An attempt to grapple with contemporary sexuality from a liberated female perspective, “Men” is better at observation than at reaching a conclusion. Tyro helmer Zoe Clarke-Williams makes a positive first impression with her grasp of character and visual ease but isn’t quite there in the script department. Nonetheless, the film has sufficient salable elements for good niche theatrical returns and should be a strong mover on cassette and in cable play.
Stella James (Sean Young) leads a rather aimless Manhattan existence, seemingly without a vocation or a family trust. But her friend Teo (Dylan Walsh) has plenty of the latter, and Stella proves an able drinking buddy and nursemaid to her emotionally crippled friend and onetime lover.
Not particularly looking for focus, Stella gets a push in the right direction when Teo hands her a plane ticket to Los Angeles, ordering her not to be around when he drinks himself to death. When she’s adrift on Venice Beach, we learn that Stella is a chef, and luck lands her a job. While emotional sparks fly with restaurant owner George Babbington (John Heard), Stella continues to have casual encounters of an intimate kind.
The woman contends that her decision to choose who and when is no different from the options allowed the male of the species. But that sort of equality, per the script by Clarke-Williams, Karen Black and James Andronica, does not equal happiness. It’s only when Stella makes an emotional commitment to a younger photographer named Frank (Richard Hillman) that she starts to feel life and love are connected. The coda is just a little too pat and movie-cute for a contempo tale.
Clarke-Williams is most in command when delineating character and lifestyle. As with many recent American indies, the sense of place has become a significant component in the storytelling. She bolsters a sometimes banal narrative with both texture and gloss. Susan Emerson’s fluid camera is of particular note.
Young is ideally suited for the lead, effecting a credible balance of self-reliance and vulnerability. Support performances are strong, particularly Heard, who threatens to undo audience sympathy for his on-screen rival, Hillman.