Best known for a series of hard-hitting, award-winning documentaries, helmer Vincent DiPersio makes a dramatic foray that reveals a genuine, iconoclastic talent worth encouraging. Filled with quirky insight, “The Price of Kissing” is an ultra-low-budget yarn about young artists struggling to find a career path as well as a grounded relationship. Though a bit ragged technically, the film has a definite niche appeal that should generate good specialized returns, and it could find its way into upscale international markets.
Renee (Pauley P.) is a writer searching for the appropriate expression for her offbeat observations. Her best friend, Larry (Leon), is the majordomo of a local club who’s just waiting for an invitation to sing with the reggae house band. Achieving either goal (or those of other characters) will require a leap into the unknown.
Though DiPersio explores well-trod dramatic territory, he gives it a fresh, magical spin. His community of artists and oddballs evokes memories of films as diverse as “La Boheme” and Alan Rudolph’s “Choose Me.” There’s an irreverent quality he brings to the material that leavens its more banal elements and softens its harder edges.
Renee’s already complicated life takes a sharper turn when her roommate Annette (Nicole Eggert) becomes romantically involved with Larry, unaware that he’s the special friend in her pad-mate’s life. Annette also takes a job at the club. The incestuous nature of this tight-knit band intensifies when Larry (Jon Seda), another club worker, becomes enamored of Renee.
On the periphery, there’s sage advice to be gleaned from Billy (Lou Rawls), a saxophone philosopher who appears to live in the entrance corridor to the young women’s apartment; and Jackee (Loretta Devine), a fortuneteller whose love potions promise the truth.DiPersio’s direction has a sucker punch that spins you around. Employing a matter-of-fact attitude, he manages to deal with such hot-button issues as interracial romance and incest in a manner that’s frank and refreshing.
Pic’s first-rate cast is extraordinarily attuned to the script. Pauley P. is an unconventional type who grounds Renee in a sense of reality not usually found in this type of role. Particularly effective is her relationship with roomie Eggert, demonstrating both the women’s bond and the delicate emotional factors that attack their friendship. Leon, as the man in between, provides a deft balance of vanity and insecurity that hits the perfect note.
The spare budget shows in a few key tech areas. Lensing by Feliks Parnell is on the murky side, affecting pic’s ambience and production design. The film’s editing rhythm is also a bit abrupt and awkward. But these lapses are forgivable in an otherwise compelling tale, and many are fixable prior to the film’s going out into the commercial marketplace.