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By Elias Savada | June 20, 2013

Jeff Lipsky’s world is somewhere between Venus and Mars, and I’m still not sure if that means Earth. His films occupy space, but traveling to them means you have to suit up to live in some offbeat and often stultifying atmospheres. His latest (and fifth as director, fourth as director-writer) low budget feature, “Molly’s Theory of Relativity,” shouts out a ton of dialogue tossed about its surreal, suffocating cardboarded-up window landscape, and you’re gasping for air as the film quixotically bounds along.

If you’ve seen his “Twelve Thirty” (2010), “Once More With Feeling” (2009), his most-appreciated (and the only other of his films I’ve seen) 2006 effort “Flannel Pajamas,” or his 1996 debut feature, the little seen “Childhood’s End,” it was probably at a film festival (awards-wise, they’re always the bridesmaid, never the bride) or art house or on cable television. His dramedies don’t travel well with main stream crowds, and the current offering has art house writ large all over it.

The indie film life is not a foreign planet to Lipsky, though, as he’s spent decades promoting many award-winning films, such as Jim Jarmusch’s “Stranger in Paradise,” the Oscar-nominated documentary “The War Room,” and Lasse Hallström’s “My Life as a Dog.” He co-founded October Films and Lot 47 Films, really successful and sadly folded up distributors. He’s a good man to know and our paths crossed many years ago when I was shipping films overseas for archival screenings. His current company, Adopt Films, which he manages with Tim Grady, has released a small yet impressed string of award-winning features. Still, his golden touch can go only so far when he strolls behind the camera.

He introduces his three talky main characters, a Jewish family (oy, the guilt), on Halloween. Philandering, deadbeat, nail-biting and widowed dad Asher Bluefield (Reed Birney) is pouring verbal acid on his grown son Zack (Lawrence Michael Levine), who after five years of marriage can only show off working two mind-numbing, minimum wage jobs to keep him and his unemployed astrophysicist wife Molly (Levine’s real-life spouse, Sophia Takal) afloat. Soon after dad learns the couple are planning a move to Norway for a new start, the frazzled nerves calm down, thankfully, and the apartment begins to swell with guests. Several women gather in the small kitchen (Molly’s mother and grandmother, both dead but portrayed by living actors Cady Huffman and Rebecca Shull), where they unceremoniously prepare a traditional Shabbat meal, listening in with unobserved silence before becoming members in the conservations that drift about like the old country foods they are cooking.

Quite bizarrely, the food morphs (prawns anyone?) and never stops flowing as it moves from stove top to dinner table. Other relatives and neighbors (some old, some young, some alive, some not) flit in and out, referencing one another grammatically in the third person. Quite the family tree! I wish I could communicate with some of my departed grandparents like Lipsky does, and fill in some of my ancestral gaps. A curious 9-year-old trick-or-treater, Ruby Judith Wheeler (Daisy Tahan), pops into their place costumed as Albert Einstein, joining another neighbor, Chet, at the table. She’s a talker, too. From Minot, North Dakota (although I don’t hear an accent).

My problem with the film is that it’s got a loose fitting existential chassis aching for a nice streamlined body. That’s my old-fashioned self speaking. Though the cast tackles their quick-tongued, weighty-yet-colorfully-dialogued chores well. If you see the film, don’t expect much substance to the story; it’s all about relationships here (a Lipsky trademark). As for Ms. Takal, she reminds me of a brunette version of actor-writer Jennifer Westfeldt.

There are explicit situations (quite the healthy sex life, actually) and more than a few minutes of carnal and casual nudity. If rated, this would definitely be an NC-17. You’ve been warned. My final thoughts feel like the Ford Focus commercial I keep seeing on TV. A couple wonder about eating sweet or sour chicken instead of the traditional sweet AND sour Chinese dish. Be careful what you wish for.

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