Sleeping with your girlfriend’s mother is only a minor obstacle to true love in “All Relative.” Kinda-sorta reworking the bizarre love triangle at the center of Mike Nichols’ “The Graduate,” writer-director J.C. Khoury’s second feature clearly intends to treat all its characters with respect and understanding but somehow winds up making them look like complete idiots instead. Day-and-date theatrical and VOD release has very little going for it on any platform.
Bland New York grad student Harry (Jonathan Sadowski) is still nursing a broken heart after his fiancee cheated on him and ended their engagement. His luck improves when he meets bubbly blonde Grace (Sara Paxton) at a bowling alley, only to discover she’s currently attached to a middling prospect she met online. Looking to drown his sorrows, Harry runs into seductive fortysomething Maren (Connie Nielsen) at a bar and almost immediately winds up in her bed. At Maren’s urging, Harry pursues Grace, which leaves Maren the odd woman out when Grace gives in to Harry’s advances.
Up until this point, Khoury has avoided dropping the bombshell that Maren is actually Grace’s mother, to the audience or the characters — though trying to keep the very premise of the film a secret does nothing to heighten its impact. It’s not until Grace brings Harry home to meet the parents a month into their relationship that Harry and Maren realize the connection (Grace still has no idea), and promptly freak out.
The snowballing absurdity of the lengths both Harry and Maren go to to keep their secret becomes simultaneously preposterous and infuriating, played for a not-so-deft balance of wacky misunderstandings and pseudo-profound emotional reveals. Among the former, Harry’s stereotypically loutish pal Jared (Al Thompson) thinks Harry can somehow parlay the situation into a threesome. Repping the latter, Maren’s husband, Phil (David Aaron Baker), may have also had an affair. A frank talk about their future is surely in order.
It’s impossible to conceive of a conventional happy ending in this scenario, but Khoury tries his hardest to imagine one. The resolution is made all the more difficult to swallow by the utter lack of characterization when it comes to Grace, who seems to exist solely to satisfy Harry’s fantasies of a good-hearted dream girl. Paxton isn’t able to provide requisite backbone for a confounding character, who — when one steps outside the film’s myopic romantic-comedy p.o.v. — is subjected to repeated emotional abuse by both her boyfriend and her mother in the service of painfully unfunny farce.
Among the ensemble, Nielsen at least intrigues as an unconventional choice for this type of role and film, but “All Relative” fails to capitalize on the casting, pigeonholing Maren as a generically stifled suburbanite. (Nielsen currently has a far superior showcase in a handful of recurring guest spots on CBS’ “The Good Wife.”) Even a brisk running time, barely topping 80 minutes, is too long to ask audiences to stay in the company of these characters and their terrible self-inflicted predicaments. Tech credits are average at best.