Judge William Lee has had lots of practice being easy.
"You're the closest thing to a girlfriend I've ever had."
Davy Mitchell (Brian Geraghty, The Hurt Locker) is on a road trip to promote his unpublished book of short stories. Along for the ride is his brother Sean (Kel O'Neill, Pulse), manning the merchandise table at bookstore readings and hoping to score a one-night stand or two. One night, Davy answers the motel phone and talks to Nicole, a lonely girl who is feeling underappreciated by her boyfriend. She wants phone sex and, after some hesitation, Davy obliges. The calls, and sex talk, continue over some days but Davy would rather they just talk. Davy hasn't had a lot of luck in lasting relationships with the opposite sex but he feels a connection with Nicole. She is guarded and refuses to meet with Davy. Still, Davy can't shake his feelings for her. Even when a physical relationship with a real woman, like Samantha (Marguerite Moreau, Queen of the Damned) is a possibility, he's anxiously waiting for his cell phone to ring.
Writer-director Kyle Patrick Alvarez took home the Someone to Watch Award at the 2009 Independent Spirit Awards for his feature debut Easier with Practice and he definitely deserved it. The freshman filmmaker displays uncommon skill with realistic dialogue and strong visual compositions (with the aid of cinematographer David Morrison, Stephanie Daley). He is absolutely confident with his pacing of scenes. There are several key moments built around dialogue but those scenes never feel stagy. Important conversations between characters develop in a natural manner and that realistic tone makes it a little unpredictable. These are thoughtful portrayals of emotionally complex characters. They seem real and their reactions are completely believable. Alvarez navigates some tricky moments ranging from the phone sex sessions to a mischievous game of truth and lies that threatens to spiral out of control. Through all of these and the mean feat of the climax, the director never steps wrong.
Brian Geraghty becomes invisible in the role of the socially awkward Davy. At one point he looks like a scruffy version of Tobey Maguire's Peter Parker from Spider-Man but without the nerdy charisma and latent super powers. Davy is simply a guy who can't shake his reluctance to engage with the unpredictability of the real world. It's through his writing that he is able to shape the representation and understanding of the world. When a potential fan compliments him for his courage to reveal himself, Davy gets upset that she is confusing his stories for his real life experience. Davy speaks in a halting manner, pausing ever so slightly before pronouncing the next word. It's not because of a speech impediment or a desire to show off his rich vocabulary; he just wants to be sure he's chosen the right word before it leaves his mouth. Davy invites some pity but he's not pathetic. This is an honest portrayal of an intelligent guy who is a coward socially.
In his tele-relationship with Nicole, Davy doesn't have any more control than he would with any other woman. He has less, actually, since Nicole doesn't reveal her number and it's always up to her to call him. On the phone, the essence of her personality is reduced to the voice on the other end of the line and his various failings are likewise masked by the limits of their chosen technology. With the messy details about real people's lives removed, Davy convinces himself that he and Nicole share a special bond. It may be a virtual love affair, but it feels real to him.
It is tempting to read Easier with Practice as a parable about the Internet. The filmmakers must have been thinking that too since the absence of computers and social networking technology in the movie practically draws attention to these commonplace contemporary tools. However, there is more going on here than simply a comment on how people need to get out into the world more often. This is a heartfelt and memorable portrait of lonely people who would rather live inside their made up reality than risk getting hurt in real life. The problem is, real life eventually catches up anyway.
The screener disc we received for review included no extras but the movie's official website does feature plenty of behind-the-scenes information. Nevertheless, the picture on the disc looks very good. Natural skin tones, good color rendering and a beautiful image that is sharp and free of physical debris and digital glitches make for a solid visual presentation. The stereo sound serves the movie well for its lively selection of alternative music and very clear dialogue through the movie's many quieter scenes.
Lastly, due to "explicit sexual dialogue" the MPAA has rated the movie NC-17. From what I remember, this is isolated to the initial phone sex conversation when Davy and Nicole say things to each other that you would expect people having phone sex would say. They describe what their hands are doing at that exact moment, for example. While this may prompt some viewers to turn down the volume of the TV for a short time, the dialogue is not gross or rude or gratuitous. The rest of the movie contains a small amount of swearing but that's about it for objectionable content. Don't let the heavy rating influence your expectations of what kind of movie it is and don't let it keep you from seeking it out.
Not guilty. All parties are free to go and the court expects great things from them.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Breaking Glass
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