Despite a title that invites abuse, “Nothing Special” is a raggedly charming indie with a strong central performance by Julia Garcia Combs amid a story set in a (literally) crazy Hollywood. A character-driven showcase for the talents of helmer Angela Garcia Combs, pic will likely draw minimal theatrical returns, although key perfs by vets Karen Black and Barbara Bain should add to the comedy’s camp quotient.
More interested in exploring lives than in spinning a plotline, the pic opens with a shot inside a tunnel, at the end of which there is light. It’s a fairly leaden metaphor, but one that sums up the journey of the film’s thoroughly unconventional protag, Louise (Julia Garcia Combs), an insurance adjuster with dreams of grandeur. Stopped for traffic on the Hollywood freeway, she has an imaginary conversation with Oprah Winfrey, while getting weird looks from other drivers.
Still, Louise is very good at what she does, and has become a favorite of her firm’s pioneering boss, Catherine (Bain), an iron lady with the heart of gold who has a troubled relationship with her own faraway daughter, and emotionally adopts Louise. The younger woman needs the support: Her own mother, May (Black) is mentally ill and has become both unpredictable and unpleasant.
The central theme being cultivated by helmer Garcia Combs is that mothers and daughters can be mismatched by nature. And although May seems to be a role custom-cut for Black, she also pushes “Nothing Special” in an abrupt direction each time she appears, which feels like the fault of the writing rather than the acting: The pic seems, at first, to be an off-center comedy that will allow a counterpoint to develop between a young single woman’s romantic travails and her business success. But it goes alarmingly dark at times, with the consequence that the viewer might suffer emotional vertigo.
The tangential elements of the Garcia Combs screenplay are intriguing, if underdeveloped. One involves a crush she has on a local bartender, Marcus (David Hardie), whom she visits each day for a single glass of wine, not really caring that he’s “dumb as a stump.” The other features Louise’s scheme to put insurance money into film production, which requires her to do lunch with studio executives whose grasp of accounting is virtually nonexistent, but whose facility with double-talk is beyond virtuosic. Louise doesn’t buy any of it, which is pretty hilarious.
Less amusing is May, who threatens Louise’s life, her future and her career, which is about to take off, if she can just come to grips with Mom. It’s all very believable, and Julia Garcia Combs will have auds rooting for Louise.
Production values are certainly limited, although there is some elegant shooting by d.p. Morgan Pierre Susser.