Promiscuity, like crime, does not pay in "Some Body," a film that gloats at its heroine's misguided attempts at finding self-worth horizontally. Drama has a quasi-verite, improvisational feel that appears truthful. But it doesn't lend much sympathy, or depth, to characters who never seem worth knowing.

Promiscuity, like crime, does not pay in “Some Body,” a film that gloats at its heroine’s misguided attempts at finding self-worth horizontally. Shot over two years, director Henry Barrial and co-creator-star Stephanie Bennett’s drama has a quasi-verite, improvisational feel that appears truthful. But it doesn’t lend much sympathy, or depth, to characters who never seem worth knowing. Result is a rawer, marginally less judgmental “Looking for Mr. Goodbar” update with the melodramatic blood-and-thunder excised, but little insight to compensate. Digital feature is most likely to find a post-fest aud online and on tape.

Developed by the duo out of an acting class exercise, using some autobiographical material and some performers — they won’t say which — playing “themselves,” pic chronicles a rough-sledding period in the life of 30-ish L.A. denizen Samantha (Bennett).

After an initial sequence in which she tells a long folk tale to an off-camera inquisitor — this tired faux “interview” device recurs throughout — she gets drunk and flirtatiously disorderly at a party.

These shenanigans are viewed dimly by Anthony (Jeramy Guillory), her live-in boyfriend of seven years. He yanks her home, and the next morning asks his mega-hungover fiancee why she regularly feels the need to embarrasses him, and herself, in public.

Sam’s response is the one we soon realize she uses in all “difficult” situations: She bursts into tears, deflecting criticism with “Why must you hurt me by saying that?”-type whining. Further, she uses this particular occasion to announce, “I’m not sure what I want. Maybe I need to spend some time by myself.” In other words, hasta la vista, baby.

Moving into her own place, Sam gets inebriatedly busy with a hunksome neighbor (Billy Ray Gallion). But relationshipwise, he’s a bit attention-deficit disordered, too. Subsequent fallout sends protag running to her family’s bosom in Texas, whence she leaves lots of conciliatory phone messages on Anthony’s machine.

But he’s already found a more pliant girlfriend (Laura Katz). Not at all pleased, Sam becomes the Ex From Hell, using her “visiting rights” with his dog to become an ever-more-hysterical nuisance. (“I’m begging you! Please don’t let somebody else be his mommy!” she wails.)

Outmaneuvered by the new g.f., who’s no slouch at manipulating men either, Sam dives into a series of affairs and one-nighters, most launched under the influence of whatever substances are available.

Despite one such sordid start, a relationship with nebbishy yet sexually turbo-charged Bobby (Sean Michael Allen) looks promising until it’s clear he wants a mistress, not a girlfriend (he already has one of those).

Lacking even initial appeal is Tony T. (Tom Vitorino), a pushy guido stereotype who wastes zero post-coital time before beginning to exhibit disturbing stalker tendencies.

This creep raises expectations that a “Goodbar”-style violent demise is en route. “Some Body” sidesteps that cliche. Yet the more “real,” ambiguous ending it opts for offers little emotional satisfaction, since Sam’s decision to clean up her act doesn’t seem rooted in any new maturity or sense of direction.

“What I know now is that … I want a change,” she tells us. This sounds suspiciously rather less like progress than the same old self-justifying, vague psychobabble she’s spouted all along.

Very good movies have been made about shallow, going-nowhere characters. But at the risk of being cruel, “Some Body” is like many L.A.-based films by/about actors — it doesn’t realize that its self-absorbed, easily bored protags aren’t really Everypeople. With even semi-doormat Anthony showing his Insensitive Clod side, there’s virtually no one here to like.

Pic’s refusal to make outright fun is admirable, though at the same time there’s a condescending edge all the more sour for falling short of satire.

Sam’s male friends are frequently heard weighing whether she’s really “such a whore” or not. Their hypocrisy is clear, yet the film manages to echo that sentiment even as it seldom leaves her p.o.v.

Boiled down from a reported 100 hours’ footage, pic holds attention, varying tempo in occasionally overly calculated ways.

Speeded-up segs underline the emptiness of Sam’s everyday routines; slo-mo invariably catches her doing Something Bad (boozing, smoking, snorting, sexing). Results are clever, but the veneer of intimacy yields no empathy or insight.

That said, perfs are utterly convincing with the exception of Vitorino’s too-conventionally conceived creep. While direction is fairly impressive in shaping loose material, lensing and editing contribs sometimes edge toward hyperactive excess.

Some Body

Production

A Next Wave Films presentation of a Rhythm Films and Cubano Films production. Produced by Stephanie Bennett, Henry Barrial and Geoffrey Pepos. Executive producer, Peter Broderick. Directed by Henry Barrial.

Crew

Screenplay, Stephanie Bennett, Barrial. Camera (color, HD vid), editor, Geoffrey Pepos; music, Pepos; associate producer, Mark Stolaroff. Reviewed Jan. 19, 2001, at Sundance Film Festival (Dramatic Competition). Running time: 80 MIN.

With

Stephanie Bennett, Jeramy Guillory, Billy Ray Gallion, Tom Vitorino, Laura Katz, Sean Michael Allen, Marnie Shelton, Matt Cassado, Richie Magallanes, Niklaus Lange, Ringo Hayden.
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