×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

SXSW Film Review: ‘Fits and Starts’

With:
Wyatt Cenac, Greta Lee, Maria Dizzia, Alex Karpovsky, Ben Sinclair, Onur Tukel, John Rothman, Louis Cancelmi, Larry Murphy, Sam Seder

“Fits and Starts” is appropriately titled. The directorial debut from Laura Terruso (who scripted “Hello, My Name Is Doris”), the film follows a pair of married writers – one wildly successful, one struggling – on a one-night trip from New York to Connecticut to attend a pretentious salon, only for one of them to go missing, leaving the other adrift inside a shooting gallery of wacky art world clichés. The model seems to be “After Hours” in a higher tax bracket and with a McSweeney’s subscription, and while it certainly has its moments, it remains frustratingly one-note, too cool to really commit to the screwball farce the premise is crying out for, and too enamored with picking off easy targets to draw real blood.

Once considered a rising literary star, David Warwick (Wyatt Cenac) has been fruitlessly tinkering with his debut novel for several years, during which time his wife, Jennifer “J.M.” Lee (Greta Lee) has published two, the latest of which has made her the toast of Manhattan. Whatever their respective talents, it’s clear that Jennifer has learned to play the game, while David lingers in the back of the room at her readings, sneaking bottles of wine into his messenger bag and mumbling the words “coming-of-age, autobiographical” whenever Jennifer’s high-powered friends ask about his work.

Hoping to break David out of his shell, Jennifer drags him along to an artist retreat at a country mansion, and David promises to attempt to network. The trip upstate goes sidewise quickly: the two are caught attempting to have point-proving roadside sex by a chuckleheaded pair of cops; they get lost looking for a wine shop in town; and after a contrived set of snafus, Jennifer goes missing.

David heads to the party on his own, hoping to find his wife there, and has to face a roving cast of try-hard artists and aristocratic poseurs without Jennifer to help him muddle through. From here, the film breaks into a series of comic vignettes, some of them quite funny – indie filmmaker Onur Tukel has a great cameo as a fatuous critic – and some entirely too obvious in their skewering of high-society silliness. The film begins to pick up some real momentum when David finds himself in a game of psychological chicken with a sadistic, possibly nymphomaniacal literary agent (Maria Dizzia), but it never quite gains enough speed to power it toward the explosion that is inevitably coming.

In the lead role, Cenac strikes a winning note of dazed intellectual befuddlement, but he spends most of his scenes in deadpan reaction mode, and only gradually emerges as a real character. Lee reveals a high-strung tinge of ruthlessness behind her character’s seemingly perfect professionalism, but she’s largely sidelined for the second half of the film. Terruso handles individual scenes well, and there’s an interesting undercurrent of intellectual anarchy running beneath “Fits and Starts” which hopefully she’ll allow to run a bit wilder on her next outing behind the camera.

SXSW Film Review: 'Fits and Starts'

Reviewed at SXSW (competing), March 12, 2017. Running time: 84 MINS.

Production: An Armian Pictures, Free Architect presentation. Produced by Margherita Arco, Neda Armian, Laura Terruso. Executive producer, Stacey Parks.

Crew: Directed, written by Laura Terruso. Camera (color), Benjamin Rutkowski. Editor, Robert Grigsby Wilson.

With: Wyatt Cenac, Greta Lee, Maria Dizzia, Alex Karpovsky, Ben Sinclair, Onur Tukel, John Rothman, Louis Cancelmi, Larry Murphy, Sam Seder

More Film

  • Bluebird review

    SXSW Film Review: ‘Bluebird’

    As affectionate as a love letter but as substantial as an infomercial, Brian Loschiavo’s “Bluebird” may be of most interest to casual and/or newly converted country music fans who have occasionally wondered about the songwriters behind the songs. There’s a better than even-money chance that anyone who’s a loyal and longtime aficionado of the musical [...]

  • ‘Wonder Park’ Tops Studios’ TV Ad

    ‘Wonder Park’ Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending for the Fourth Week in a Row

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the TV advertising attention analytics company iSpot.tv, Paramount Pictures claims the top spot in spending for the fourth week in row with “Wonder Park.” Ads placed for the animated film had an estimated media value of $5.18 million through Sunday for 1,718 national [...]

  • Michael B. Jordan Jordan Vogt-Roberts

    Film News Roundup: Michael B. Jordan, Jordan Vogt-Roberts Team for Monster Movie

    In today’s film news roundup, Michael B. Jordan is producing a creature feature, billiards champ Cisero Murphy is getting a movie, the sixth Terminator movie gets a title, and Graham King receives an honor. PROJECT UNVEILED More Reviews SXSW Film Review: ‘Bluebird’ Video Game Review: 'The Division 2' New Regency and Michael B. Jordan’s Outlier [...]

  • Nicolas Cage

    Nicolas Cage to Star in Martial Arts Actioner 'Jiu Jitsu'

    Nicolas Cage will star in the martial arts actioner “Jiu Jitsu,” based on the comic book of the same name. The cast will also include Alain Moussi, who stars in the “Kickboxer” franchise. Dimitri Logothetis is producing with Martin Barab and directing from a script he wrote with Jim McGrath. Highland Film Group is handling [...]

  • Chinese success of Thai film "Bad

    Chinese, Thai Shingles Pact for Co-Production Fund at FilMart

    A deal to establish a 100 million yuan ($14.9 million) co-production fund between China and Thailand was struck at FilMart on Tuesday to help launch TV and film projects that will appeal to Chinese and Southeast Asian audience. The deal that was struck by China’s Poly Film Investment Co., TW Capital from Thailand and Thai [...]

  • Kevin Tsujihara

    Kevin Tsujihara's Ouster Kicks Off a Week of Major Disruption in the Media Business

    The sudden ouster of Warner Bros. Entertainment chief Kevin Tsujihara kicked off what is likely to go down as one of the most extraordinary weeks in Hollywood history, spelling enormous turmoil and transition across the media landscape. In addition to the news about Tsujihara, which comes amid a wider shake-up of leadership at AT&T’s WarnerMedia, [...]

  • Buddha in Africa

    More Than Half of Films at Hot Docs Film Festival Are Directed by Women

    More than half of the films playing at Hot Docs, North America’s largest documentary festival, are directed by women, the Canadian event said Tuesday. The festival’s 26th edition, which runs April 25-May 5, will screen 234 films, with 54% of the directors being women. In the competitive International Spectrum program, notable films receiving their world [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content