Tuesday , May 21 2024
Pretty Problems, SXSW, Michael Tennant, Graham Outerbridge
'Pretty Problems,' SXSW, Michael Tennant, Graham Outerbridge (courtesy of the film)

SXSW Comedy Feature Film Review: ‘Pretty Problems’

In Pretty Problems, a narrative feature comedy by Kestrin Pantera that premiered at SXSW, an attractive thirty-something professional couple suffer strains in their marriage. Initially, the conflict emerges in the first scenes when they break off from uneventful and tired morning sex. Lindsay (Britt Rentschler) and Jack (Michael Tennant) end up pleasuring themselves more happily than they experience pleasuring each other. The result is humorous. Yet, we see this turning point for the couple requires either a serious heart-to-heart or eventually, adventure-seeking elsewhere.

Subsequently, we note that Michael’s dead-end commission job yields rejections, doors slammed in his face and no solar energy purchases. For her part Lindsay sells dresses in a high-end dress shop. There, bored, wealthy women come in to browse and get off on treating her like “an invisible,” or worse, their dress hanger. Economically challenged, this couple’s middle- to lower-middle class status obviously distresses them.

Wealth is a Lure for an Economically Challenged Couple

All this changes when dazzling, vibrant Cat Flax (JJ Nolan) enters their lives. Cat meets Lindsay at the dress shop and interacts with her in an uplifting way. After buying out the store, she encourages Lindsay to think the best of herself. To affirm her positive impression, Cat invites Lindsay to lunch. Their electric bonding heartens Lindsay, who admires Cat for her appearance, generosity and directive personality.

When Cat invites Lindsay for a weekend of wine and fun with her husband at their estate, she thrills to her new BFF. Impressed with Cat’s wealth, Lindsay’s inner desperation to go for the weekend manifests outwardly. But Lindsay must penetrate Jack’s doldrums. She must convince him that Cat’s invitation offers stirring new adventures for them as a couple.

Pretty Problems, SXSW, Britt Rentschler, JJ Nolan, Alex Klein, Graham Outerbridge, Charlotte Ubben, Michael Tennant
‘Pretty Problems,’ SXSW, Britt Rentschler, JJ Nolan, Graham Outerbridge, Alex Klein, Charlotte Ubben, Michael Tennant (courtesy of the film)

Why Does Jack Hesitate to Go on a Needed Adventure?

The problem of Jack’s hesitation about doing something different blows up when Lindsay discusses Cat in glowing terms. Uncomfortable about their lack of wealth, and suspicious of this couple’s motives, Jack implies that the invite spells “weird.” They lightly argue and we anticipate Jack’s refusal. Surprisingly, Jack relents and agrees to please Lindsay, but his “yes” lacks heart and interest.

Humorously, Jack mines the mystery of the invite, revealing paranoia. First, he suggests the “weird” couple plans to set them up for a gruesome murder. When Lindsay dismisses this, he suggests the invite has a sexual, even pornographic component. This wonderful twist sets us on edge. We anticipate troubles for Jack and Lindsay if they go.

Finally, Lindsay discounts Jack’s funny ramblings. Unwillingly, Jack drives them off to wine country. Jack’s suspicions augment on their drive. In face he primes his fears about this nefarious couple who live in a desolate, remote area with no signal for their GPS and phones. According to Jack, this forebodes doom. Lindsay drains Jack’s paranoia, once more soothing his frayed, jumpy nerves. Clearly, Jack’s insecurity and fears relate to himself, rather than this couple’s remote housing in wine country.

Affluence Beyond Magnificent

In due time they locate the state-of-the-art glass house worth millions on the top of a hill overlooking vineyards. Heartily welcomed by Cat’s husband Matt (Graham Outerbridge) Lindsay and Jack pair off by gender and chat. Matt draws Jack under his expansive, luxurious wings. There, Jack discovers that the down-to-earth, self-made billionaire unapologetically appreciates his wealth and privilege.

Together with Matt’s best friend Kerry (Alex Klein), a trust fund kid whose grandfather invented Tater Tots, the two lure Jack into a comfort zone fueled by alcohol. Jack owns up to the misery of his life and upended career, which doesn’t shock Matt who investigated Jack and Lindsay beforehand. While Kerry’s stunning, vapid Carrie (Charlotte Ubben) dances to herself with her headphones, Lindsay reveals her dreams to Cat, who says she will fund them.

It is then that the plot thickens. The deluxe treatment, food, wine, spas and entertainment that Lindsay appreciates lure Jack with growing unease. These individuals have it all. For sure the glitter, glamor and appeal of uber-wealth entrances and seduces. Lindsay covets their lifestyle and embraces Cat’s intentions to financially support her. Increasingly, as Jack feels appalled by his inability to afford anything, he realizes his and Lindsay’s lives move in another direction.

A Strong Ensemble Piece with an Unresolved Ending

The rift between them widens. Questions about their value differences arise on this first day of the sumptuous weekend. Do Jack and Lindsay want the same things? After such comfortable luxury, will Lindsay still feel committed to Jack? Unable to purchase $300 bottles of wine or hire a multi-person staff including a driver, a party planner, a master sommelier and chef to do their bidding, can Lindsay return to their relative poverty? These fantastic people and the gorgeous environs show up her untenable life and devastate her.

Luckily hope arrives. As the weekend continues, the beauty of this lifestyle reveals a fracture in paradise containing a host of problems. And these are far from pretty.

With a story created by lead actors Britt Rentschler, Charlotte Ubben and Michael Tennant, and written by Michael Tennant, we follow the journey of these characters and immerse ourselves every step of the way. Compelled by the ironic antithesis of economies displayed, and the superb acting, we engage. Indeed, Tennant configures likable characters with every-day problems. Even Matt and Cat manifest the truth of themselves, despite having material comfort. But where does this story end?

In this strong ensemble piece with superb acting, the arc of development falls short, with a conclusion too neatly resolved. However, we enjoy these imminently funny and watchable individuals who’ve entertained us and made viewing our own foibles palatable.

If you are at SXSW, check the film schedule for its showings on https://www.sxsw.com/.  Otherwise, look for it to stream online in the documentary section of VOD channels.

About Carole Di Tosti

Carole Di Tosti, Ph.D. is a published writer, playwright, novelist, poet. She owns and manages three well-established blogs: 'The Fat and the Skinny,' 'All Along the NYC Skyline' (https://caroleditosti.com/) 'A Christian Apologists' Sonnets.' She also manages the newly established 'Carole Di Tosti's Linchpin,' which is devoted to foreign theater reviews and guest reviews. She contributed articles to Technorati (310) on various trending topics from 2011-2013. To Blogcritics she has contributed 583+ reviews, interviews on films and theater predominately. Carole Di Tosti also has reviewed NYBG exhibits and wine events. She guest writes for 'Theater Pizzazz' and has contributed to 'T2Chronicles,' 'NY Theatre Wire' and other online publications. She covers NYC trending events and writes articles promoting advocacy. She professionally free-lanced for TMR and VERVE for 1 1/2 years. She was a former English Instructor. Her published dissertation is referenced in three books, two by Margo Ely, Ph.D. Her novel 'Peregrine: The Ceremony of Powers' will be on sale in January 2021. Her full length plays, 'Edgar,' 'The Painter on His Way to Work,' and 'Pandemics or How Maria Caught Her Vibe' are being submitted for representation and production.

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