In the world according to playwright-screenwriter Neil LaBute, men continually behave badly — some much worse than others — and the nameless protagonist of “Some Girl(s)” certainly is no exception. But the complexities and contradictions of this character remain perversely fascinating throughout the pared-to-essentials indie feature that helmer Daisy von Scherler Mayer (“Party Girl”) and LaBute have adapted from the latter’s play. While self-styled cinematic purists may dismiss the pic as canned theater, others will appreciate it as thought- and conversation-provoking drama. It’s a work that merits at least limited theatrical exposure before wider release on homescreen platforms.
Adam Brody strikes a deft balance of purposeful sincerity and sociopathic self-justification in the lead role, a thirtysomething college professor and successful author identified in the credits only as “Man.”
Shortly before his marriage to his younger, never-seen fiancee — one of several women he refers to, either casually or dismissively, as “some girl” — he decides to re-visit a few old flames to seek forgiveness for past sins or, failing that, offer excuses for inexcusable behavior.
The reunions, all of which occur in real time in upscale hotel rooms, take him from Seattle to Boston and points in between for meet-ups with Sam (Jennifer Morrison), the high-school sweetheart he didn’t take to the prom; Tyler (Mia Maestro), a sexually uninhibited free spirit who always knew she wasn’t his first choice for happily-ever-aftering; Lindsay (Emily Watson), an older and wiser college professor who extracts a suitably humiliating revenge; Reggie (Zoe Kazan), his best buddy’s kid sister, who’s never forgotten him, no matter how hard she’s tried; and Bobbi (Kristen Bell), the closest thing to a one true love that a man like Man could ever have, and even then only fleetingly.
The premise lends itself to a logline that, while simplistic, isn’t far from inaccurate: “Rashomon” meets “The Last of the Red Hot Lovers,” with a side order of “Candide.”
In each new hotel room, with each successive woman, Man presents himself as a penitent pilgrim, owning up to sins of betrayal and/or abandonment. And during every conversation, the longer he talks, the clearer it becomes, for the audience if not for him, that his narcissistic take on the past is quite removed from reality.
The dichotomy between what he recalls (or chooses to recall) and what actually occurred is sufficiently stark to unnerve even the egotistical Man in the pic’s most riveting sequence, his close encounter with Reggie.
Impressively played by Kazan with equal measures of vulnerability and outrage, Reggie initially seems like a Valley Girl ditz whose choice of writing as a profession suggests undimmed hero-worship of Man. But as she reveals the full extent of his influence on her, Kazan’s performance becomes steadily more powerful and unsettling, forcing viewers to rethink much of what they may have assumed about him up to that point.
Indeed, by the time Man reveals the darkest of his true colors in the final scenes, Brody has skillfully and fearlessly primed the aud to suspect the worst. Those expectations are more than adequately fulfilled.
Each member of the ensemble offers a vividly detailed performance resounding with emotional truth, delivering lengthy swaths of LaBute’s sometimes savagely furious, sometimes shocking funny dialogue with pitch-perfect degrees of intensity. Kazan and Brody arguably are first and second among equals but, really, there isn’t a weak link in the chain.
Director von Scherler Mayer enhances the overall air of heightened realism by having lenser Rachel Morrison pursue the actors in the manner of a cinema-verite documentarian, framing shots and choosing angles with a randomness that is doubtless more seeming than real.
The last encounter, with Bobbi, is shot in a markedly more traditional fashion than the others. Which makes it even easier to see Man for who and what he really is.
A Leeden Media production in association with Pollution Studios. Produced by Patty West, Chris Schwartz, Andrew Carlberg. Executive producer, Nick Horbaczewski. Co-producers, Jennifer Getzinger, Jennifer Glynn, Andrew Manser.
Directed by Daisy von Scherler Mayer. Screenplay, Neil LaBute, based on his play. Camera (color), Rachel Morrison; editor, Michael Darrow; music, David Carbonara; music supervisor, Evelyn Wong; production designer, Maya Sigel; art director, Ben Spiegelman; set decorator, Jeremy Cisneros; costume designer, Nancea Ceo; sound, Josh Bissett; associate producers, Narineh Hacopian, Joe Klest; assistant director, Nancy Townsend; casting, Lindsay Chag. Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (Narrative Spotlight), March 9, 2013. Running time: 90 MIN.
With: Adam Brody, Kristen Bell, Zoe Kazan, Mia Maestro, Jennifer Morrison, Emily Watson.