Romantic comedies inevitably disappoint, since the overwhelming majority of films in this genre fail to throb the heart or tickle the funnybone. “Gavin’s Way” is a strong exception to the rule: a small gem of a romantic comedy that offers an honest and hilarious look at very real people in very real situations.
Taking place in a blue collar Boston suburb, “Gavin’s Way” provides three parallel stories involving a trio of Irish-American cousins. Eric (played with an unwavering Buster Keaton stoneface expression by writer/director D.R. Farquharson) is a salesman in his father’s heating oil business, but he has grown so numb in the boring job that he is either sleeping in his office or staring with catatonic stoicism at the computer games which rule his office PC. His personal life mirrors his professional inertia: a long-term but less-than-successful relationship peters out when his bored gal-pal abruptly departs for a year of college in Europe. However, Eric’s love life has the potential to turn around thanks to Anna, the home aide assigned to take care of Eric’s bedridden grandmother (who is healthy enough to unapologetically play matchmaker without a trace of subtle candor). But Anna (Daiva Deupree) has her own hang-ups, most notably the inability to lose the memory of a boyfriend who dumped her six months earlier.
On the peripheral of Eric’s world is cousin Nick (Beno Chapman), a mechanic with an advanced vocabulary and a lethal sense of insouciance. Nick insists he is breaking up with his spicy Italian-American girlfriend (Gabriela Viela — who literally sizzles when she’s on-screen), but the nagging fact that they’re still seeing each other and sleeping together short-circuits his claims of detachment. And then there is cousin Ralph (Brian Hammer), a gentle newly-minted graduate of mortician academy who arrives home with the out-of-left-field news that he’s gay…and with an African-American boyfriend at his side (Lasser Brown).
“Gavin’s Way” works beautifully as a romantic comedy because filmmaker Farquharson is clearly skilled in presenting romance and comedy on screen. In most Hollywood romantic comedies, the characters behave like idiots, either trying too hard to be cute (paging Meg Ryan) or striking poses with the belief that their stolid presence alone can flutter hearts (paging Freddie Prinze Jr.). In “Gavin’s Way,” the characters undergo all of the genuine pangs and protocols of romance — the fears, frustrations, jealousies and the inability to let go when the game is over — but their situations are presented with two commodities that are curiously absent from most Hollywood fare: intelligence and sincerity. There is absolutely nothing cutesy-wutesy or soppy here. At times, watching “Gavin’s Way” is like watching a documentary…this is what life looks like and sounds like.
As a comedy, Farquharson achieves an extraordinary sleight of hand by doing the impossible: he films the comedy like a drama. Unlike comedies which are an endless stream of wink-wink-nudge-nudge at the audience, Farquharson directs his actors to play their lines completely straight (virtually deadpan in some cases) and not act overtly funny. By avoiding the obvious, much of the humor of “Gavin’s Way” comes without warning in off-hand, priceless matter-of-fact throwaway lines: Anna recounts her first home care patient died two weeks after she began her job, adding ruefully yet tactlessly how the premature passing sank her ego; the tart-tongued waitress who catches Nick’s eye pauses from her abuse to carefully explain that her verbiage is actually the act of being facetious and not sarcastic; Eric’s long-time girlfriend announces she is leaving to attend college in Dusseldorf, leaving Eric behind to wonder after-the-fact on this unlikely destination for someone with an English major; Ralph’s uncle, ranting melodramatically about his nephew’s declaration of being gay, fails to notice Ralph’s black boyfriend is sporting a “Kiss Me I’m Irish” t-shirt for the longest time, belatedly exploding when he finally recognizes it (long after the audience catches the sight gag, thus giving it a double-dose of laughs).
Farquharson further spices the brew with a running gag involving a horrendously skanky business motivation coach who never practices what he preaches (Dan Johnson, in an uncomfortably effective performance). This unlikely character’s story percolates slowly until reaching a hilarious and unexpected boil by the end of the film.
If the gods of indie cinema are merciful, “Gavin’s Way” will snag a distributor and find its way into theaters everywhere. If any film is deserving of being on a screen, this is the one.