There’s nothing like a little menage a trois with two foxy college girls to cure a middle-aged author’s writer’s block, but the fix works both ways in “Crashing.” A follow-up, but not a sequel, to the 1987 Sundance dramatic competition prizewinner “The Trouble With Dick,” writer-director Gary Walkow’s insidiously engaging low-budgeter employs a literate sensibility, breezy tone and warm performances to put across an amusing if faintly contrived story about three fiction writers self-consciously using their intimate relations for material. A nice fest ride could lead to modest theatrical exposure prior to more robust cable and other home market distribution.
All of Walkow’s films, which also include “Notes From Underground” (1995) and “Beat” (2000), possess elemental literary roots. “The Trouble With Dick” was about a struggling sci-fi writer who becomes distracted by a mother and daughter competing for his attentions. Same format applies in “Crashing,” in which good-looking but graying onetime boy wonder Richard McMurray (Campbell Scott), whose bestselling first novel (which just happens to have been titled “The Trouble With Dick”) now is seven years old, finds his follow-up getting worse with each successive draft.
Kicked out of his Malibu house by a fed-up wife, Richard agrees to speak to a college writing class taught by former flame Diane (Alex Kingston), who’s still sore about how unflatteringly Richard portrayed her in “Dick.” After Richard casually mentions to the class that he has nowhere to sleep that night, the use of a couch is proffered by cute blond student Kristin (Izabella Miko) and seconded by her sultry roommate Jacqueline (Lizzy Caplan), much to the consternation of Diane.
Predictably, Richard doesn’t spend all his time alone on the sofa in the coming days and nights, although it’s the girls who provoke the situation. While Richard initially gets enough stimulation to reignite his creative juices just from hanging around these saucy young ladies and prying into their personal lives, the girls have their own creative agendas; they are both aspiring writers and, in lieu of rent, request that Richard service them via “literary consultations.”
Pretty soon everyone’s busy writing in ways variously influenced by the interactions, fantasies, suspicions and suggestions that flow among them. While the refreshingly forthright Jacqueline states her ambition is to become the “postmodern Jacqueline Susann,” Kristin’s work runs more toward the schoolgirl poetic.Richard, finding his rhythm again in more ways than one, ruminates on the layers of literary awareness wafting through the small apartment, where no secrets can be kept from anyone.
Performances are uniformly sharp, with Scott lightly conveying both the strengths of insight and the weakness of imagination that conflict Richard. Both suitably luscious, Caplan and Miko hold their own in the sometimes highfalutin, otherwise casually suggestive banter with their older willing captive.
Given the confined quarters, Walkow keeps things visually nimble with unjittery mobile camerawork and fleet editing. Least successful are the visualizations of the girls’ literary efforts, which can’t effectively capture distinct writing styles, although Richard’s musings on alternative sexual possibilities are more amusing. Limited nature of the conceit makes itself felt toward the end, and the film proper is wisely wrapped up in well under 80 minutes.