In many ways, Laura Terruso’s Fits and Starts is the very archetype of an indie comedy one would expect to find at SXSW. Modestly budgeted and quirky, these films rely on a good cast, adequate production values, and enough laughs to keep them amusing. Fits and Starts is mostly successful in checking off all these boxes.
David Warwik (People of Earth‘s Wyatt Cenac in a well-drawn performance) is a writer who seemed destined for a great career in the literary world, but he still hasn’t been able to complete his first book. Meanwhile, his wife, Jennifer (Greta Lee), a former student, has already published two novels, the second of which has been especially successful. Naturally, he’s jealous of her and stands in the back of the room during her bookstore readings, glazy-eyed and waiting for it to be over.
After just such a reading, she is invited to her publicists’ Connecticut home to attend one of their regular “salons” (pronounced with a long “o”), and she sees it as a great way to get her blasé husband in front of a bunch of literary types so he can read an excerpt of his work in progress. She is shocked when he is less than enthusiastic about her plan, and the friction between them increases as they pick up a rental car and drive to the country.
On the way, Jennifer is furious to discover that careless David had grabbed the wrong bag off the counter at home, so instead of the two bottles of snobby wine she’d carefully chosen for her hosts, she is holding two bottles of drinking water. A hunt for replacement wine ensues, and the two somehow manage to become separated. While she wanders around trying to get in touch with him, he goes on to the salon in hopes of finding her there. It’s during this separation that they start to realize how much they mean to each other.
Terruso packs her film with a number of quirky characters, from the cops who interrupt them as they try to engage in an impromptu session of roadside sex (“Would you like us to watch?”) to the artistés performing at the ridiculously pretentious salon.
The only other fully-developed character in the piece (besides the bickering couple) is a strange, sadistic literary agent played by Maria Dizzia, who nurtures, seduces, and attacks David — sometimes simultaneously.
More a series of comic vignettes rather than a fully cohesive narrative, Fits and Starts is still fun to watch as it skewers its well-chosen targets, and Cenac’s ennui-inflicted performance is hilarious.
Fits and Starts was reviewed at SXSW on March 10, 2017, at the Stateside Theatre in Austin, Texas.