Review: Some Girl(s)
For years now writer-director Neil LaBute has taken body shots from critics who find his work misogynistic, chauvinistic, and downright cynical. But whether you believe LaBute to be slyly affirming that “boys will be boys,” or exposing modern male narcissism, Some Girl(s), directed by Daisy von Scherler, will leave you opinionated. And if noise (critics, blogs, enraged viewers) can be a kind of currency, LaBute continues here to cash in.
Out of a nebulous desire to “right a wrong”, a newly successful writer engineers tense meetings in hotel rooms across the country with a series of ex-girlfriends before his upcoming marriage. These conversations take place in real time, like a linked chain of miniature plays (true to the film’s origins as a theatrical production), and Rachel Morrison’s camera tracks the characters documentary-style as they move from the awkward (small talk, offered Fiji water, devoured nuts) to the revelatory (infidelity, abandonment, violation). As the accusations mount, the unnamed “Man” (Adam Brody) cycles through a narcissistic sleight-of-hand mysteriously leaving him without responsibility or guilt—a kind of oh-I-had-no-idea buffoonery played with a touch more cunning than your standard barbed comedy of bad behavior. What separates Some Girl(s) from similar scripts is the lead’s nearly frightening lack of self-awareness, which Brody’s performance situates somewhere between the mischievous and the pathological, but which is never truly funny. I didn’t laugh during the film, but I did grind my teeth.
Further, the five women’s moments of insight are more a sampler platter of bad break-ups than a believable set of experiences radiating from one center. Though the cast gives complex turns as high school girlfriend, sexual deviant, jilted older woman, best friend’s little sister, and “the one that got away,” the weight of dull clichés only makes the stilted dialogue harder to stomach. There are some notable performances, however. Zoe Kazan breathes life into the script (and alters the tone of the film), deftly balancing vulnerability and wilful determination. And watching Kristen Bell lay into the lead after his true motives are exposed is deliciously satisfying.
Though the trailer bills Some Girl(s) as a playful romp through the past, the film has more in common with 2003’s Shattered Glass: an unsuspecting audience loses faith in a once-trusted protagonist whose detailed web of deception and lies is laid bare piece by piece. If the comparison seems like a stretch, remember that both characters are writers bending the truth for a juicy story. And after all, isn’t misremembering a kind of editorializing? In Some Girl(s), the Man’s penitence is more a sham to round out his personal narrative than a mature rite of passage. For him, each woman is a mere plot point, and the audience can only guess at the complexities of their outside existence (two have husbands we never see). And maybe that’s the point. But because we’re left in his head, what emerges is a mean-spirited exercise, not a true reckoning. Looking into the eyes of these women, the five-time ex is only able to see himself.