Minimalist black comedy exerts a low-energy, dread-tinged fascination that intrigues rather than wows.
A cross between an overgrown slacker and an undermotivated lothario, the 40-plus hero of “Loveless,” Ramin Serry’s minimalist, Gotham-set black comedy, seems only peripherally involved in his own life. Nimbly dodging commitment, whether to a woman, an idea, a job or himself, he exists in a purely reactive, defensive present tense that increasingly assumes the absurdist logic of a dream, one not dissimilar to an enervated version of Scorsese’s “After Hours.” Bowing Feb. 18 at Brooklyn’s ReRun Gastropub, zero-budget “Loveless” exerts a low-energy, dread-tinged fascination that intrigues rather than wows.
Serry’s first feature, the 2002 cross-cultural coming-of-ager “Maryam,” delicately re-created the vulnerable earnestness of youth. Here, the helmer deploys a canny mix of professional actors and amateurs (the non-pros include himself, friends and family) to convey the wry self-consciousness of encroaching middle age.
Andrew (Andrew Von Urtz), when not desultorily going through the motions of working at a midtown firm, passes the time trolling for female companionship at bars, using the old chestnut of a film script he wants to direct as bait. It’s unclear to the viewer — and, one suspects, to Andrew himself — whether his script has any currency beyond its pickup value. But when summoned to the Hamptons by a rich school chum (Gary Wilmes) to meet with possible film backers, he answers the call.
A chance reunion with old flame Joanna (Cindy Chastain) and the pursuit of hot new conquest Ava (Genevieve Hudson-Price, daughter of writer Richard Price) soon net Andrew two proactive women more invested in his film career than he is. Since he seems constitutionally incapable of planning more than five minutes into the future, his attempts to juggle these two sexy cinematic enablers inevitably invite disaster.
Meanwhile, Ava comes with complications of her own in the form of an ethnic family of oddball brothers, headed by Ricky (Scott Cohen), who genially stalk Andrew, popping up with creepy smiles wherever he goes. The family also happens to be loaded, and offers to finance Andrew’s film (with Ava in the starring role), only if he agrees to first shoot their movie, an overblown homage to their dead father (with whom they all converse daily). The making of this film-within-a-film, featuring exaggerated acting and wildly unconvincing staging reps one of director Serry’s rare false notes, as the production’s aesthetic incompetence is played too broadly for true parody.
In general, however, Serry maintains a consistently alienated, claustrophobic point of view. His camera sticks unsettlingly close to his protagonist, leaving viewers immersed in the shifting uncertainties of the moment, without a comfortable distance from which to enjoy the passing absurdities. At the same time, Von Urtz’s deadpan charm, miraculously surviving his character’s cowardly and ungraceful scrambling from all responsibility, elicits a certain complicity, since everyone in the film seems bemused to still be associating with him.