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By Mark Bell | November 15, 2013

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.

This film was submitted for review through our Submission for Review system. If you have a film you’d like us to see, and we aren’t already looking into it on our own, you too can utilize this service.

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  1. Ted says:

    I didn’t set out to rewrite this review, but since I have perhaps FilmThreat should consider hiring me. At least I know the difference between a review and a critique.

    I saw this film recently at a screening in NY and I assure you there is a lot more going on in this film than the reviewer has superficially covered. Not to mention the countless elements of the film he overlooked, such as the performances, the music, and the character development, which really shines in the final third of the film.

    The main character is a projectionist, that is his occupation, but he also projects himself into situations, as established in the beginning when he sees himself and his co-worker in the B-Movie playing at the theater. His occupation has now taken on a thematic characteristic of him projecting things, ideas, situations. There are also several points where the character is shown alone, possibly reflecting on events, or daydreaming (on the roof of the theater, on his fire escape). It’s textbook first act characterization.

    When the story gets to the third act twist, if you weren’t paying attention in the beginning it will seem confusing, but the continuity of the shots, clothing and details – such as the bandage on the main character’s hand – all add up to the middle of the movie being a daydream. So now you have a character who spends most of his days watching movies playing out his own scenario for the audience to identify what he is experiencing. I particularly loved the connection between the pictures of the two girls on the mountain top, perhaps implying that the events in the middle are echoes from the relationship with the girl in the beginning.

    The Deer Hunter scene near the end is the third in a series of insights into the characters psyche (the first being the B-Movie, the second being the extended daydream in the middle) and also the most poignant as he faces off between his immature friend(s) giving him bad advice and the girls he has conflicting feelings towards. The character even directly expresses what has just been observed in the final scene/resolution with his co-worker.

    Another completely overlooked area of this film is the music/soundtrack. Not just the songs themselves, but their placement within the scenes to enhance the visual storytelling. It is masterful in some ways that the filmmaker was able to find songs that fit so well in the story they are telling. I think the best example of this is the scene in the bar with the band playing the song “It don’t matter,” reflecting what is going on both in the scene and with the character. I don’t even like that style of music, but it fits so well with the tone of the film and the characters that it helped me enjoy it more than I would have otherwise.

    Surprisingly, the film also had great performances from the entire cast. Everyone seemed natural and believable in their role. There was no hint of overacting, which is pretty common among no name films and casts. I watched a behind the scenes video on the film’s website after the fact and you can tell from their interviews that (at least the three principal actors: Carly Ballister, Steven Bendler and Peter O’Brien) really took the time to develop their characters and didn’t just step in front of the camera and deliver a poor imitation of recycled archetypes, or exaggerated versions of themselves.

    All in all Mark Bell’s review seems superficial and highly opinionated. Misery Loves Company is not the best film ever made, but considering it was a no-budget film (imdb lists the budget at $6,000) I think it is an incredible achievement and deserves one’s attention.


    • Mark Bell says:

      I review the film. It is subjective; I don’t pretend otherwise. Taking issue with it being opinionated is… strange to me. I express what came through the film, for me. I don’t go into detailed scene-by-scene explanations because I don’t want to spoil elements for those still inclined to watch it. I recognized your points while watching, but that didn’t make me like the main character any more, which is my main sticking point. I saw the daydreams development and the like, but that doesn’t mean they were handled in a fashion that didn’t result in confusion and, ultimately, undermine what came before them. I didn’t focus on the music, because that music was often a background sound bed that was too high in the mix for dialogue scenes (and lyrics, when clear, were cloyingly on-the-noise, as you’ve pointed out). What you loved about the film, I didn’t. It happens. Next time, have the filmmakers have you review it.

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