Somerville House // 2007 // 92 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Franck Tabouring (Retired) // November 20th, 2008
Lovers lie. A camera doesn't.
From Saul Rubinek and Wendel Meldrum comes an intriguing little drama that picked up critical praise and even completed a short but successful festival run, taking home the Orson Welles Award for Cinematic Innovation at the Iowa International Film Festival and the Best Actress Award for Meldrum at the Winnipeg International Film Festival.
When Betty Munson (Wendel Meldrum) discovers her husband Doug's (Mark Humphrey) infidelity on a family vacation video, her life changes in an instant. Paranoid about what else her family and friends may keep secret from her, Betty embarks on a risky mission to discover the truth by taping everything and everyone around her for almost two years.
Think of Cruel But Necessary as a kind of Cloverfield or The Blair Witch Project for the drama genre. Although Betty hides her camera from everyone while capturing pretty much every aspect of her life, we as the audience only get to see what she wants us to see while spying on other people. Around her own home she hides the camera behind plants or on top of closets to film her son Darwin (Luke Humphrey) and other family members, and if she leaves the house, she stuffs it into an ugly purse with flowers that camouflage the lens.
The result of her so-called project is an intriguing and often funny exposé of her own life, focusing both on the beginning of her personal crisis following her divorce as well as her attempt to get a grip and start over. The film obviously doesn't follow a specific story line, but that's hardly an issue. Cruel But Necessary is a collection of random episodes documenting her lifestyle and relationships with her son, ex-husband, and others, and it works in many ways.
In a strange way, her camera quickly becomes her companion; the only thing she can face and talk to about her feelings. It almost feels like she doesn't mind opening up to the camera because she's filming herself, the only person she can really trust. This also results in some scenes that look more like a video journal, during which she babbles about pretty much anything she would like to get out of her head.
I would also like to point out that despite the lack of a real story, the film is certainly not pointless. On the contrary, viewers get to closely observe to what extent Betty's divorce affects her emotionally. Soon after her husband moves out, for instance, she discovers a new passion for reading and a new desire for knowledge, resulting in some hysterically funny scenes during which she tries to share everything she recently read with everybody around her. As the spectator, you cannot help but wonder at times if she's really serious about what she's discussing, or if she's just going nuts.
I really enjoyed the fact that the movie doesn't take itself too seriously. Despite its serious theme, Cruel But Necessary includes plenty of goofy and quite hilarious moments that will easily make you break your silence and laugh out loud. Along the way, Betty discovers some shocking truths about her family, friends, and coworkers, and most of them are quite refreshing to watch. Whether she finds out how loyal her mother is or what her own son really thinks of her, the movie eventually steers toward a global message, but I'm not going to spoil it here for you. The bottom line is: it really works.
Rubinek and Co. developed this flick on a minimal budget, and it took about seven months to shoot the whole thing because of limited availability of the cast and crew. Still, the presence of a professional team in front and behind the camera is undeniable, and most of the shots are well coordinated. The acting is top-notch as well, with screenwriter Wendel Meldrum turning in a solid, sincere performance as lead character Betty. Interestingly, her son and ex-husband in the movie are also her real-life son and ex-husband, giving their performances and characters a more realistic and credible touch. Also on board is Sam McMurray, who's known for his role as O'Boyle on television's The King of Queens.
The DVD comes with a 1.66:1 anamorphic transfer, which boats a sharp and clean image quality throughout. The audio transfer works just fine as well.
For those who enjoy this movie and would like to learn a whole lot more about it, this disc has a great section with several highly informative special features. Apart from twenty-five deleted/additional segments, the bonus material includes an interesting audio interview with producer Elinor Reid, who talks about the several challenges and positive aspects of shooting such a project with a tight budget.
Also included are a bunch of entertaining interviews with cast and crew, including Wendel Meldrum, Saul Rubinek, editor Chris Kern, and Luke Humphrey; they cover pretty much anything from developing the original idea to polishing the script, casting friends and family, and shooting the film over a period of several months. To wrap it up, the extras also feature two commentaries: one with Meldrum and the other with Rubinek and Reid.
Spying on other people, especially your family, is cruel, but in Betty's case, it was necessary to help her become the woman she never was. It's an interesting concept, and Rubinek and Meldrum turned it into an interesting feature.
Cruel but not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2008 Franck Tabouring; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Somerville House
* 1.66:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Audio Commentaries
* Additional Scenes
* Official Site