A man seeking to redefine himself and repudiate the conservative values of his parents returns to the metropolis in which he grew up, determined to live a bohemian lifestyle centered around an unusual sexual obsession, in Paul Bojack’s aggressively indie third feature, “Reset.” The writer-director, whose previous work, 2006’s “Resilience,” examined the escalating ramifications of a lie, here presents a series of vignettes that aim to jolt viewers out of complacency and challenge accepted notions of normality. But lacking the life-and-death payoff of that earlier work, “Reset” strings together a series of hit-and-miss ideas that never deliver an “aha!” payoff. Still, Bojack’s arthouse enthusiasts will celebrate the return of a filmmaker who refuses to play it safe.
A man (Edward Deraney) is preparing to drive to his hometown, but not, he’s careful to note in the first of many voiceovers, to visit his dysfunctional family, from whom he’s trying to break free. While we don’t meet Floyd by name until about 15 minutes into the 75-minute runtime, that’s still two acts sooner than we learn the names of his sister Pam (Sarah Chaney), dad Hal (David Ross Paterson) and mom Sheila (Melinda DeKay). The elliptical conceit forces viewers to piece together the characters’ relationships, which fits the movie’s hiding-in-plain-sight vibe, and adds a “True Detective”-like challenge to keep auds from dwelling on the lack of a narrative arc.
The man who will be Floyd reveals upfront that, having turned 30, he finds himself drawn to having sex with women who are alternately much older (at least 55) and much younger (legal, but “no more than early 20s,” never mind that the latter age isn’t vastly different than his own). To drive home the extent of his chronophilia, and the film’s often darkly jokey tone, we see him first copulating doggy-style with an older woman with helium balloons tied to her body, then pounding against a nubile type facing a wall.
But things aren’t all fun and games. Along the way, the people we soon discover are his family members take time to discuss social issues such as school privatization (they’re for it), the permissibility of flag burning by cartoon characters (a split between sis and Mom), and the culture of fantasy football (Dad identifies with the owners, not the players). Underlying it all is the need for Floyd to be creatively free — he sketches out his wide-ranging ideas on a pad of paper — even as Dad advises him later by phone that it’s about time to abandon his dreams. It’s an indignity that’s so close to the bone for a small independent filmmaker that Floyd’s eventual triumphs in seeing his parents suffer the shortcomings they ascribe to him feel a bit facile, if not petty.
The movie is divided into several chaptered vignettes, each titled by a key phrase within that chapter. Also included in each: an observation and a montage of images ostensibly tied to Floyd’s sketchpad ideas. Some depict a culture of racism and most are bizarre, though some are more benign: “A man records the heartbeats of his children, and when stuck in traffic, he listens to them.” The images themselves — for example, a shovel, a violin, perhaps a tooth, all sitting at the bottom of a drained pool — recall nothing quite so much as the items found in Peter Greenaway’s “The Tulse Luper Suitcases” (one image even includes an abandoned valise).
As Floyd’s urges grow, he finds he must add a dollop of voyeurism to his encounters, even as he strives to avoid recognition by family and past friends, who live in different parts of the vast city. The setting is never specified, but Angelenos will recognize L.A. locations like the Second Street tunnel, Little Tokyo and the Metro station at Wilshire and Western.
Besides the psychosexual overtones, there’s an undercurrent of racial tension. Floyd’s two bar-hopping friends — one black, Hugh (Reggie Watkins, “Justified”), one white, Robert (Doug Penikas, “Glee”) — are former college roommates who date only a specific type of woman: Hugh likes blondes; Robert, Asians. When Robert discovers Hugh has dared to bed an Asian woman, the repercussions lead to “Reset’s” most charged scene.
Bojack, making his first film in eight years, seems to have a few too many ideas saved up in his notebook, and is determined to include all of them. The acting is variable, and Deraney plays Floyd, per the script, as angst-free, certainly an odd choice for someone determined to erase his upbringing.
Yet, considering “Reset” as an inarguably daring film, it’s also possible to interpret Floyd’s low-key demeanor as a way to portray this sexual deviant as a bemused Everyman traveling a world of seedy motels and bars in a land that represents the further decay of Western civilization, both morally and philosophically. In that reality, those “Tulse Luper” touchstones could serve to identify the sketch-maker as a prisoner, forever trapped between a broken childhood and his adult obsessions.
That would be kinda cool.