In Perfection Kristabelle (Christina Beck) is an uncertain woman of a certain age hovering on the cusp between youth and what follows. She lives with her mother Sally (Robyn Peterson) in a dumpy apartment in Los Angeles, a problematic situation for many reasons. Sally is toxic, and they are both obsessed with their looks and fading youth.
Sally got stuck in the past when her life was all party fun and glamour, but her body has aged around her as time raced by. She entertains lovers decades younger, like Tommy (Jackson Davis) who hooks up with her for weed and sex. Sally is gorgeous, but she doesn’t want to be 50-something gorgeous, she craves and mourns for the glory of her youth.
Kristabelle contributes to this psychodrama by staying close to home where Sally can alternately see her as a baby or as a younger sister. Where Sally goes in for fashion and glitter, her daughter actively shuns it, dressing down and hiding her appearance. Sally is addicted to plastic surgery. Kristabelle takes a more direct route and cuts herself with a razor blade.
The ritual of cutting brings her release. Endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin flood her system allowing her to feel… something. Self-harm is done to stimulate an emotion when you’ve gone numb, to express rage and self-loathing, to feel some control over your body. A wound from cutting can be repaired, can heal when nothing else does. Her reaction to the cuts is an almost erotic look of ecstasy.
Into Kristabelle’s dark world comes Simon, a struggling comic and recovering alcoholic who does lame sets at a local watering hole. His jokes are self-deprecating, mostly riffing on being an Englishman in America. When he sees Kristabelle he’s drawn to her and they meet cute with him pretending it’s raining under a garden hose, her nearly smiling at his attention, but questioning his judgment at the same time.
“…Kristabelle takes a more direct route and cuts herself…“
All around Sally and Kristabelle are people who are either addicted or recovering. It’s not clear if this has to do with personal choices, or the neighborhood, or L.A., but generally one is not tripping over people with substance abuse issues on a daily basis.
One of the locals is a kindly older man named Harry(Jeff Kober) who visits the cafe where Kristabelle works. He tries to give her good advice about opening up to people. This is a fun cameo for Kober, who is mostly cast as a villain because of his looks. It’s a nice change of pace to see him in a different role.
Perfection is not a romantic comedy, despite some dark humor, however, there is a tidy rom-com wrap-up in the last few minutes. That Simon and Kristabelle get together is not a spoiler. She goes back to school and he gives up drink, again.
Is it cynical to wonder about the future of a relationship between an alcoholic and a woman who is driven to self-harm? They’ve masked their symptoms, temporarily, existentially, but the root causes of their issues remain. Love, or limerence, that New Relationship Energy, has never cured anything. Best case is they use this moment in the sun to get help and forge new behaviors that give them a shot at more functional lives. More likely, a year later, Kristabelle catches Simon checking his phone and suspects he’s texting someone else, then it all spirals down into dark awfulness again. The intensity of this rumination speaks to how well the film paints their lives and draws the viewer in.
Despite glum predictions of what happens after the credits roll, the film is a credible account of dark life on the low-rent end, warts and all, culminating in an almost painful blast of pure joy and light.
Christina Beck, who directs as well as stars, sets a tone so gritty you may want a shower when it’s over. The cutting scenes are rough and bloody. It’s uncomfortably real, but that authenticity makes it a great film.
Perfection (2016) Written and directed by Christina Beck. Starring Christina Beck, Jeff Kober, Jackson Davis, Robyn Peterson.
8 out of 10