After a particularly surprising and harsh break-up, projectionist Brian (Peter O’Brien) finds himself in a misanthropic haze. Things start to turn around for Brian, however, when his friend and co-worker Cliff (Steven Bendler) introduces him to Veronica (Carly Ballister), a waitress at the cafe across from the theater, who takes an unlikely shine to him, despite his attempts to keep her at a distance. As their friendship grows, so too does Brian’s feelings for her; a problem, because Veronica has a boyfriend.
Peter O’Brien, who wrote, directed and stars in Misery Loves Company, has delivered one of those films that stands on the shoulders of a mostly unlikeable protagonist. Unlikeable hero doesn’t automatically equal unlikeable film, however, and the film is mostly technically sound (more on that in a few), so it is does have elements to embrace besides the lead character. But are they enough?
The characterization of Brian is a hard obstacle to overcome, at least for me. For much of the film, really save a scene or two where he’s in full-on woo with Veronica, Brian is a standoffish prick. His snide comments, condescension and general grumpiness make him a chore to be around in even the best of scenarios. Sure, he may be wounded from his recent break-up, but his behavior is such that it’s hard to figure why Veronica puts up any effort to be his friend in the first place, because he doesn’t make it easy. Nor, really, is he that far off from being a dick even after their friendship is in full swing. In other words, I don’t think he’s a jerk because he got hurt by a break-up, I think he might always be a jerk. When he remarks later on about being disappointed in his life at 23, it actually gave me a slight glimmer of hope that he’ll grow out of it.
And then there’s the final third of the film, where the narrative indulges itself in more fantastical ways, causing some confusion. Suddenly you begin to question everything that came before based on how the final twenty minutes plays out. Did that really happen? Did any of it?
Conversations seem out of place for what has come before, and the entire narrative becomes shaky ground. But not in that “what a clever twist” way, more like what happens when what appears to be a pretty straightforward tale decides to throw in some random loops at the end.
Random loops that are sometimes dreams, other times morbid fantasies but at all times not heralded before or after they occur, but instead included in the edit like everything else. Thus they confuse; The Deer Hunter-esque dream makes an interesting statement, sure, but because the film doesn’t seem to indulge along these lines too much early on, the final minutes of the film feel puzzling and out of character.
I get that it was an attempt to do something more with the narrative, liven it up a bit, rather than just present the tale for its simplicity. It’s a choice, just one that didn’t entirely work for me. Considering my issues with character likeability, when the narrative begins to shake too, it was easy to disengage.
The film is mostly solid otherwise, however. It looks good, and the edit has a solid pace, even if some of the elements it is working with feel like time-padding rather than narrative necessities (again, that final third). The sound mix was hit or miss, however. Sometimes the background sound bed was too high, other times the film has that false feeling inherent with too much ADR. Not awful, but certainly notable.
In the end, Misery Loves Company seems to prove its title false; Brian is miserable, but he doesn’t seem to love much of anything but being a jerk. It’s off-putting, but it doesn’t make for a terrible film. I’d leave it to personal taste; some could find more to appreciate in this, and Brian, than I did. For me, it’s hard to care whether a lead character finds love or improves their life when they’re an a*****e for much of the film.
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