An oddly engaging but ultimately unsatisfying endeavor, Some Girl(s) is best described as a cross between Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity and David Mamet’s Oleanna. Daisy von Scherler Mayer directs the script from Neil Labute based on his own stage play.
The similarity to High Fidelity is in the basic plot structure. An unnamed male (he’s called “Guy” in the play, “Man” in the IMDB credits) on the eve of his wedding revisits women from past, failed relationships. He is looking for absolution, resolution, closure. Perhaps he is testing himself to see if his current commitment is serious. Mostly he intuits that something is not right in his life and in his orientation towards women and that the reasons he (or his relationships) might be so messed up has something to do with a wrong choice made somewhere, a wrong pattern he must try to break. Or, maybe he wants to prove to himself that he is a better person now than he was then, more deserving of love, and is trying out his arguments and rationalizations with his exes in the vain hope that if he can convince them he will himself be convinced.
The similarities to Mamet are more stylistic. There is affected way the characters use words like brass knuckles to bruise and bludgeon. There is the relative flatness of the characters who always feel a bit unrealistic because they are stuck at (rather than moving in and out of) the most extreme poles of human emotions. LaBute and Mamet like big gestures, big speeches, and no one of them ever seems beyond credibility, but I sometimes feel as though they don’t understand the connection between feelings and actions. Either that, or I don’t understand how the most intense feelings are posited as a constant that drives characters towards more and more extreme behavior. Again, any one of these emotions or actions are plausible, but it is hard to sustain intensity in any emotion without burning out. Combine that with the fact that these authors seem more interested in the high speed emotional crashes than the root causes or longitudinal costs of intense emotions and watching their plays (or films) ends up feeling more like voyeuristic rubber necking than genuine artistic exploration of human behavior.
On the positive side, pleasures come in many forms, and while LaBbute’s writing doesn’t engage me as high art, it does tend to make for some crackerjack performance pieces. Jennifer Morrison, Kristen Bell, and Zoe Kazan are all just such fun to watch as each brings a different range of incredulity and exasperation to Man’s obtuse and incessant rounding of moral corners and desperate attempts to retain moral dignity (and at times, smugness) by shading the truth. Adam Brody is fine, though his role calls on him to be a bit too obtuse, a bit too self-contained. I gather that on some level we may be invited to construct a defense of Man as being at least honest and brave enough to face his accusers and cop to his own mistakes, but that would be to assume zebras where the horses hoofbeats say self-deluded, deluded, deluded.
It probably didn’t help Man’s cause that the segment in which he is ostensibly most punished–where he visits a former college professor played by Emily Watson–is the one that finally tips over from exaggeration into farce. This segment and the ending are meant to be shocking, I think, but for a twist to truly shock the characters have to be more developed, developed to the point where an action seems immediately out of character or surprising but, upon reflection, credible. None of the actions or reactions in Some Girl(s) end up surprising, because the venal and vindictive qualities of human nature is posited from the get-go rather than just arriving at a tragically inconvenient time.
In this too, LaBute reminds me of Mamet. Oftentimes our surprise is conditioned not upon our expectations of human nature but our expectations of dramatic convention. There can be something unconventional (I use the word in the technical sense) in the refusal to give character growth or respite, in allowing for some measure of self-awareness without the power or inclination towards reform. We may be used to drama showing us something ugly so that we can feel good about some shred of light or beauty at the end, but the misanthropic playwrights find a way of invoking that hope only to give us ugliness followed by more ugliness. And I always feel a little mocked by that degree of cynicism. “You were hoping for some measure of character growth? How quaint.”
But did I mention that Kristen Bell and Zoe Kazan are really, really good? Watching Some Girl(s) is a bit like watching a sporting event between two teams you don’t particularly care about. It’s more or less dependent on your ability to find pleasure in the demonstration of technical skill irrespective of the outcome. Would I love to see either of these actresses in a better movie? Absolutely. But at least I get to see them in something.