Review: ‘The Pros and Cons of Breathing’

"The Pros and Cons of Breathing" is the latest incarnation of the several-guys-sitting-around-talking subgenre. It is neither the worst nor the best of the breed. Rather, it shows first-time writer-director Robert Munic's technical prowess and his need for some remedial storytelling classes. The imbalance does not bode well for the venture's commercial life. Limited theatrical prospects could muster modest interest in ancillary areas.

“The Pros and Cons of Breathing” is the latest incarnation of the several-guys-sitting-around-talking subgenre. It is neither the worst nor the best of the breed. Rather, it shows first-time writer-director Robert Munic’s technical prowess and his need for some remedial storytelling classes. The imbalance does not bode well for the venture’s commercial life. Limited theatrical prospects could muster modest interest in ancillary areas.

The basic focus is on four twentysomething young men who hang out at a subdued Los Angeles club. The entertainment equivalent of the multiethnic platoon in war movies, the group is comprised of an actor (Joey Dedeo), an agent (Ira Heiden), a standup comic (Phillip Brock) and a director (Philip Tanzini).

Essential to this type of endeavor is a crisp script, brimming with wit and etched with vivid characterization. It should be noted that this element falls into the “Cons” section of the title.

Munic’s narrative vision is almost uniformly bleak, in sharp contrast to the slick, sharp images of the club and its surroundings. It is fraught with lost jobs, lost roles and financial catastrophe. Coupled with characters dogged by self-doubts, the overall mood is not exactly something to snuggle up with on a chilly night. Worse, the tale provides little insight into the human condition under pressure circumstances.

Curiously, the story is narrated by someone outside the group — Shirley (Joey Lauren Adams), a waitress at the club and onetime girlfriend of one of the members of the quartet. If the four men appear callow, the young woman is downright grating as she reports the mundane details of individual fortunes as if reading a news report. A bit more irony would have sweetened the recipe.

While the material is rooted in the banal and melodramatic, Munic effects a rather savvy visual style. Technically, he avoids the obvious pitfall of claustrophobia in his scene construction. Though produced on a modest budget, the film’s ills have little to do with surface polish.

Apart from Adams, the cast rises at least to the level of the script and generally a notch or two above. The actors have the exceedingly thankless task of attempting to make their flawed and unsympathetic losers at least semi- palatable.

The Pros and Cons of Breathing

Production

A Chi-Boy production. Produced by Steve Hart. Directed, written by Robert Munic.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor), Steve Adcock; editor, Michael Waterhouse; production design, Donna Kaczmarek; costumes, Phillip Mershon; sound (Ultra Stereo), David Aron; assistant director, Joan Bostwick. Reviewed at Chicago Film Festival, Oct. 17, 1993. Running Time: 89 MINS.

With

Shirley ... Joey Lauren Adams Tippy ... Phillip Brock Tony ... Joey Dedeo Bradley ... Ira Heiden Troy ... Philip Tanzini Ira ... Barry Sobel Canbi ... Noelle Parker Homeless Vet ... Robert Munic
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