Some people, like Joseph (Richard Cook), for instance, are never satisfied. As his best friend and supervisor Darren (David Russell) sums up Joseph’s situation, the young, terminally tardy publishing house office drone has Beth (Andra Wasilik), his attractive girlfriend who adores him, and a secret admirer who has a massive crush on him in his co-worker Theresa (Catherine Curtain). Yet, this isn’t enough for Joseph. After losing a trivial office bet to Darren, he’s obligated to accompany his supervisor and Theresa to the former’s favorite gay bar. There, Joseph becomes hopelessly smitten with the exotic Lana (Courtney Moorehead). The only two problems with this misguided episode of love at first sight are Lana’s abusive, probably psychotic boyfriend Donovan (Jay Casey)…and the fact that Lana assumes Joseph is gay. It doesn’t help matters any that Joseph doesn’t immediately correct this little misunderstanding for reasons of self-preservation; (namely so that Donovan doesn’t smack the snot out of him when he catches Joseph gazing wistfully at his girl). Joseph’s situation further deteriorates when Darren, assuming Joseph is “safe” since he’s supposedly gay, assigns him to be his mole, spying on Lana and reporting any faithless indiscretions to her scarily possessive boyfriend.
Ironically, one finds oneself pulling a little for all three of Joseph’s women without quite knowing why. After all, there’s only one Joseph and he’s actually kind of a brooder. It’s pretty easy, in fact, to watch “Raising the Stakes” and chastise him for being such a hapless wimp. Yet the poor guy, trying only to weigh all of his options and do what he thinks is best for himself, after all, simply gets overtaken by events.
Director Ryan Smith has pieced together a decent look at the bittersweet intricacies of all kinds of relationships in “Raising the Stakes.” What’s particularly on target is the film’s accurate portrayal of how relationships in life, and the lines between them, can blur so easily into gray areas. Joseph and Darren’s interactions stumbling awkwardly from friendship to professional discourse and back to friendship, for instance, serve as the film’s most obvious example. While this is interesting, it’s also a little dry. Even so, though not a flashy film by any stretch of the imagination, “Raising the Stakes” overcomes its sluggish beginning to come into its own as a solid and intriguing study of human interactions in all their complexities.