Genius Products // 2003 // 74 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // April 27th, 2007
Finding love is sometimes easier than you think.
Finding love may be easier than you think, but The Trouble with Men and Women also proves that it's far harder than it should be. This well-acted indie Brit drama is tragically marred by an ending that's painfully obvious to everyone except its hero. For the rest of us, it's little more than a waiting game.
Timid sweetheart Matt's (Joseph McFadden, The Crow Road) girlfriend has left him, and he's pretty miserable. His best friends Vinnie (Matthew Delamere) and Susie (Kate Ashfield, Shaun of the Dead) try their best to cheer him up, and get him hooked up with a new girl. Meanwhile, their own relationship is on the rocks. Vinnie is a complete jerk, and Susie really deserves a nicer and more sensitive man. What happens next, you will never guess.
There really is a lot to like about The Trouble with Men and Women. The performances are earnest and believable, especially from lead star McFadden. We all have a likable loser friend like Matt, unable to vocalize what he really wants for fear of screwing it up and losing it forever. The supporting performances are strong as well, which makes me wish they had gotten a chance to live in a better story. Unfortunately, there are enough things that stand in the way of these well-realized, genuine Londoners.
As is often the case, the predictability is the real issue here. By the time the characters are all introduced, we can see the whole story arc clearly folding out ahead. We wait in frustration as Matt blunders along, oblivious to his own fate and the obvious success that could be his with the smallest of effort. In the meantime, he has throwaway relationships with several other girls. They are little more than cardboard cutouts: the wild party girl, the beautiful French chick, the bisexual one-nighter. Eventually, we begin to wonder: are these girls around so Matt can look for love, or to fill out the main story while simultaneously showing us a bit of skin to keep us interested?
Indeed, the more visceral pleasures of The Trouble with Men and Women are cloaked behind an attempt to shoot the love scenes in a classy, artsy way. In the end, though, a softcore sex drama is a softcore sex drama, even when slow motion and artistic fades are used. This cinematic overachieving is a problem through the rest of the production as well. In flashbacks, digital blurring effects are used to dizzying effect. Slow motion, oblique angles, and sharp zooms often distract from the real focus of the film: the dialogue and characters. It's as though the production team knew it was creating a generic film, but fought tooth and nail to hide the fact -- without ever doing anything to turn it into something new. In the end, I came away with mixed feelings. I want to root for the underdog in the film industry, especially when unknown filmmakers try to accomplish something new. It's such a waste when a talented new director does something this typical, though. We don't need new filmmakers to keep doing the same old things. More than anything, it's a waste of a truly talented cast. They could have taken us anywhere -- why couldn't they take us somewhere new?
The DVD is also unsatisfying. It is presented in non-anamorphic 1.85:1, and it's not pretty. The film was shot digital, and the image presents many of the flaws that are inherent to digital camcorders. Bright scenes are washed out, dark scenes are grainy, and darks vanish into inky digital blackness. Despite the digital source, interlacing is also a problem much of the time, especially during horizontal motion. The sound is also flat, presented in stereo that washes out some of the dialogue. It's not horrible considering the budget of the production, but it certainly doesn't give any additional reasons to hunt down the film. The only extra is the similarly-themed short "To Hell with Love" by the same director.
Fans of indie comedy may want to give The Trouble with Men and Women a quick rental, if only to check out the truly impressive performances delivered by the whole cast. Their dialogue almost redeems the generic plot, but not quite. Ultimately, The Trouble with Men and Women highlights the trouble with indie comedy: there are too few directors willing to tell a fresh and risky story. With this cast, Tony Fisher could have told a story far more interesting than the usual tripe.
The talent is there, but the creativity isn't. Guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 74 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Short Film: To Hell with Love