Sook Yin Lee’s directorial debut, Year of the Carnivore, is now available on DVD, after premiering at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival. This is a film about sex. More specifically, it’s about sex as a complication and even an obstruction in our lives: how we relate to other people; how we feel about ourselves.
Sammy (Cristin Milioti) is 21 years old, but is questioning if there is something wrong with her because of her difficulty with physical intimacy. In somewhat of a reversal of the typical girl-meets-boy story, Sammy goes home with the boy of her dreams near the beginning of the film. However, her awkwardness and uncontrollable ticklishness results in a disappointing night. The following morning he basically chastises her for not being a better lay, leading her to begin a quest for sexual mastery.
The movie is marketed as a comedy, but the trailer is actually quite misleading. This isn’t a movie that will make you laugh. It tries to be quirky, with Sammy running into an apparently endless parade of bizarre characters, and her own character alternating between the loveable wallflower and a fearless adventurer. However, the sexually awkward moments become more and more explicit as the movie goes on. Sammy becomes a voyeur, uses a woman’s vibrator while babysitting her children, moves on to prostitution, then begins blackmailing random men into sex acts. Lee plays these scenes as comedic, but the incongruity between the content and the mood she attempts to convey is stark. I found these scenes more and more uncomfortable to watch as the film went on.
Milioti has a very endearing deer-in-headlights look that nails her confusion with all these rules about sex, life, and being a grown-up, and I suspect we’ll be seeing more of her on the indie film scene. She’s the highlight of an already strong cast. But I had trouble empathizing even with her as the movie wore on, and at the end of it all, I didn’t buy the happy ending.