An emotional poem to young urbanites looking for love, Cole Drumb’s ambitious “Dominoes” is a reflection of Seattle’s melancholy nightlife that bounces its college-age characters through the scary, abrasive politics of dating. Drumb’s effort boasts a Robert Altman-sized canvas of actors and was shot on digital video. Full of profane, tenacious exchanges of dialogue and sexual encounters, this concoction is funny sweet in a “Diner” kinda way, with the bitter aftertaste of more abrasive melodramas like “Your Friends and Neighbors.”
“Dominoes” begins as Evan (played by John Cusack lookalike Andrew McMasters) phones longtime girlfriend Ginger (Shannon Hillary). Stranded at roadside with a smoke-spewing engine, he sheepishly cancels their scheduled date. It’s an honest situation, but Ginger’s been burned before, and she smells a rat. Is Evan screwing around, while she plays the fool?
Meanwhile, we meet Deidre (Susan Young), a trusting eager beaver whose quest for acceptance lands her in the beds of an older lesbian (Laura Malone), a pretentious self-help guru (Lowell Deo), and a selfish, suspicious woman-hater (Kevin Wilson). Nurturing the film’s central coupling, Frank (Joe Giannunzio) and Ava (Taryn Darr) watch such peers weather these conflicts as their own romance comes into question.
Like a wind-shipped house of cards, the many relationships in “Dominoes” topple under the anxieties of fear and misinformation. Wilson’s Lance, for instance, is a conniving misogynist who fuels Frank’s suspicions that Ava is being unfaithful with bitter nuggets of wisdom like, “Women crave compliments like men crave sex,” over cigarettes and beer. Even so, we suspect that his cynicism is borne of past hurt and betrayal, making Lance an oddly sympathetic character. Ditto for Ginger, who loves Evan even as she repeatedly gives him the cold shoulder.
Like fast-moving pinballs ricocheting off bells and bumpers, these friends, lovers, and other walking wounded take a psychological beating before emerging as sadder, wiser, and stronger human beings.
Drumb’s digital production is handsomely shot, almost passing for a 35mm film. The attractive visual garden of Seattle sights – including ski planes landing in Lake Washington and that famous, Space Needle-stamped skyline – give “Dominoes” and unmistakably Northwest feel. Meanwhile, the movie’s fresh-faced actors are all top-notch, especially Taryn Darr as Ava, who puts her neck on the line to save a relationship that’s been threatened by reckless gossip. Gifting this sincere, honest character with intelligent strength, you get the impression that Ava is the one destined to emerge from these pre-marriage growing pains unscathed and happy.
Drumb has created one of the better romantic comedies produced in The City That Bill Gates Built (on a budget that probably covered catering costs for “Sleepless in Seattle”). “Dominoes” could have easily veered into schmaltzy Joel Schumaker territory, but it resists sappy resolutions, emerging as a tougher hybrid of chick flick that even men can appreciate. “St. Elmo’s Fire,” it ain’t.