You can’t lose what you never had, and while “Losing Control” is a thoroughly likable, playful comedy, there’s never a sense that writer-director Valerie Weiss is in total command of film’s tone, pacing or comic content, which is considerable. Some of Weiss’ funniest material gets lost between episodes of outright silliness; to paraphrase Mark Twain’s assessment of Richard Wagner, the film is smarter than it looks. Theatrical play will be limited, but the pic’s understated charms could give it an afterlife.
Although saddled with a load of improbability, Miranda Kent makes a winning heroine as Samantha Bazarick, a doctoral candidate in biochemistry at Harvard Medical School, where her thesis project has hit a wall. Four years after a breakthrough in developing an anti-birth-defect process, she still hasn’t been able to repeat her initial experiments successfully, and until she does, she can’t graduate. Her career, one might say, is in suspension.
So is her lovelife. Ben (Reid Scott), her b.f. of five years, is about to be awarded the Hector Velasquez Prize in East Asian Studies (a characteristically understated Weiss gag), but he’s ready to turn down the accompanying Chinese fellowship to stay with Sam. But when he finally proposes marriage, she turns him down, uncertain that their romance has been given the proper scientific evaluation to sufficiently ascertain its validity. “What if we only think we love each other?” she asks, to which he responds, quite sensibly, “Isn’t that the same thing?” She’s a control freak in a tizzy, and he, shortly, is on a plane to China.
The romantic conflict is a massive contrivance, of course, although what would ordinarily be romantic inevitablities don’t seem all that inevitable. In China, Ben sparks with Trudy (Bitsie Tulloch, “The Artist”), and they actually seem to make more sense together, especially since Sam, at the behest of her less sexually discriminating BFF, Leslie (Kathleen Robertson), has embarked on a slightly out-of-control sexual experiment to prove whether she and Ben belong together. “How can you know if he’s Mr. Right,” Leslie asks, “unless you’ve been with a lot of Mr. Wrongs?”
What commences amounts to a parade of weirdos, and the broader and more obvious aspects of “Losing Control” are not its strongest. Often, what characters are muttering between the more dominant lines of dialogue actually contains the comedic meat. When Sam is approached at a party by a couple who want her to join their “polyamorous” household, her response (“You’re Mormons?”) is less funny than the guy’s acknowledgment that they get that question all the time. When Sam’s parents (the terrific Lin Shaye and Barry Gordon) have a moment of tenderness, you could easily miss the gem of a one-liner that caps the scene.
Sam’s thesis is something of a MacGuffin; it doesn’t really have to make sense, but it’s curious all the same. The product Sam is developing, Y-Kill, would prevent Y-chromosome-transmitted birth defects, but it would also prevent males from being born. It doesn’t really make sense when Chinese agents steal the product, insofar as the gender imbalance threatening China’s future is due to cultural and political causes, not biology, but it makes for a pretty good underlying gag in a movie about women and their destinies.
Production values are mostly adequate, although the camerawork doesn’t exactly flatter the cast.