A Gen-X “Big Chill” replete with period pop hits and complex interconnecting sexual histories, “The Lather Effect” is about a nostalgia felt, but not quite shared. Audiences connected to a particular place, time and soundtrack — namely, Los Angeles in the ’80, accompanied by A-ha’s “Take On Me” — may respond well. Others will feel they weren’t invited to the party.
Amid the morning-after ruins of an ’80s-evoking “rave,” the very hungover host, Valinda (Connie Britton), wanders about the house her parents are trying to sell. Toilet paper hangs from the trees, the pool is a septic tank, an empty beer keg rests in an upstairs cradle. The visuals are comic, but a bit deliberately so, symptomatic of a movie trying too hard. Cleanup is the priority. Val’s best friends hang around to help.
During the day, augmented by pot and alcohol — the “effect” of the title refers to the phenomenon by which one gets drunker the day of a hangover — histories are summarized and recounted.
Val is married to the buttoned-down Will (Tate Donovan), who almost singlehandedly cleans the place up; Jack (William Mapother), who was, and may still be, in love with Val, is married-with-children to Zoey (Ione Skye), who is, understandably, wracked by marital insecurity. Claire (Sarah Clarke), who has kids and a husband back in Ohio, still yearns for Lex (the unseen, Kevin Costner-ish character in this particular “Big Chill”). Katrina (Caitlin Keats), is a doctor with a past full of one-night stands, and Corey (David Herman), a former kid actor is a prisoner of his lost celebrity.
But the best-drawn character is the hilarious Mickey — played by Eric Stoltz, who seems to be imitating Snake from “The Simpsons.” Stoltz’s timing is great, and helmer Kelly knows how to place the character into the mix at appropriate times. Unfortunately, those times don’t arrive often enough — and there are too many treacly musical montages.
The characters and their plights are meant to be endearing, but the endless rat-a-tat rhythm of the repartee (imagine iambic pentameter with a rim shot at the end of each line), the constant glibness and the ease of the jokes keep the audience at arm’s distance; depth of personality goes wanting.
Nor is it a very flattering portrait of her peers Kelly paints. Lex, for instance, has been arrested for drunk driving after the party and winds up being written off by his friends. Corey thinks he’s come down in the world by having segued from acting to nursing. The man might want to get his priorities in order. And so might the movie.