive weapon in a thrift-shop coat. As Wilson draws her out, we see the emotional wounds that made her want to settle a score with insensitive men everywhere, and select Wilson as their official scapegoat. As she realizes he's not the misanthrope he's cracked up to be, she relents, relaxes, and a tender sympathy begins to flower between them, and when the cautiously hopeful ending arrives, it doesn't feel forced or false. The messiness and occasional discomfort of life don't have to trigger random acts of meanness, but can inspire generosity and gratitude for the happiness of others.
How incongruous that while veteran studio heads prepare slates of comic book movies, the slackers behind this $12,000 gem have made one of the most mature films of the year.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186