Born Guilty

What do you do when your mom is an insecure, self-obsessed drama queen who hounds you day and night with hysterical phone calls? You pay your pal to romance her, then maybe she’ll be too busy dating a man half her age to keep bugging you. That’s the premise behind Born Guilty, a romantic comedy with a surplus of exceptionally unlikeable characters.

Marty (Jay Devore), an advertising account manager in Los Angeles, lives in a virtual borderline personality disorder theme park. His mother, Judith (Rosanna Arquette), an intrusive battleax living in New York, calls her son at all hours when she’s having one of her frequent emotional meltdowns. The kicker is that this human disaster area is a social worker. And what a leaden touch she has with the unfortunates she’s allegedly helping.

Marty finds little solace in his girlfriend Leslie (Keesha Sharp), a career-obsessed, controlling, barracuda who demands Marty focus on her every whim. All the while, she castigates him for being too self-centered.

“…Marty…lives in a virtual borderline personality disorder theme park…”

It’s hard to feel a lot of sympathy for Marty, either, because he’s a sizable jerk, you see. When his buddy, Rawl (David Coussins), comes to L.A. for a visit, Marty has a brainstorm.

In what could be the world’s creepiest gift to a mom, Marty hires Rawl to romance Judith for a short time to keep her out of his hair. His plan, unbeknownst to her, is to set her up in a phony relationship for just a few months, then, presumably, pull the rug out from underneath her. It doesn’t seem like he plans to take savage pleasure in seeing her suffer a broken heart, he just doesn’t really consider the inevitable consequences.

Rawl, a free-spirited world traveler, is everything that Marty isn’t — naive, idealistic and nice. So this mercenary plan seems out of character for him, even if he needs the money. But he goes to New York and tries to arrange a meet-cute chance encounter with Judith. The plan doesn’t work at first, but eventually, it takes.

“…too sparse to give the film the sparkle it needs.”

Rawl and Judith make an unlikely couple and we see little chemistry between them. But lo’ and behold, Rawl finds that he genuinely has feelings for Judith. He stages one big event to romance her and she’s won over. At first, at least, things start to work out as Marty had hoped. But of course, they are rough waters ahead for the two.

Born Guilty has occasional bursts of humor that work, especially when the actors are allowed to riff on their characters’ quirks. Rupert (Jay Klaitz), a friend of Marty’s who lets Rawl crash at his apartment, is funny as a neurotic shut-in who can’t seem to part with his purple bathrobe. But the silliness goes on a little too long and becomes tiresome. Likewise, Marty’s advertising campaign pitch, which turns into a manic rant, also connects comically for a couple of minutes. Unfortunately, these moments are too sparse to give the film the sparkle it needs.

Maybe the tone needed to be more uncompromisingly nihilistic and savage, or else it could have gone the other way and made the attraction between the two lovers more compelling. As it stands, the film is somewhere in the middle, without enough romance or comedy.

Born Guilty (2017) Directed by Max Heller. Written by Max Heller. Starring Jay Devore, and David Coussins, Rosanna Arquette, Keesha Sharp, Anna Lore, Jay Klaitz, John Lavelle, and Xander Berkeley.

4.5 out of 10

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