Sometimes as nonplussed by its inarticulate central character as auds may be, Neil Matsumoto's uneven but nevertheless courageous second feature, "Fixed," explores the psyche of a young Los Angeles artist who takes drastic measures to alter his sexuality. Theme appears an obsession for writer-director-editor Matsumoto, whose tyro pic "Phantom Pain" examined the stressful life of a transgender Hollywood prostitute. Daring taste in themes is never quite matched by mastery of the story's implications or dramatic possibilities, which won't stop the pic from drawing fest interest, but will keep it off distribs' to-do lists.</B>

Sometimes as nonplussed by its inarticulate central character as auds may be, Neil Matsumoto’s uneven but nevertheless courageous second feature, “Fixed,” explores the psyche of a young Los Angeles artist who takes drastic measures to alter his sexuality. Theme appears an obsession for writer-director-editor Matsumoto, whose tyro pic “Phantom Pain” examined the stressful life of a transgender Hollywood prostitute. Daring taste in themes is never quite matched by mastery of the story’s implications or dramatic possibilities, which won’t stop the pic from drawing fest interest, but will keep it off distribs’ to-do lists.

Handsome Matthew (Jason Van Over) is forced to leave a 12-step-style group for sex addicts when he’s unable (or unwilling) to share. After an innocuous one-nighter with an older woman (Jill Jacobson), Matthew seems set back on his heels when she spurns him on a second encounter.

What makes “Fixed” odd is that there’s no early indication Matthew is debilitatingly hooked on sex. Matsumoto’s script almost too subtly infers that Matthew doesn’t really have a sex disorder, but rather is consumed with the fear of having a sex disorder. This drives him to consider taking medicine that dampens testosterone levels.

Matsumoto sidesteps the difficulty movies about artists have in trying to make actors look competent while painting, by never showing Matthew working at his art. Yet at the same time, pic is denied the visual link between Matthew’s art and his unarticulated inner turmoil. Instead, the struggle plays out between him and young, rising video artist Deanna (Tina Holmes), who meet as somewhat testy and jealous counterparts in the always-competitive Los Angeles art scene, then grow to like — and perhaps love — each other. With his fears overcoming his desires, Matthew pulls back from Deanna just short of going to bed with her — which kicks his art-making into full gear.

“Fixed” is at its best when presenting such paradoxes without much explanation. It shows great interest, but less insight, into a contempo art world filled with ambitious artists, gallery owners, scenesters and patrons. Among the patrons is Frederick (Stephen DeCordova), who simply wants to support Matthew’s work, but whom Matthew thinks wants more out of the relationship.

Despite pic’s ambiguous tone, dialogue tends to be too on-the-noseand lacks the humorous view of the art world that helped Miranda July’s piquant Sundance hit, “You and Me and Everyone We Know.”

The shock of Matthew’s final choices is preserved by Van Over’s crafty poker-faced performance, which dominates the film. His looks could melt a smart gal like the one Holmes plays, though the emotional tenor of their confused pairing is more credible than her character’s status as a rising art star.

Matsumoto is editor of pro lenser journal ICG magazine, and his know-how shows in the carefully sharp, color-desaturated digital vid lensing of Andrew Takeuchi. Some rough scene transitions indicate another run through the editing suite might be in order.

Fixed

Production

Produced by Lewis Haidt. Executive producer, Bruce Devan. Directed, written, edited by Neil Matsumoto.

Crew

Camera (color, DV), Andrew Takeuchi; music, Roddy Bottum; art director, Meredith Riley; sound, Derek Ellingson; supervising sound editor, Sean Fahimian; assistant director, Craig Wadlin; casting, Monika Mikkelsen. Reviewed at Egyptian Theater (American Cinematheque's Alternative Screen series), Los Angeles, March 24, 2005. Running time: 92 MIN.

With

Jason Van Over, Tina Holmes, Stephen DeCordova, Royana Black, Terry Anderson, Jill Jacobson, Steven Shaw.
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