×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Petunia

Ash Christian's "Petunia" offers family mega-dysfunction in the cruelly funny mode of Todd Solondz, albeit with a bit less bile (and punch).

With:
With: Thora Birch, Tobias Segal, Christine Lahti, Eddie Kaye Thomas, David Rasche, Jimmy Heck, Michael Urie, Brittany Snow, Meredith Holtzman.

An imperfect but satisfying progression from the campy bad-taste comedy of his prior features “Fat Girls” and “Mangus!,” Ash Christian’s “Petunia” offers family mega-dysfunction in the cruelly funny mode of Todd Solondz, albeit with a bit less bile (and punch). While the overall feel is a bit derivative and contrived, there are nonetheless plenty of bitingly sharp lines and performance moments to keep this well-cast ensemble piece percolating along. Sales are sure to spread wider than for helmer’s earlier efforts, from arthouse distribution to cable.

Charlie Petunia (Tobias Segal) is a perpetual nervous wreck, and no wonder; as the youngest and most conciliatory member of his New York clan, he’s constantly mortified by his family’s crass behavior, particularly when he’s acting as a buffer between two psychotherapist parents (Christine Lahti, David Rasche) who can barely speak to one another. Taking their long-soured union as an example, Charlie hopes to avoid further emotional pain by remaining celibate, a plan everyone else finds ridiculous. But then, sex seems to do nothing but get them into trouble.

Eldest sib Michael (Eddie Kaye Thomas) has just married g.f. Vivian (Thora Birch), but this starts to look like a mistake as early as the limo ride from wedding reception to hotel room. His desire to settle down chafes against her Manhattan party-girl instincts, and that conflict is only exacerbated when she discovers she’s pregnant, news that awakens no latent maternal yearnings whatsoever. Worse, she’s not sure whether the father is Michael or his artist brother, Adrian (Jimmy Heck), a sex addict who has lately developed “Love Tourette’s,” meaning that in the middle of casual congress with near-anonymous partners, he disconcertingly shouts “I love you!”

Against his better judgment, Charlie gets sucked into a romance with Vivian’s cousin George (Michael Urie), who happens to live one floor below him. Imagine his surprise upon discovering that George shares that apartment with wife Robin (Brittany Snow), a woman of infinite suppressed rage who exorcises her frustrations over his neglect and gay affairs via a punitive regimen of anorexia and long-distance jogging.

There’s a lot of grotesque entertainment value in these twisted entanglements, rendered more amusingly loopy than mean-spirited by Christian’s flair for the quip and a cast that wisely chooses to play it all (relatively) naturalistically. There’s one outright dud sequence (a performance-art spoof that looks about 25 years out of date), but also some brightly envelope-pushing setpieces (notably Lahti’s extremely uptight matriarch going on an Ecstasy-fueled club bender), and the whole thing moves along with an admirable, eventful briskness.

While one could argue there’s too much string pulling going on, the helmer/co-scribe’s affection for his characters narrowly pulls off a happily-ever-after fade for all — one sharp detour from the influence of Solondz, which otherwise is hard to ignore throughout.

Among expertly turned perfs, stage thesp Segal is a standout, even as he risks coming closest to neurotic caricature. Though the color looked a bit washed-out in Frameline’s digital projection, lensing and editing do a resourceful job glossing over the pic’s budgetary production limitations; the synth-based score, not so much.

Petunia

Production: An Ironclad Pictures production in association with Cranium Entertainment, Yale Prods., Rooted Films and What the Heck Prods. Produced by Ash Christian, Jordan Levine, Thora Birch. Co-producers, Theresa Bennett, Canella Williams-Larabee. Executive producers, Michael Corso, John Delaney, Roger Dowd, Branca Ferrazo, Ron Gell, Anthony Gudas, Nesim Hanson, Jimmy Heck, Scott Levenson, Michele Levy, Brian Orce, Vairon Perez, Franco Sama, Lion Shirdan, Faisal Toor. Directed by Ash Christian. Screenplay, Christian, Theresa Bennett.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Austin Schmidt; editor, Scott D. Martin; music, Douglas Cuomo; music supervisor, Suzanne Hilleary; production designer, Daniel Kersting; art director, Shawn Annabel; set decorator, Elinor Lee; sound (Dolby 5.1), Allison Jackson; re-recording mixer, Matt Wittmeyer; assistant director, TJ Frederico; casting, Susan Shopmaker. Reviewed at Frameline (U.S. Features), San Francisco, June 17, 2012. Running time: 111 MIN.

With: With: Thora Birch, Tobias Segal, Christine Lahti, Eddie Kaye Thomas, David Rasche, Jimmy Heck, Michael Urie, Brittany Snow, Meredith Holtzman.

More Film

  • The Eight Hundred (The 800)

    History Rethink Group Key to 'Eight Hundred' Shanghai Cancellation (EXCLUSIVE)

    Chinese authorities may have abruptly yanked Huayi Brothers’ $80 million patriotic war epic “The Eight Hundred” the day before its debut as the Shanghai Intl. Film Festival’s opening film because it didn’t portray rivals of the ruling Communist Party in a sufficiently negative light, local reports said. Huayi on Friday attributed the cancellation of its [...]

  • Simon West

    Simon West Directing Chinese Tomb-Raid Movie “Legend Hunters’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    The British director Simon West, who made Angelina Jolie-starring “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” is now co-directing a Chinese tomb-raiding film. “The Legend Hunters” is the next instalment in the “Mojin” universe based on the popular fantasy novel series “Ghost Blows Out the Light.” Backed by Wanda Pictures and Beijing-based Saints Entertainment, the film is set [...]

  • Emu Runner

    Sydney Film Review: 'Emu Runner'

    Writer-director Imogen Thomas’ debut feature “Emu Runner” has and probably will play in designated family-themed strands of film festivals, and given its story of a 9-year-old Aboriginal girl who deals with grief in the wake of her mother’s death by bonding with a lone female representative of Australia’s largest native bird species, this programming strategy [...]

  • Sophia Antipolis

    Locarno in Los Angeles Film Review: 'Sophia Antipolis'

    There are two Sophias in French director Virgil Vernier’s clever, cunning, chilling fifth feature. The first is its setting, the eponymous “Sophia Antipolis,” a technology park in the south of France, a place self-consciously designed as an experiment in social engineering, where an international community of professionals would, it was hoped, create an environment of [...]

  • I Lost My Body

    Netflix Pickup ‘I Lost My Body,’ ‘Buñuel,’ ‘Away’ Top Annecy Festival

    ANNECY, France  — Fulfilling expectations, Jeremy Clapin’s “I Lost My Body, the subject of one of the highest-profile Netflix deals at this year’s Cannes, won this Saturday the Annecy Festival’s top Cristal Award of best feature plus, in a relatively rare Annecy double whammy, the festival’s Audience Award. The first was expected, the second a [...]

  • 'Fausto' Review: Andrea Bussmann's Beautuful, Inscrutable

    Locarno in Los Angeles Film Review: 'Fausto'

    In more ways than one, “Fausto” is a film that likes to keep its audience in the dark: The bulk of its imagery is thickly cloaked in velvety night, often barely illuminated but for pinpricks of moonlight or a flickering candle, sometimes to the point where viewers must strain and squint to identify what they’re [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content