Two women living with overlapping insecurities -- one is an anorexic, the other overweight -- embark on a curious, sometimes unhealthy friendship.

Two women living with overlapping insecurities — one is an anorexic, the other overweight — embark on a curious, sometimes unhealthy friendship in “Disfigured.” Directorial debut by scenarist Glenn Gers (“Mad Money,” “Fractured”) is a sometimes unconvincing but always watchable character piece. Seriocomic mix of sweet and very sour ultimately blends well, avoiding potential excess melodrama, condescension or buddy-pic smarm. Sans name players, DV-shot effort would seem a theatrical longshot. But if Henry Jaglom’s “Eating” could strike an arthouse chord some years ago, this one-size-fits-all look at female body-image dysfunction might find its niche, too.

Friendly, open Venice, Calif., resident Lydia (Deidra Edwards) belongs to a “fat acceptance” activist org and rap circle whose autocratic leader Carol (Elizabeth Sampson) angrily argues that heavy folk shouldn’t resculpt themselves to accommodate society’s attitudes. When Lydia innocently proposes starting an overweight walking group, Carol excoriates her for bowing to societal “shame.”

Oddly, the only person who supports Lydia is Darcy (Staci Lawrence), a rail-thin 30-something who wanders in mid-meeting and instantly seems out of place. Asked why she’s here, she says she’s a “recovering” anorexic: “When I look at myself in the mirror, I’m fat.” But hostility in the room toward this too-glam, too-slim arriviste is palpable. She’s voted out, despite Lydia’s protestations that no one should be excluded.

Later, Darcy proves curiously insistent on helping Lydia promote her walker idea, to great success. Grateful if somewhat puzzled, Lydia accepts the tightly wound Darcy as a gossipy new pal. Things are looking up elsewhere, too, when burly but attractive Bob (Ryan C. Benson) frankly airs the desire for a nonjudgmental, non-committal sex buddy.

But when Bob mentions that he’s getting gastric bypass surgery to forcibly reduce weight, Lydia is shocked out of her PC mindset, right back into her deepest insecurities. She now begs Darcy to give her “anorexia lessons.” Which latter eventually does, with a punitive fervor mirroring her own deprivational attitude toward food.

This seemingly bizarre concept might easily have gone in a grotesque black-comedy or psychological-horror direction. But Gers and his very good lead actors keep it real, even when character behaviors briefly grow improbable. To its credit, the film (particularly the rap-group scenes) often appears grittily improvised, but was almost wholly scripted, every part played by a pro thesp.

Adding to the docudrama-like air are Idit Dvir’s in-the-moment lensing, Gers and Gregory Plotkin’s astute editing, and Tabitha Johnson’s production design, which perfectly underlines the differences between Lydia and Darcy in their home environments.

Disfigured

Production

A Dialogue Heavy Pictures production, in association with Launchpad Prods.. Produced by David W. Higgins. Directed, written by Glenn Gers.

Crew

Camera (color, mini-DV), Idit Dvir; editors, Gers, Gregory Plotkin; music, Kayla Schmah; production designer/costume designer, Tabitha Johnson; sound, Lisle Engle; assistant director, Summer Spooner; casting, Valerie McCaffrey. Reviewed at Cinequest Film Festival (competing), San Jose, March 2, 2008. (Also in Santa Barbara Film Festival.) Running time: 95 MIN.

With

Deidra Edwards, Staci Lawrence, Ryan C. Benson, Elizabeth Sampson, Teebone Mitchell, Laurie O'Brien, Cheyenne Wilbur, Henry Dittman.
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