Oscar-winning documaker Steven Okazaki (“Days of Waiting”) does a resolute about-face with his second feature, “The Lisa Theory,” a dollop of John Hughes-style teenage romantic angst beamed up into a hipper, early-20s stratosphere. Though it’s missing the verdant peoplescape of “Singles,” pic’s airy comedy, affable cast and barrage of West Coast sounds should lure young auds in selected playdates.
The Lisa theory (an infinitesimal variation on the Jennifer theory) states that women called Lisa invariably mean trouble. This Lisa (Honey O. Yates) is a p.c. groover who, against her better judgment, gets hitched to Devon (Devon Morf), the nerdy lead singer of a punk band. She moves into his co-op apartment, transforming it from anarchic mess to socialist collective, and then moves out again without warning, pushing Devon into lovelorn limbo.
From first encounter through awkward courtship, the relationship is engagingly recounted, with the co-op inhabitants providing plenty of agreeably goofy humor. But the inarticulate-and-unwashed-spells-cool equation threatens to wear thin until pic shifts focus to chart the romantic aspirations of Devon’s Winona Ryder-fixated roommate Adam (Avel Sosa II).
In terms of screen time, Adam is only marginally more visible than pic’s other, less immediately sympathetic characters, but the actor breezily injects his scenes with enough truth to shove other plotlines into the periphery. His crusade to rouse Devon out of hibernation in his fetid room runs parallel to a misguided plan to seduce a self-assured band manager (Jill Parker), and a slow-spiraling flirtation with a comic-bookstore clerk (Natanya Moore).
Okazaki has a good feel for casual, deadpan humor that partly whitewashes much of the material’s nagging familiarity. Frequently witty incidental observations on such things as the stunted mental faculties of comic book readers and adolescent hell act as winning distractions to some of the story’s more trifling aspects. Romantic conclusions are sweetly low-key, with Lisa reaffirming her decision and Devon accepting his abandonment in a way that compromises neither character.
Clearly a thrifty operation, pic nonetheless looks and sounds sharp. D. Matthew Smith’s camera cruises the San Francisco locations without featuring them to any degree that distracts from the characters and their various pursuits. Okazaki’s editing is a touch indulgent at times, particularly in the lengthy musical segs, which present problems of halting rhythm for non-aficionados of the slew of local bands on view. End credits carry an apology to all the nice Lisas and Jennifers of the world.